Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is a classic attraction that takes guests through four generations of the American Family dating back to the turn of the 20th Century.
While the attraction has undergone several changes since its debut at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, The Carousel of Progress has always been about progress and the American Family. It follows a typical American Family from the turn of the 20th century up to the 21st century by looking at different points of time throughout history.
General Electric originally sponsored the show and as a result, the focus has largely been on technological progress. However, the 1975 version of the attraction also had many not so subtle references to social progress in the form of activism and women’s rights.
The current version of the attraction dates back to 1993. The first three scenes contain similarities all the way back to the original version of the attraction while the final scene has evolved. John, the father of the family, hosts the attraction and he’s joined by his wife Sarah, daughter Patricia/Patty/Trish and son James/Jimmy. Additionally the grandparents, Uncle Orville, the family dog Rover, a cat and another female child make appearances.
Rather than include the full narration of the attraction in the “Story” section, the script has been separated out, in its entirety here. Links to the current and previous script can also be found in the “Historical Notes” section of the attraction page.
The first three Acts are setup the same way with John sitting at the kitchen table talking about how great things are today because of the recent progress. Scrims hide smaller dioramas on the left and right side of the stage and during each act John interacts with two scenes hidden behind each scrim.
Once guests are seated in the theater, the curtain rises slightly to reveal the Carousel of Progress logo. John (voiced by Jean Shepherd) introduces the attraction and part of its history. He then kicks off the attraction with the theme song, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”.
Act I is set on Valentine’s Day, “right around the turn of the century”. An exact year isn’t officially determined, but in the pre-show video Walt Disney indicates that the newspaper reads 1890. A calendar in the scene is dated 1898, but the corresponding month of February mirrors February 1901. Other clues point to the year being 1901.
John introduces the first Act:
Things couldn’t be any better than they are today. Yes sir, buildings are towering now as high as twenty stories. And moving pictures flicker up on a big screen. We have almost 8,000 automobiles in this country, and we can travel by train from New York to California in less than seven days! And I even hear tell about two brothers from North Carolina who are working on some kind of flying contraption. (Chuckles.) It’ll never work. Closer to home, we’ve now got gas lamps, a telephone, and the latest design in cast-iron stoves. And that reservoir keeps five gallons of water hot all day on just three buckets of coal. Oh boy, it sure beats chopping wood. And isn’t our new icebox a beauty? Look at that! Holds 50 pounds of ice. Milk doesn’t sour as quick as it used to. And our dog Rover here keeps the water in the drip pan from overflowing. It wasn’t too long ago we had to carry water from a well. And thanks to progress, we’ve got a pump right here in the kitchen. Of course, we keep a bucket of water handy to prime it with. Yes sir, we’ve got everything we need to make life easier.
As described above, the kitchen has a cast iron stove and an icebox as well as a pump faucet. After the introduction, John interacts with “mother” (Sarah) who appears in the left side diorama. Sarah is doing the laundry and remarks that it only takes her 5 hours to do the wash. This sequence also features another younger daughter (or family friend) helping Sarah with the laundry. This little girl does not appear in any other scenes.
Sarah mentions having to get the laundry in off the line before a clap of thunder starts a rainstorm. John then shifts his attention over to his son (Jimmy) who appears on the right side diorama. Jimmy is looking at a woman on John’s stereoscope before John gives him a quick lecture.
The scene cuts back to the left side diorama where Grandma and her parrot are listening to the radio. Immediately after, the right side diorama iilluminates with daughter Patricia doing her hair for a Valentine’s Day dance.
The scene ends with John talking about taking a trolley down to the Soda Fountain for a Root Beer before transitioning to the next scene.
Act II is set on the 4th of July in the 1920s. A calendar in the scene indicates the year as 1927 but the scene could take place earlier in the 20s.
John introduces the second act:
We’ve come a long way, though, since the turn of the century over twenty-some-odd years ago. You know that pilot fella, Charles Lindberg? He’s about to fly a single-winged airplane all the way across the Atlantic. He’s never gonna make it. And sports stadiums are springing up all over. And boy, nobody hits that old horse hide like that new fella, Babe Ruth. Jazz music is the cat’s meow, and there’s been ads in the paper for months for a movie starring Al Jolson—and he’s going to talk! And sing! Boy, I’ve gotta see that. (Car horn sounds outside.) Hahaha. There goes Schwartz in his Hupmobile. He sure loves that horn. You know, in my new Essex, I’ve got an electric starter—now I don’t have to crank! We can travel from New York to Los Angeles by train in only three days. And we’ve got a house full of new electrical servants. Mr. Edison sure added life to our home.
At this point all of the electronic devices come to life, ultimately blowing a fuse and causing the lights to go out in his house, the neighborhood and the theater. The voice of Jimmy is heard complaining about having to fix the fuse before Sarah appears on the right side diorama.
Sarah is sewing a costume while dressed in a Colonial outfit. She explains that John and her will be going as George and Martha Washington for the 4th of July parade. As the discussion continues, the left side diorama illuminates featuring Jimmy and Grandpa. Jimmy has chosen the music for the parade, “Stars and Stripes Forever”.
Patricia appears in the right side diorama dressed as the Statue of Liberty. She’s embarrassed by the costume and receives some gentle ribbing from her father.
John then begins talking about indoor plumbing before cutting to the left diorama where Uncle Orville is sitting in a bathtub with a fan blowing against a block of ice. John explains that Orville has created, “air cooling” and then Orville can be heard with an original audio (voiced by Mel Blanc) saying, “No privacy at all around this place!”
Sarah alerts John that his costume is ready before transitioning into the Act III
Act III is set during Halloween in the 1940s. A calendar on one of the scrims appears to be for 1945 but the scene may take place later in the 40s.
John introduces the third act with interruptions from Rover the dog and Grandma:
Everything is better than ever now. And we’ve got some amazing new wonders around the house to prove it. For instance, our refrigerator holds more food than ice cubes. And thanks to our automatic dishwasher, I don’t have to dry the dishes anymore after supper. Gives Rover and I more time to enjoy our evening stroll together.
Oh, and here’s something else that’s new. I just heard a new term today on the radio. Fella says we’ve go something now called the “rat race.” Did you ever hear that one? Sure describes my life. I’m involved in something now called “commuting.” I drive into the city for work all day and then turn right around and drive all the way back. And the highway is crowded with fellow rats doing the same thing!
Grandma: That’s what they call progress dear.
I guess she’s right. But we do have television—when it works. Gives you something to do after you come home. I kind of like it, y’know? Guy named John Cameron Swayze gives us all the news, and then they have all this singing and dancing. A lot of fluff, but it’s fun.
As John talks about television, the right side diorama lights up to reveal Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma changes the station to a boxing match and starts shouting for one of the boxers.
The lights dim on the right side diorama as the right side diorama shows Jimmy dressed as a werewolf and carving a pumpkin. He jokes that he modeled it after his sister Patty before Sarah’s voice is heard coming to Patty’s defense.
The right side illuminates again as Patty is talking on the phone with a friend while she’s hooked up to an old vibrating exercise machine. Patty and her friend go back and forth making fun of each other’s dates before John asks a question to the audience about what people said about him when he was dating Sarah. The cuckoo clock chimes before John talks about how Sarah is busy wallpapering their basement.
The left side diorama lights up to show Sarah on a ladder with an electric food mixer that John has setup as a paint mixer. The mixer splatters paint all over the room before Sarah gets upset.
In an effort to cheer her up, John begins singing the attraction’s theme song before transitioning into Act IV.
Act IV is set on Christmas during the early 2000s. The set for Act IV is configured differently than the previous three. There are no dioramas on the side and John is standing in the kitchen behind a counter. Sarah is at an office setup in front of the kitchen counter while Grandma and Jimmy sit on the edge of the kitchen in front of the television. Both Grandma and Jimmy wear virtual reality headsets as Grandpa and Patty sit in the living room near the Christmas tree. The dining room table is behind the living room and an open door is seen to the side of the dining room table.
In deference to the previous three acts, all of the characters in the scene contribute to the discussion of new technologies. This dialogue has remained unchanged since 1993. As a result some references are still relevant like high definition television, voice activated appliances and virtual reality. Other references have not aged as well like car phones and laser discs.
The scene is setup with mother programming the voice-activated oven to John’s voice. As this is taking place, Grandma and Jimmy are playing a, “Virtual reality space pilot game,” and Grandpa and Patricia are adding commentary and gentle ribbing.
John has their Christmas turkey in the oven and knowingly sets the temperature to 375 degrees with the recently programmed voice activation. As Grandma is playing the space pilot game, Jimmy is calling out the scores and John repeats them. Each time John repeats a number the oven tempearture increases, first to 550 degrees and then to 975 degrees. When the oven increases to 975 degrees it generates an error, smoke comes from the sides of the door and the door bursts open.
The family laughs it off as Patricia suggests frozen pizzas. The scene ends with the entire family singing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as the stage rotates one last time into the unload position.
A portion of the Tomorrowland Transit Authorit PeopleMover travels along the outside of the Carousel of Progress theater.
A poster and accompanying placard outside of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress reads:
Carousel of Progress
a Walt Disney presentation at the 1964-65 N.Y. World’s Fair
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
The Carousel of Progress first premiered at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. The show then moved to Disneyland, where it opened as part of a new Tomorrowland in 1973. Carousel of Progress relocated to its current home here in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, where it continues to entertain guests from around the globe.
TIMES GUIDE - OPENING/CLOSING
This attraction opens with the park, but will occasionally close one hour before park closing.
The attraction features a revolving theater. Six different theaters rotate counter clockwise around the four show scenes. As each show scene plays simultaneously to a different theater, the other two theaters are loading or unloading.
The pre-show video features a history of the original presentation of the Carousel of Progress at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. It includes the songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman as well as Walt Disney talking about the show.
The original voice of the father, Rex Allen also narrates a portion of the pre-show video.
The pre-show begins with Richard and Robert Sherman at the piano singing, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as Walt Disney stands in approval before ultimate joining in on the chorus.
Walt continues introducing the theme of the General Electric Pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. He explains the way the theater and the audio animatronic figures work in this presentation.
A montage of scenes from the Carousel of Progress comes on screen following a narration by voice actor Rex Allen. Allen explains how the show was made for the World’s Fair and reinforces the show’s theme of progress. Footage in the pre-show shows the construction and programming of many of the animatronics and the stage itself.
The footage includes Walt Disney working with an Imagineer that’s programming the father in Act I of the attraction. In the programming sequence, Walt looks at the newspaper that the father is holding and identifies the year as 1890.
Rex Allen returns to narrate over footage of the original World’s Fair version of the attraction and describes the attraction as a tribute to Walt Disney.
General Electric: 1975 – March 10, 1985
Carousel of Progress first debuted at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. From there it moved to Disneyland where it opened on July 2, 1967. As the Magic Kingdom was undergoing Phase 2 of it’s Tomorrowland, Carousel of Progress was relocated once again. It closed in Disneyland on September 9, 1973.
When the show opened in the Magic Kingdom in 1975 it featured a new Sherman Brother’s song, “Now Is the Time”. The show differed slightly from the World’s Fair/Disneyland counterpart with a new voice actor (Andrew Duggan) for the father, the new song and a new finale scene.
In 1981, the final scene changed once again following a refurbishment. Following the conclusion of General Electric’s sponsorship in 1985, minor script changes were made removing all references to General Electric.
In 1990, the final scene was modified slightly to remove any references to the 1980s.
The attraction closed for refurbishment on August 16, 1993, reopening on November 23, 1993. The attraction reopened with the version guests experience today. The original song, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” returned to the attraction and a new finale scene was created.
When the attraction reopened in 1993 it was an integral part of the soon to open “New Tomorrowland” and was presented by the Tomorrowland and Metro Retro Society. The attraction’s design and exterior featured bright colors and gears as part of the logo.
In 2015, the exterior was repaitned and the logo was redesigned to a sleek silver logo calling back to the original design.
The attraction is also often linked to the extinct EPCOT Center attraction, Horizons. Sequences in Horizons featured a family progressing into the future and was often viewed as a sequel to Carousel of Progress.
The revolving theater is unique to this attraction. While the Carousel of Progress is more lighthearted, the audio animatronic stage show is similar in concept to the American Adventure.
Cast (1993 – Present)
|Young Son/James||Peter Nelson|
|Teenage Son/James||Paul Osterhout|
|Grandmother (Finale Scene)||Janet Waldo|
|Uncle Orville||Mel Blanc|
|Radio Voices||Noel Blanc|
- “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” music and lyrics – Richard Sherman & Robert Sherman, sung by Jean Shepherd
- “Now Is The Time” music and lyrics – Richard Sherman & Robert Sherman