Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

$5 Million in Upgrades Coming to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is a stage show featuring an Audio-Animatronic Abraham Lincoln, best known for being presented at Disneyland since 1965. The show was originally showcased as the prime feature of the State of Illinois Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. One year after its debut at the World’s Fair, the show opened at Disneyland, where it has undergone several changes and periods of hiatus over the years.

Now the attraction is undergoing a $5 million upgrade. Disneyland filed building permits with the city of Anaheim to replace show elements, lighting, audio and show systems for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, according to city records. The permit also shows an existing platform will be replaced, along with a new turntable that will be installed, as well as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work that will be performed on the attraction.

During construction for Disneyland, the Main Street Opera House originally housed the lumber mill from 1954 through 1961, and was one of the first buildings to be built on the property. The site was transformed into a Babes In Toyland exhibit, and opened on December 17, 1961, three days after the film was released. To help rumble up excitement for the film, they set up some of the sets around the Opera House, so guests could take photos there. Some cast members also dressed up as minor characters from the film to help boost the immersion level. The movie bombed at the box office, however, the exhibit lasted almost two years until September 30, 1963 before closing to briefly become the Mickey Mouse Club Headquarters and then transitioning into the attraction it is today, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

The first Disneyland version of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln – named after the World’s Fair attraction – opened on July 18, 1965, in honor of Disneyland’s Tencennial. The show in the main theater with was a duplicate of the World’s Fair attraction. The exterior and interiors of the building were given a new theme using exhibits, displays, and films that featured Abraham Lincoln and Walt Disney. This particular version of the show lasted until January 1, 1973.

On April 8, 1973, a different attraction named The Walt Disney Story opened in the Opera House. While the exterior remained the same with the exception of new signage, the interior was redesigned so the exhibits could reflect the history of Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company, and Disneyland. The main theater looked the same, but the Audio-Animatronic Abraham Lincoln, as well as other props and set pieces, were either removed or remained in place covered by a projection screen that was added to show the tribute film to Walt Disney. The 23-minute film stitched together archival film and audio footage that appeared to be an autobiography of Walt Disney.

The Walt Disney Story may have been a fitting tribute to Walt Disney, who died on December 15, 1966, many were upset by the removal of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. The attraction closed in early 1975 and reopened on June 12, 1975, as The Walt Disney Story featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. The projection screen in the theater was removed, and the theater was restored to its original form, including the show itself. The entrance, pre-show, post-show, and exit, however, no longer featured exhibits on Abraham Lincoln, but rather Walt Disney. A new, revised film about Walt Disney became the sole pre-show production and the previous feature film was eliminated. After the preshow, guests entered the main theater to see the original show which remained the same, but the speech Abraham Lincoln gave was edited as some of the words were adapted from the speech Abraham Lincoln gave in Hall of Presidents from Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

The attraction was updated once again in 1984 with a new version of the pre-show film on Walt Disney and revisions to the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show in the main theater. A new audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln was created with enhanced movements and facial expressions, along with new skin, a new costume, and the ability for Mr. Lincoln to hold a piece of paper in his hand for his speech. Props and set pieces on the stage were also redressed. The original 1964 World’s Fair audio recordings were still used for the narration and speech by Mr. Lincoln, however portions of Lincoln’s speech were deleted. Two new songs, “Golden Dream” and “Two Brothers” from The American Adventure show in EPCOT were added to the production.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln underwent another extensive refurbishment in early 2001. During refurbishment, the Paul Frees and Royal Dano recordings were removed, and both were eventually replaced by Corey Burton, who voiced Mathew Brady, and Warren Burton who provided the voice of Lincoln. The set was also redone, the background curtains as well as the replica of the US Capitol’s rotunda were completely removed. The chair where Lincoln sat was replaced with a small wooden chair. The small columns behind the chair were also removed and replaced with plants and flowers. The big columns from the previous versions of the show were left intact. The Lincoln figure was given an upgrade; its beard was lengthened to match Lincoln’s age. It was also given a pair of eyeglasses, as well as a small paper. The main theater was given a minor refurbishment, both sides featuring portraits of Civil War soldiers. On July 17, 2001, the attraction re-opened, but it was drastically changed to focus on the Civil War, even though the attraction still retained the name The Walt Disney Story featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. In this version of the show, guests were given special headphones with binaural sound technology. During the show, a fictitious Union soldier named John Cunningham met Civil War photographer Matthew Brady in his photo studio, received a semi-uncomfortable haircut, and went back to battle. Cunningham then met President Lincoln and attended the Gettysburg Address in person. At this point, the curtains opened to reveal Lincoln standing on the stage to deliver the address. As Lincoln gave the address, the background behind him changed from a normal day to a sky at dawn, closing the show was a rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. As the music was played the background changed to form the American Flag. As Lincoln sat down in his chair, a painting of the statue located at the Lincoln Memorial covered the night sky. At this point, the curtains began to descend and the 12-minute program ended.

The attraction closed temporarily yet again on February 20, 2005, to make room for Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years. This show had a series of exhibits and a main theater film presented by Steven Martin and an animated Donald Duck. This film was presented as part of Disneyland’s Happiest Homecoming On Earth 50th Anniversary Celebration. The official celebration ran from May 5, 2005, to September 30, 2006, however, Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years, however, until March 15, 2009.

In 2009, the most extensive refurbishment at the time took place. Mr. Lincoln returned in a new attraction called The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. The show reopened on December 18, 2009. The previous hydraulic-based Audio-Animatronic figure was replaced by an electronic audio-animatronic figure, which Disney Imagineers say greatly extended Lincoln’s emotive capabilities. The new show features an abridged version of his autobiography, the first two sentences from his Gettysburg Address, and the song “Two Brothers” following the news about the civil war. In the final act, the Audio-Animatronic Lincoln stands to perform portions of the speech from the original attraction, in which the late Royal Dano once more provides the voice of Lincoln. Dano’s voice, however, is from a newly discovered recording that was cleaner than the original performance. Also, the song “Golden Dream” is played as guests exit the attraction.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln closed for an extended refurbishment April 16, and the show will remain closed through at least June 19. However, no official reopening date has been set.

Disneyland officials said that they are excited to be investing in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln to keep the beloved experience looking great. The Main Street Opera House theater is also being improved and the President Lincoln Audio-Animatronic figure isn’t going anywhere either.

What do you think of the upcoming changes to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln? Is this one of your favorite attractions at Disneyland? Let us know in the comments!