Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is an attraction located at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World and formerly at Disneyland. Starting life as an exhibition at the 1964 New York World's Fair sponsored by General Electric, the Carousel of Progress is an audio-animatronic show built into a rotating theatre. Steeped in nostalgia and the excitement of future technologies, the Carousel revolves around an American family living through four different eras while experiencing the wonders of how Technology Marches On.
Generally considered one of Walt Disney's finest and most beloved achievements, the Carousel has run for fifty years and is the longest-running show in the history of American theatre. The attraction's original concept was set in the never realized Edison Square area in Disneyland and would show how G.E. appliances have benefitted American families. The actual attraction opened at the 1964 World's Fair as Progressland, featuring Rex Allen as the voice of the host, the father of the family later named John, and a theme song written by Richard and Robert Sherman named "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow", which has become a popular song among Disney fans.
The attraction opened in Disneyland in 1967, lasting until 1973 when it was replaced by America Sings. The Magic Kingdom edition was sponsored by G.E. for ten years and went through numerous changes, particularly in the final modern setting to keep up with the times and changing technologies (the attraction is about progress after all). The Sherman Brothers were asked to write a new song to match G.E.'s desire for audiences to buy appliances now rather than in the future, the song being "The Best Time of Your Life". After G.E.'s sponsorship ended, the Carousel underwent major refurbishments and became a tribute to the original attraction and Walt Disney's vision, featuring a new cast headed by Jean Shepherd and a return of the original theme song.
As said, the attraction shifts through four different eras, featuring the same family of father John, his wife Sarah, their kids Patricia and Jimmy, the family dog Rover, Grandma and Grandpa, and "perennial house guest" Uncle Orville, as they experience the development of technology and electricity. The first act is in the turn-of-the-century on Valentine's Day and features innovations of the era and nods to early films, Thomas Edison, and the Wright Brothers. The 1920s act takes place on Independence Day, featuring the new electrical marvels that cause a blackout. The third act is set in the 1940s on Halloween, introducing television and Sarah's attempt to handle a makeshift paint mixer. The final act is set on Christmas in the modern era (early 21st century) that features hi-def television, virtual reality games, and voice-activated appliances (all of which have became more affordable and technologically practical as the century has progressed). An early version had the last act set in Progress City, better known as Walt's original concept of Epcot.
Since its opening in 1967, the final act of the ride has been updated four times to keep it current with trends in consumer product technology. The most recent update was in 1993.
Carousel of Progress provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion: A Red Ryder BB Gun is amongst the gifts in the Christmas scene in the 1994 version, a nod to Jean Shepherd's role as the writer and narrator of A Christmas Story.
- The All-American Boy: Jimmy has traits of this.
- Anachronism Stew: A minor example. The 21st-century final act originally featured an analog TV, but it broke and was replaced by a very modern-looking flatscreen.
- The Artifact: Not the attraction itself but rather the modern day act which hasn’t been updated in a few years, featuring technology like Laser Discs, etc.
- Big Blackout: John causes a blackout in the neighbourhood for the third time in the week whilst showing off the kitchen’s electrical appliances.
- Big Friendly Dog: The family dog Rover.
- Bumbling Dad: The current version has the father more susceptible to mistakes. The blackout, the paint stirrer idea (though it's the mother who is on the receiving end of the mess), and the turkey are all his fault. This replaces the casual sexism of earlier versions of the attractions.
- The Cameo:
- Mel Blanc voices the parrot and Uncle Orville, making it among only a handful of projects he worked on for Disney.
- Rex Allen, the original voice actor of John, appears as Grandpa in the current version of the attraction.
- Christmas Episode: The final act is set at Christmas.
- Cool Old Lady: Grandma watches a boxing match on TV whilst her husband snoozes. The modern Grandma kicks Jimmy’s ass on his video game.
- Costume Porn: Sarah has a hand at making pretty detailed costumes for the 1920s Fourth of July Parade.
- Crapola Tech: In the 1940s act, John constructed a paint mixing gizmo for Sarah to use, sacrificing her food mixer to build it. The mixer malfunctions and splashes Sarah with paint. She isn’t happy.
- Cue the Rain: In the first act, John claims it won’t rain. Guess what happens next.
- Deadpan Snarker: John does this occasionally, though Grandpa steals the spotlight in the modern setting.
- Double Entendre: John’s comment on the rumpus room – “And we're looking forward to a few rumpuses I'll tell you, as long as they don't get out of hand.”
- Fully-Clothed Nudity: Patricia in the 1994 version worries over her appearance in the first act, describing herself as “indecent” even though her period undergarments cover her head to toe.
- The Future: The original 1960s version featured this, set in Walt Disney’s planned concept of Epcot, with Progress City visible in the back window.
- The Ghost: Subverted for Uncle Orville. We see him having a bath in the second act, but he becomes this trope in the fourth act when the family disturb him when he is in the bathroom.
- Halloween Episode: The 1940s act.
- Henpecked Husband: John is often interrupted by Sarah and often hushes up when she nags.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: Rover barks angrily to some comments or jokes made by John.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: This has become one of a very few theme park attractions attributed to Walt in its official name.
- It Will Never Catch On: Serves as a Running Gag throughout the Carousel, with the characters believing the latest tech will never become a common thing. The next act shows said technology has.
- Last Resort Takeout: After John burns the turkey in a voice-controlled oven, Patricia asks, "Anyone for pizza?"
- Lethal Chef: John nuked the turkey two Christmases in a row.
- No Fourth Wall: John directly addresses the audience for the first three acts and other characters acknowledge their presence.
- Our Acts Are Different: The show consists of four acts, an introduction, and an ending speech.
- Oven Logic: The voice-activated oven in the modern day act follows John’s voice commands, increasing the temperature every time a number is spoken til it chars the Christmas turkey.
- The Patriarch: John fills this role as head of the family.
- Polly Wants a Microphone: Grandma’s parrot (voiced by Mel Blanc) complains about her constantly playing the radio.
- Product Placement: The original attraction was sponsored by General Electric so naturally a lot of their products were on display. After the sponsorship ended, most of their logos were removed, though some remain.
- Rapid-Fire Interrupting: John gets repeatedly interrupted by Sarah in the 1920s act when he tries to express his opinions on her costumes for the Fourth of July Parade. Lampshaded by John when Rover barks during Sarah’s chatter.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: The original theme song was replaced with "The Best Time of Your Life" to suit G.E.'s desire for audiences to buy appliances then and there rather than wait for the future. The original song returned in the 1993 refurbishment.
- Running Gag:
- Patricia has a new boyfriend in each act, though the time skipping might be an explanation.
- Uncle Orville being disturbed whilst in the bathroom.
- Shout-Out: The music playing on the television in Act 3 before Grandma changes it to boxing is "Two Silhouettes" from Make Mine Music.
- Stay in the Kitchen: Older versions of the attraction had the husband to have this mindset. In the most recent version, some of the wife's previous chores are now the husband's responsibility.
- Thematic Theme Tune: The attraction’s theme song “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” reflects the show’s themes of the excitement of the future and innovations that come from it.
- Time Skip: The four acts transition twenty or so years into the future – 1900s, 1920s, 1940s, and the modern era. The characters mostly stay the same age until the modern day where Jimmy and Patricia are now adults and John is looking somewhat older.
- Valentine's Day Episode: The first act in the 1994 version is set on Valentine’s Day.
- Virtual Assistant Blunder: John in the final act has some issues with his voice activated oven, which raised the temperature every time John spoke a different number in an unrelated conversation, burning the turkey.
- When I Was Your Age...: Grandpa is implied to do this a lot.