Home School Ideas at Disney

World Showcase in Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park near Orlando, FL features pavilions from 11 nations. This is an exciting educational opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures, especially those that people don’t usually visit, like Morocco and Norway. But in the very back of World Showcase at the opposite side of the lagoon lies the American Adventure, representing our own USA. Can we learn anything by visiting our own pavilion?

Yes! Quite a bit, actually.

Begin with the building itself. What does it represent? Of all the government buildings and/or architectural styles that could have been used, Disney’s “Imagineers” (creative people who design and build theme parks) used the style of a colonial manor house as being symbolic of the most critical period in our history – the nation’s founding. Also, creating “America’s Mansion” rather than reproducing a government building matches the approaches to the other pavilions in World Showcase.

To go into even more detail, the edifice is a good example of English Georgian architecture, meaning it dates to the 18th-century reigns of King George I through King George IV and thus became common in the colonies as well. Characteristics of this style include Greek-revivalist porticos, the stone-quoined corners (suggesting strength and solidity), and a clock and bell tower above the roof.

After taking all this in, turn around and view the American Gardens Theater and notice how it matches the main building.

Finally, note the use of color – red, white and blue are used throughout the area. The color palate is established at the outset with red bricks, white trim, and a blue-tiled fountain. Flowers in the landscaping are always planted in red, white and blue combinations. Look for further examples both outside and inside of this pavilion.

Of course, the key is the 30-minute multi-media show performed on a stage one quarter the size of a football field. Using backgrounds of paintings, photographs, and movies, with 35 Audio-Animatronic (AA) figures and their own sets in the foreground, it’s the most elaborate show in World Showcase.

Since the show is so long, you should have plenty of time in the pre-show waiting area. Look around, notice the paintings on the walls, the seal in the middle of the floor, and any artifacts that might be on display. (An American Heritage Gallery: National Treasures exhibit was on display during my last visit.) Feel free to ask questions to any Disney cast member (employee).

When it’s showtime, you will be led upstairs to the theater’s entrance. The stairway is a Hall of Flags featuring a multiplicity of banners from American history. See how many you can identify. If the crowd is not too large, perhaps you can pause long enough to take pictures for later identification.

The show itself covers our entire history, from the Pilgrims landing to scenes from the late 20th Century. Here are some points to keep in mind as you watch:

– The narrators are Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. Do you agree with these choices? Who would you like to have seen? Early plans actually had three narrators, the third being Will Rogers. Would that have worked, or would three be too many? (By the way, notice that the AA Ben Franklin walks up steps in one scene.)

– The show was designed as American history through the eyes of the common man. For example, the Revolutionary War scene features two Continental Army soldiers discussing their plight at Valley Forge as General George Washington sits silently astride his horse. Can you feel their emotions? Was this the most effective viewpoint?

– Notice that the backgrounds match the time period being explained. In other words, paintings are used for the Colonial Period, photographs appear for the Civil War, and movies are featured for the 20th Century.

– Note that some of the chosen spokespeople present a real cross-section of American political causes. Included were Frederick Douglass (slavery), Chief Joseph (Native Americans), Susan B. Anthony (woman’s suffrage), and John Muir (environmentalism). Do you agree with all the choices? Were any groups left out? Were these people included for their legitimate contributions or for “political correctness”?

– I’ll be even more direct: Since The Walt Disney Company is an entertainment company, not an educational company, did the show producers make any compromises to avoid controversy? I’ve identified one: in covering the wars of the 20th Century, no mention is made of any enemies by nationality. The closest reference is to “…the whole Nazi fleet…”.

– The history of the last half of the 20th Century is told through a film montage of faces and events. How many can you identify? Was anything forgotten?

– Pay close attention to the show’s closing scene: Ben Franklin and Mark Twain in earnest conversation while standing on the Statue of Liberty’s torch. In their final remarks, Ben and Mark ponder our past and discuss our future with a mixture of concern, criticism, confidence, and a bit of hope. Are they right? Did this ending set the proper tone?

As the show ends, be sure to look around the theater at the twelve life-size statues on both sides. These are the Spirits of America. Each represents an attribute of our country: the Spirit of Freedom (represented by a Pilgrim), the Spirit of Individualism (a cowboy), the Spirit of Knowledge (a teacher), and so forth.

The American Adventure is a remarkable show that tells our country’s story in an entertaining and inspiring way. Be sure to enjoy it. But its educational value is quite substantial, too.

References:

The official Disney website for this pavilion is:  http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/epcot/attractions/american-adventure/

Epcot Guide Map, The Walt Disney Company, 2010.

The Imagineers, “The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World”, New York: Disney Editions, 2006.

Smith, Dave, “Disney A to Z, The Official Encyclopedia Third Edition”, New York: Disney Editions, 2006.

“Walt Disney‘s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow”, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1982.