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The Walt Disney Story

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(and the return of Mr. Lincoln)
The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1974

“Excuse me Donald, but where’s Mr. Lincoln?”

Step into the Main Street Opera House for a tribute to a truly great American… Abraham Lincoln? No. Walt Disney!


The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1974

No mention of Mr. Lincoln on the poster—because he’s not part of the show

Before you enter the 500-seat theater, be sure to see the large collection of Walt Disney memorabilia in the lobby.

The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photos by Allen Huffman, 2001

Walt Disney, Naturalist

Even without Abraham Lincoln, there’s still a Audio-Animatronic performer. An owl talks about Walt’s love of animals and his series of True-Life Adventures nature movies.

The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Walt Disney, Animation Pioneer

After you see the exhibits, relax in air-conditioned comfort as you watch a 28-minute movie biography of Walt Disney. The filmmakers assembled rare footage, such as scenes from early Alice comedies, tracing the life of the creative genius.

The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Walt Disney and the Art of Feature Animation

Not only is Walt Disney the subject of the movie; he’s also the narrator. The filmmakers assembled the narration from various interviews made by Walt Disney during his lifetime. Hear Walt speak of EPCOT, his planned Florida city “where people actually live a life they can’t find anywhere else in the world.”


At Disneyland, The Walt Disney Story survived from 1973 to 2005 in one form or another.

The Walt Disney Story opened at the Main Street Opera House in 1973, replacing Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Walt Disney’s Audio Animatronic tribute to the Great Emancipator had been at Disneyland since July 18, 1965 (and originally at the State of Illinois Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair).

It was time for something new. Right?

Wrong!

Disneyland guests complained that the removal of Mr. Lincoln was an insult to the memory of Walt Disney (1901-1966)—never mind that The Walt Disney Story was supposed to honor Walt.

1974 Disneyland Guide Book

© 1973 Walt Disney Productions

Cover and a look inside, Fall/Winter 1973-74 Disneyland Guide

A look at the “Free Shows and Exhibits” section of the Fall/Winter 1973-73 Disneyland Guide (below) confirms that The Walt Disney Story was about Uncle Walt, not Honest Abe.

The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1996

Poster for The Walt Disney Story (1996 photo)

In 1975, Mr. Lincoln returned.

Guests seated in the Opera House were treated to a double feature. After the movie about Mr. Disney, good ol’ Audio Animatronic Abe gave his speech. This long presentation had an appropriately long name—The Walt Disney Story featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

The exhibits in the Opera House lobby still primarily featured Walt Disney.

The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Walt Disney photo wall with Abraham Lincoln video

In 1984, the movie about Walt Disney disappeared; a more technologically advanced Mr. Lincoln replaced his predecessor; and the “Golden Dream” music from The American Adventure at Epcot Center replaced the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Although some of the Walt Disney memorabilia remained in the pre-show lobby, for all practical purposes The Walt Disney Story attraction of 1973 was history. But the name survived on the marquee.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was considered to be an important attraction—almost a sacred attraction—but that didn’t mean that guests regularly filled the theater. They were too busy running off to fun, entertaining attractions.

In 1990, Disney cast members learned that Mr. Lincoln was on his way out once again, this time to be replaced by a 3D film featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets. Los Angeles Times writer Bob Pool described the public outcry and its outcome (“Lincoln Liberated Tourist Revolt Keeps “Great Emancipator” on Display at Disneyland” August 24, 1990):

Reports have circulated for the last three months among Disneyland’s 8,000 employees that the Main Street opera hall, which also houses exhibits honoring park founder Walt Disney, would be turned over to Kermit, Miss Piggy and Big Bird.

Officials announced a week ago that the Lincoln exhibit would be closed Sunday for the “refurbishing” of the opera house. They said plans for the plush-seated auditorium near the park’s entrance gate would be disclosed later.

On Thursday, park operators said Lincoln will live—at least for now.

Disneyland spokesman Paul Goldman said park planners are looking at several other sites for the Muppets, including an area near the “It’s a Small World” attraction. “It’s a matter of shoehorning things in,” he said.

Goldman said officials were surprised by the outcry over Lincoln.

“If you’d asked a few days ago I’d have said that being a 25-year-old attraction, its popularity has passed. But there seems to be a lot of sentiment for Lincoln.”

The Main Street Opera House needed something to make the turnstiles click, but ousting Mr. Lincoln was not the answer.

The Walt Disney Story, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Teaser in 2001

A decade after the Muppet blow-up, there was finally a plan to make The Walt Disney Story featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln more relevant, up-to-date, and entertaining.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Banner announcing the switch to the Gettysburg Address

On July 17, 2001, the 46th anniversary of the televised opening of Disneyland, the park celebrated the Grand Opening of a new version. This time, Mr. Lincoln’s speech was preceded by a binaural sound show in the tradition of Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2004

A poster in front of the Opera House for “The Journey to Gettysburg.”

The premise was that you would identify with Private Cunningham, a Civil War soldier about to have his portrait done by famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Wearing headphones, you would even experience Cunningham’s haircut, just as guests in Florida would experience Drew Carey’s haircut.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Lincoln with eyeglasses

Here’s how Mike Anton described the new version in in Los Angeles Times, Orange County Edition (“Mr. Lincoln, Version 3.0, Debuts” July 18, 2001):

On Tuesday, the theme park introduced a new and improved Abraham Lincoln, giving the 16th president a make-over that today’s politicians could only dream of.

“We updated him to today’s standards,” said Steven Spiegel, a senior show writer at Disneyland who worked for a year on the project. “He has a new skin… More natural looking.”

Lincoln also got a change of clothes, a new hairdo and a new story line enhanced by historic photos and 3-D audio technology.

Gone is the tale of Lincoln’s rise from a log cabin to the White House. In its place is the story of a fictional Union soldier who jokes with famed photographer Mathew Brady, meets Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, goes to war, is wounded and has a leg amputated.

All in less than 12 minutes.

Mr. Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address—not the speech that he had been giving since the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Although the Gettysburg Address is one of greatest speeches in the history of the American presidency, the original speech—an edited compilation of various things said by Mr. Lincoln in various speeches—somehow worked better in the context of the Disney presentation.

Critics referred to this version Disneyland’s Lincoln presentation as “Sounds Dangerous with Mr. Lincoln.”

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2004

2004, the final year with The Walt Disney Story on the marquee

Although the presentation changed to “The Journey to Gettysburg,” the marquee and attraction remained the same.

Disneyland, The First 50 Magical Years

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Marquee for Disneyland, The First 50 Magical Years

May 5, 2005, Disneyland launched the 18-month “The Happiest Homecoming on Earth” celebration, marking the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. The marquee letters for The Walt Disney Story featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln came down. Mr. Lincoln went on vacation.

The new show at the Main Street Opera House was The First 50 Magical Years, a film starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck. (Also in 2005, Steve Martin was named Disney Legend.) All sorts of Disneyland art, models and mementoes filled the Opera House lobby.

The plan was for a well-rested Mr. Lincoln to return right after the end of the celebration. However, guests continued to hear only Mr. Martin, not Mr. Lincoln, through March 15, 2009.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Disneyland Opera House House marquee as it currently appears

On February 25, 2009, Disneyland Resort Public Relations announced that Mr. Lincoln would return. (In scheduling the announcement, they somehow missed Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday 13 days earlier.)

However, The Walt Disney Story—the subject of this Yesterland article—would not be back. When that sign came down in 2005, The Walt Disney Story went away forever. The new name would be The Disneyland Story, featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. Lincoln returned to the Opera House on December 18, 2009. Guests can still catch the film with Mr. Martin and Mr. Duck, but it’s now on a smaller screen in the lobby.

Donald Duck, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

“Excuse me Donald, but where’s The Walt Disney Story?”

There were many changes between the first photo and the final photo in this article—but Donald Duck still seems to like this location.


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Updated May 31, 2014.