By Dewayne Bevil, The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. — He nods. He speaks. He talks with his hands.
He doesn’t tweet.
He looks downright presidential. He’s animatronic Donald Trump, and he has made his debut in the Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney World visitors got a sneak peek of the refurbished attraction with the Trump figure front and slightly off-center Monday afternoon.
The attraction officially opens Tuesday, Disney said. Visitors in the park Monday afternoon were able to see the new figure and film.
President Trump’s figure moved his head back and forth during the traditional roll call of leaders, motioned with his arms and gave a brief speech.
The first part of his speech was a re-recording of the presidential oath of office. Then, with no small amount of his trademark talking with his hands, Trump — who recorded his words earlier this year — spoke about the spirit of the American people and the U.S. Constitution.
“Above all, to be American is to be an optimist — to believe that we can always do better — and that the best days of our great nation are still ahead of us,” Trump concludes. “It’s a privilege to serve as the president of the United States, to stand here among so many great leaders of our past, and to work on behalf of the American people.” Lacking a “Make America Great Again” cap, his figure wears a dark suit and a diagonally striped tie.
Trump’s figure stands between Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, whose animatronics are seated.
The theater was about half-full for Monday’s first presentation at 4 p.m. There was applause when the curtain rose to reveal the presidents, and again at the end of the show.
Rick Buck of Whitesboro, N.Y., said he loved the show and representation of Trump, whom he said he voted for last year. In real life, Buck likes Trump’s goal of ousting corrupt politicians in Washington, he said. At Disney, he liked the animatronic Trump. He said it looked like the president, down to “the tie that goes past the buckle.”
But Nathan Cruse, who is visiting Florida from Redmond, Wash., didn’t like Trump dominating the last segment of the show: “I feel like they shouldn’t have the incumbent president speak if he’s not popular nationwide,” said Cruse, who said he did not vote for Trump.
While the attraction was closed for refurbishing, there was movement among those who oppose Trump to exclude him or his voice from the attraction. An online petition gathered more than 15,000 virtual signatures. But this summer, Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger said that Trump had agreed to record for the Hall of Presidents. Every sitting president since Bill Clinton entered office has had a speaking part, Disney has said.
The Hall of Presidents, which debuted with the Magic Kingdom in 1971, frequently gets a refurbishment with the change in leadership. This year, the theater received an upgrade in its sound, light and projection packages.
A wide-screen production called “The Idea of a President,” which covers national topics from the Revolution onward, precedes the animatronics. In particular, it highlights challenges faced by George Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. It also deals with stickier topics such as race relations and wage disparity. No Disney executives or Imagineers were available for comment Monday.
Barack Obama’s animatronic is now adjacent to two of his contemporaries, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The waiting area of the hall has also been enhanced with additional presidential memorabilia (Lyndon Johnson’s monogrammed boots, Gerald Ford’s ski poles, Thomas Jefferson’s pocket watch), a display of how the figures are made, an explanation of Walt Disney’s connection to presidents and two gowns that were worn by first ladies Betty Ford and Grace Coolidge.