Thursday, June 28, 2012

American Adventure Cast Members' New Costumes

I was very happy to receive such positive feedback on my interview with Lonnie Hicks, the wonderful Cast Member who introduces one of Epcot’s greatest attractions, The American Adventure (located in the World Showcase pavilion of the same name). Even Brad Rex, VP of Epcot from 2001-2007, commented, reiterating that Lonnie is one of Disney's outstanding Cast Members and an "Ambassador" of American Adventure. I’ve corresponded with Lonnie a few times since, and have been pretty happy to able to converse with one of my favorite Cast Members in all of Walt Disney World (come to think of it, in all of Disney). However, his most recent email to me didn’t start off well.

We are definitely not happy Disney World Cast Members at Epcot's "The American Adventure" pavilion.


In the near future, we will (unfortunately) no longer portray "Colonial Gentlefolk" and represent hospitable residents of the magnificent Georgian mansion which houses the unique Epcot Audio-Animatronic theater show known as "The American Adventure," because some Disney executive has decided to take away the appropriate period costumes from the Cast Members. This arbitrary change (after 30 years) seems like a misguided and ill-informed decision.

The interior of the "Colonial America manor house" -- American Adventure

I immediately replied and offered my support, since I too felt that this decision seemed rather arbitrary. With Lonnie’s permission (and probably blessing), I decided to post excerpts of his email here on The Disney Project. He has already sent the same letter to several other folks, including the current VP of Epcot. For the purpose of clarity, Lonnie's words will be in italics.

Instead, we Colonial Folks will wear modern suits and dresses, closely resembling air-flight attendants (perhaps these uniforms were discarded from the failed Disney/ABC-TV series "Pan Am"?). Yes, the color combination will indeed project a red/white/blue USA color scheme, but the same color comment could also apply to France, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Where is the distinct design and style?

When the Imagineers were designing World Showcase, great care was given to the “American section.” Walt Disney World is obviously in America, so they had to figure out a way to feature our great nation, without vastly overshadowing its neighbors. On the other hand, Americans would be less than pleased if Disney’s native country was under-featured. The design would be colonial America, as that was arguably the most important time period in our Nation’s history. It was a very good choice, and as always, costumes would be paramount in maintaining the theme. Disney knows this, as theming is something they do better than anybody. Can you imagine Pirates of the Caribbean Cast Members running around in a polo shirt and khakis?

Gone will be the classic period theming and atmosphere which has always ranked as a distinguishing hallmark of the various Disney theme parks. Where's the story, the living narrative, the character, the heritage, the culture, the attention to detail? The popular attraction's official Operating Guide clearly states that three years of extensive research were used, "... to obtain information as complete and as accurate as possible ..." from historical experts, libraries, and archival resources. Surely these modern uniforms will visually nullify the ambience which the original Disney Imagineers so carefully created and cultivated. Who will be next: the Fife and Drum Corps or the Voices of Liberty?

Ironically, in a recent edition of "Orlando Attractions Magazine" [Summer 2012, Volume 5, Issue 3] Richard Taylor (former Vice President of Walt Disney World Entertainment and Costuming) makes this statement: "One of the main components of the Disney experience is the meticulous attention to details, often in places that the public don't really notice. Costuming is one of those places, and it's the costumes of all Cast Members that really themes the parks." He then continues to detail how Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom was specifically constructed with utility corridors underground to solve the problem of Cast Members appearing in areas where their costumes didn't fit, a situation which troubled Walt Disney himself at Disneyland. Won't these contemporary costumes destroy that illusion of definite time and place?

Lonnie in the traditional male Cast Member costume for The American Adventure

Through the years WDW Guests have come to anticipate and appreciate the personal interaction and appearance of the appropriately dressed World Showcase countries inhabitants. One of the Guests' (as well as we Cast Members') favorite frequent activities is to pose for souvenir photos with the attraction's Colonial Folks. These picture opportunities seem especially important to visiting school groups and tourists from other nations. They often comment on how much they like or admire the historical-appearing clothing from America's proud past. What Guest will want to pose with a contemporary airline steward? What performance role will we now play if we don't look the part? Will these new contemporary costumes create Guest disappointment and dissatisfaction?

I have to imagine that these new costumes aren't going to be a hit with guests. Lonnie didn't have a photo to show me, but based on his description, they indeed sound oddly out of place. And perhaps more puzzling than the 'what' is the 'why'. Is it about money? Were some guests confused by the costumes, so much so that they flooded Guest Relations with queries and/or complaints? I hardly think so. Any kind of modern suit for Cast Members in the Colonial-themed American Adventure, regardless of its quality, is not going to in any way improve the motif. Odds are it's going to detract from the experience. At absolute best, it would only seem "a little weird" to some guests. So, again, why do it?

This whole modern costume situation at Epcot's "The American Adventure" attraction seems so sad and pointless, particularly since nobody was consulted or surveyed, not even management (If so much money readily exists in the current budget, new seat covers in the theater would have easily qualified as a much better project). But for now, we Cast Members directly affected are not happy about our future portrayals at Epcot's "The American Adventure" attraction.
     Sincerely, Lonnie Hicks ...
     16 year Disney Cast Member and a Partners in Excellence honoree

Thanks for taking the time out to write this letter, Lonnie. Your passion for creating a memorable guest experience is always appreciated, and exactly what Walt wanted for us.

When Lonnie referenced the article that detailed the reason for Walt Disney World's utilidoors, the incident in question came when Walt Disney himself witnessed a Frontierland cowboy sashaying through the space-aged Tomorrowland, completely destroying the illusion. Walt Disney, possibly above all else, was a showman. He knew better than anybody what it took to entertain the public. Having yet to see these new costumes, I am forced to reserve judgement. My only hope is that if they are awful, and end up "minusing" the guest experience at what should be Epcot's most celebrated pavilion, that Disney listens to guest feedback.


  1. What a sad display of a misinformed cast member. How sad it is when something as silly a a WELL NEEDED costume change causes someone to say the most idiotic things. I hope that on my next visit to Epcot I am able to meet Lonnie and ask him exactly what character he portrays. I have met him multiple times before and never once have I seen him in a character. Simply as a regular cast member doing the same job as any other cast member wearing a modern costume. Colonial America does not fit in with the theming of Epcot as a whole. The whole point of the costumes throughout World Showcase are to represent what we would think of as the garb of the locale (being the uninformed Americas we are). But when was the last time I left my home and saw someone wandering around in high socks and knickers? Never.
    The American Adventure stands as a tribute to the PAST AND PRESENT of America. I for one am all for a costume that represents the idea of these folks being our Ambassadors and Tour Guides of our history. Why bother being colonists when Liberty Square has the well wrapped up AND a character to boot.
    I certainly hope Disney does not sit idly by as a cast member shares what I am assuming is probably news not available to the public. Even Walt would never have asked for that.
    I look forward to a much more memorable guest experience at the American Adventure and wish the cast all the best as they make the transition into a real character and to a true Ambassador to the past, present and future of American. Long live the progress Walt felt so strongly about!Long live Progress City!

    1. Really? Have you been to the Germany Pavillion? Do you think that is what Germans wear on a daily basis? Or how about Norway, Italy, Mexico, or Canada? They all are "old" and I guarantee you you would be hard-pressed to find people in those countries that dress like that on a regular basis. I know Lonnie and I am also familiar with the costume change. Not only is it inappropriate for the decor, but it is also impractical to wear a blazer when you are out side in the heat for an hour or more at a time.

    2. We are cast members playing the role of colonial america- Our heritage. I am appaled at the comments displayed about Lonnie! Cast members are part of the show and Lonnie displays a historian of our heritage. Until you work for the company and engross yourself in the Magic as Walt wanted you have no way of understanding why we are so passionate on what we do. All of the countries represent their heritage. There isn't one country that portrays modern 'costums'. In fact I would be frightend what we would see! Walt wanted to perserve the heritage of America, to keep the American dream alive with imagery, and in these times where we can't even say the plege of alegience in schools or GOD BLESS AMERICA I for one don't see how the imaginers can even consider changing the costums- Read about him and you would learn about how he envisioned both epcot and magic kingdom. Although Epcot design was not is full vision he did want to have a world showcase to share differnt cultures aroung the glob. I have studied extensivly about Walt and his vision. Dressing in airline outfits would not be one of them!

  2. I'm completely with Lonnie & the other Cast Members. That Pavilion has always celebrated our Heritage, and the costume theming is an important part of it. Dressing them up like members of the Modern Olympic Team sounds, frankly, hideous. I used to be a professional Wardrobe Mistress & Costumer Designer. He's absolutely right on this one, and some twonk somewhere has made a very poor management decision. I hope for their sake it is rescinded.