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The 25 Most Incredible Theme Park Animatronics On Earth

19. Hopper & The Insects

Image: Disney

Debut: “It’s Tough to be a Bug” (1999)
Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom (exclusive)
Video: Insect-Sized Chaos 

Think of “It’s Tough to be a Bug” as a show within a show. Flik – the kindly ant protagonist of Disney-Pixar’s A Bug’s Life – has made us honorary bugs just long enough for him and his pals to show off a few insect survival skills and a rousing musical number to remind us just how important bugs are in the world. Then, Hopper arrives. 

The legitimately startling animatronic – which appears out of nowhere, bursting onto the stage in an explosion of smoke – is grotesque. With his one glassy eye, spindly limbs, and a disturbing, snake-like rattle from his sputtering wings, the animatronic scolds the audience for the horrific way humans treat the insect kingdom. Then, the spiteful eight foot tall grasshopper proceeds to fill the entire theatre with pressurized fog, drops animatronic spiders rappelling to within inches of guests reach, and sends hornets to sting families between the shoulder blades thanks to pneumatic pistons in the seats. It’s a horrifying, chaotic experience (see video above) that’s legitimately scary and sends many families screaming for the exit doors, and it all starts with an eerily lifelike giant grasshopper with a bad attitude.

18. Goblins

Image: Universal

Debut: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (2014)
Location: Universal Studios Florida (exclusive)
Video: "Here to open an account?"

Sometimes the most powerful message is none at all. Such is the case with the many goblins inhabiting the marble and granite interior of Gringotts' lobby used as the queue for the Escape from Gringotts attraction in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. As guests pass under the towering crystal chandeliers of the bank, they step right between towering podiums occupied by miniscule goblins, each working away at their accounting and measuring. The goblins write on scrolls, glancing up every so often to glare at guests in line before returning to their work.

Their silence speaks louder than words, and the almost-eerie humanoid creatures don’t have much to say until the end of the queue, where the lead goblin rushes guests off to the elevators without a hint of welcome in his voice. Outside, along Diagon Alley is the Gringotts Money Exchange, where a digitally puppeted animatronic goblin answers questions of visitors… so long as they exchange their Muggle cash for Gringotts bank notes at his teller station.

17. Ursula

Image: Disney

Debut: The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (2011)
Location: Disney California Adventure and Magic Kingdom
Video: Poor, Unfortunate Souls! 

Despite needing a number of refurbishments and re-dressings to make it ship-shape, the Little Mermaid dark ride at Disney California Adventure was long overdue when it finally arrived in 2011. Folks had been clamoring for years to earn Ariel a bigger presence in Disney Parks, and the dark ride did just that. But where there’s a mermaid, there’s a sea witch. The Audio-Animatronic Ariel located in the ride has earned shrugs of uncertainty from fans, but there are no ifs, ands, or buts about Ursula.

The Sea Witch from the fable is present within the ride as a 7.5-foot tall, 12-foot wide Audio-Animatronic of exceptional proportions. Ursula sings, casts spells over her cauldron, and bounces along in her slithery, serpentine manner of choice with incredible detail, surprising range of movement and super-elastic skin. While the rest of the dark ride may get lukewarm reception from fans, Ursula is a sight to behold.

16. Imhotep 

Image: Universal

Debut: Revenge of the Mummy (2004)
Location: Universal Studios Florida (exclusive)
Video: "I shall rule for all eternity!" 

The queue for Orlando’s Modern Marvel: Revenge of the Mummy explores an ancient Egyptian tomb where the evil Imhotep and his curse await. According to the ride’s story, Imhotep is unstoppable… unless you can find the symbol of the Medjai, the ancient protectors of the Pharaoh who stand as the last guard between the sinister Mummy and humanity. Shortly after boarding the ancient mine cars that travel into the tomb, guests get their first glimpse of just how serious Imhotep is about world domination. It seems that crewmember Reggie has gone missing from Revenge of the Mummy… and you’re about to find him.

Reggie – wrapped in mummified dressings – is leaned in a sarcophagus. As the coaster slowly moves toward him, he stirs. “Are you insane?! Get out of here! The curse – it’s real! This whole place is a trap!” Just then, the massive stone sarcophagus next to Reggie bursts open as the half-decayed Imhotep jumps out. “Silence!” he screams, extending his hand to Reggie. Dust is sucked out of Reggie’s mouth and into Imhotep as Reggie slumps over, dead. “With your souls,” Imhotep laughs, gesturing at the car, “I shall rule for all eternity.” Any future dealings with the Mummy will be in the form of projections, fog, and audio, but that first encounter with the surprising Imhotep figure leaves quite a taste in your mouth. And yes, it’s the only animatronic we can think of that jumps.

15. Abraham Lincoln

Image: Disney

Debut: 1964 New York World’s Fair
Location: Disneyland Park
Video: A Stately Address 

When the State of Illinois pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair was looking for a show to blow the rest away, organizers knew just who to turn to. Walt Disney’s Audio-Animatronic Lincoln figure stood and gave a 5-minute address that left guests absolutely bamboozled, just as the West Coast had been by the Tiki Birds the year before.

The next year, the figure moved to its own Main Street Opera House in Disneyland for the exclusive show, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” The show has briefly, intermittently closed so that the Opera House could play special presentations, and the Lincoln figure has been replaced and upgraded over the years. The most recent figure – an electronic-based Autonomatronic built in 2009 – has unprecedented emotional expression. Lincoln moves his eyebrows, sighs, gestures at the audience, reads from a note card in his hand, and stands upright from a seated position. Seeing Lincoln stand and address the crowd “in person” is deeply emotional. A virtual Lincoln on a 3D screen? Not so much.

14. Q'aráq

Image: Disney

Debut: Roaring Rapids (2016)
Location: Shanghai Disneyland (exclusive)
Video: Behind the Falls

When Imagineers designed Shanghai Disneyland, the left behing familiar tropes and go-to genres, replacing Adventureland entirely with Adventure Isle – a story-centered land custom-built for the Wizarding World age. Bringing to life the lush jungle island home of the native Arbori people, the land invites guests to join the Society of Explorers in their quest to uncover the wonders of the island... including investigating the source of the roar echoing from deep within Mount Apu Taku...

Just when you think we can't fit one more gigantic, Animatronic reptile on this list, welcome Q'araq, the legendary river guardian who resides in the mountain. After drifting through red rock gullies and around fallen logs, guests aboard the Roaring Rapids water ride come face-to-maw with this snapping, kaiju-like crocodilian in a wild encounter. While the figure is meant to recoil, pounce from the darkness, and snap at riders before slinking back behind rocks again, its functional range of movement is significantly more limited than fans initially hoped... still, the harrowing encounter is one of the biggest animatronic moments on a Disney thrill ride... 

Speaking of which...

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There are 5 comments.

Where is the Dragon who is under Sleeping Beauty castle in Paris? I think that is impressive, too. Maybe not as Imothep or the Dwarfs, but still great

What about the Dragon in Harry Potter and the forbidden journey ?!!!

There was a robot in the pre show to Walt Disney World magic Kingdom Alien Encounter (now closed) that was simply incredible! It's movements and expressions were so real.

The cowboy (forget who its supposed to be...) in the American Adventure at Epcot is very cool. I love every time when he spins his lasso. Mr. Potato Head at Toy Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios has issues sometimes... we watched him take his ear out, miss putting it back it, so he kind of just dropped it on the floor. And that 'disco Yeti' is fooling no one. Fix it!!!

I so miss the days of the 'real' Yeti at Animal Kingdom. Nowhere near the same now.

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