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The 25 Most Incredible Theme Park Animatronics On Earth

13. The Yeti


Image: Disney

Debut: Expedition Everest (2006)
Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom (exclusive)
Video: A rare animation reel of the Yeti in full A-mode

Fittingly coming in at number 13 is the Yeti. Up until its 2006 opening, the Audio-Animatronic Yeti hidden inside the Modern Marvel: Expedition Everest was often sold as the ride’s highlight. The Yeti is 25 feet tall (so sincerely consider four humans standing on each other’s shoulders) and weighs 10 tons. Its big selling point was its status as Disney’s most advanced Audio-Animatronic ever. It’s a fair title to give it, since the Yeti was able to swing out five feet and drop 18 inches in a simulated attack on the roller coaster train each time it zoomed through the mountain’s core, with each swipe requiring the thrust of a jet engine at take off.

Given that, why doesn't the Yeti rank higher on our list? The problem is that the Yeti only “worked” for a few months after the ride’s opening, at which point something mysterious happened that prevents its operation today. Disney has only said through its spokesperson that the “complex functions have presented some challenges affecting its operation,” and that designers "purposefully took measures … to reduce unnecessary stress … while we studied long-term solutions.” So far, the temporary solution has remained: fans blow on the creature while strobe lights flashe on it, giving the impression of movement while the creature sits, frozen, with its hand outstretched toward the roller coaster track.

About once a month, eagle-eyed fans race to Twitter or Internet message boards to announce “the Yeti is working!” It's not. They’re just falling for the strobe light trick month after month, which is a good thing! It means that the simple effect really does give the impression of movement, and in the split second that the train passes by the figure, that’s enough. Anyway, the popular tale is that a cracked concrete foundation prevents its safe operation, and that foundation can’t be fixed without serious and multi-month work inside the ride that would close it for a long time… and given that Everest is one of only three major rides at Animal Kingdom, the extended closure of such a headliner is unlikely.

Would we like to see what the Yeti is really capable of? Sure. And in the video above, you can see the Yeti in his full A-mode thanks to a very rare demo reel. As well, we have this on-ride video from the Yeti's short operational life. You'll probably think just what we do: that it's great, but it only lasts a second. We're sure that no one is more disappointed than Imagineers that the Yeti is still broken a decade later. As it is, 99% of guests fall for the “Disco Yeti,” and the figure itself is still impressive.

12. Rocket 

Image: Disney / Marvel

Attraction: Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (2017)
Location: Disney California Adventure (exclusive)
Video: "One of the Guardians of the Galaxy... the SMART one."

Fans of Disney California Adventure's billion-dollar, five year rebirth looked on in absolute shock as Imagineers stripped the Lost Legend: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror of its art deco Hollywood stylings and its Californian mythology (seemingly perfect for a park dedicated to, y'know, California) and – in a six month quick-change – turned the lightning-scarred Hollywood Tower Hotel into buzzing space prison powerplant looming over the resort. If it seemed like an irreverent, odd, and outrageous treatment for the newly-minted park, that was purposeful and befitting Marvel's irreverent, odd, and outrageous Guardians of the Galaxy – the misfit super hero group introduced in Marvel's sleeper hit film of 2014.

Fans will eternally debate the merits of replacing a timeless, Californian legend with a flavor-of-the-week superhero screen ride that's seemingly antithetical to the park's recently-adopted sincerity and direction, but one thing no one can deny: Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! has a very cool Audio-Animatronic. Shepherded into the hotel's library – er... the Collector's office – a pre-show recording from Tanaleer Tivan is interrupted by the mischievious Rocket, who appears to fall from a vent, crawl along the room's collection cases, and even thwack his head against a well-placed pipe.

Whether you hold a grudge against Mission: BREAKOUT! or not, the impressive interaction between Rocket and your small group of visitors is probably the only chance we'll ever have to get this close to the rough-around-the-edge, not-raccoon character (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Cooler still is that the figure is also present (and reprogrammed) in the Halloween-exclusive Guardians of the Galaxy: Monsters After Dark, which is set just hours after the usual Mission: BREAKOUT storyline.

11. Albert

Image: Disney

Debut: Mystic Manor (2013)
Location: Hong Kong Disneyland
Video: Welcome to Mystic Manor

Perhaps Disney's most brilliant ride in the last 20 years, Mystic Manor is part of the incredible and enigmatic storyline of S.E.A.: The Society of Explorers and Adventurers that connects multiple rides, shows, and even restaurants at Disney Parks around the world. The ride sends guests into the eclectic home of Lord Henry Mystic and his pet monkey Albert. The pair have spent their lives collecting wonders from around the world! Mystic's prized possession, though, is an ancient music box said to grant life to the lifeless! Of course, that's all silly superstition, so Mystic sends us ahead to the Aquisitions and Cataloguing Room to view the priceless music box.

As you might image, the glowing gems and painted primates on the music box prove too much for Albert to resist, as he opens the chest and sets our unthinkable adventure into motion. The mischievious monkey is so wonderfully lifelike and adorable, he's become a defacto icon for Hong Kong Disneyland. As for Mystic Manor itself? With some of the most spectacular special effects and asotunding animatronics Disney's ever created, the ride earned its own in-depth entry in our newest series, Modern Marvels: Mystic Manor that's an absolute must-read for Disney Parks fans. A 3D ride packed with screens wouldn't have the same effect.

10. Seven Dwarfs

Image: Disney

Debut: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (2014)
Location: Magic Kingdom and Shanghai Disneyland
Video: Whistle While You Work

When Disney fans got ahold of plans for Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland, they accosted the resort for the expansion’s obvious bias toward princess meet-and-greets and a severe lack of attractions. Between a rock and a hard place, Disney relented. They went back to the drawing board and redesigned New Fantasyland with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at its center. At the expense of the park’s original Snow White dark ride, Magic Kingdom would receive a new family roller coaster that would recreate at least a bit of Snow White’s story from the point of view of Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Sneezy, and Doc.

The ride opened in 2014 as the culmination of Fantasyland’s expansion. While the zipping, tilting coaster is a fun ride, it was the dark ride element of the coaster that fans went nuts over. The short-but-sweet scene passes through the Seven Dwarf’s gem mine, where unbelievable animatronics with disturbingly fluid motion sing, bounce, and whistle while they work. Aside from their flawless motion, the figures have unique projected faces able to lip-sync to the music as no other animatronics on Earth can. Projection technology had been used to provide eyes for Mr. Potato Head and a few other assorted Disney figures, but nothing like this. The Seven Dwarfs are among the most stunning and surreal animatronics out there. 

9. Cars

Image: Disney / Pixar

Debut: Radiator Springs Racers (2012)
Location: Disney California Adventure (exclusive)
Video: "Get out there and do us proud!"

It's race day in Radiator Springs! And you know what that means - time to put the pedal to the metal. The incredible Modern Marvel: Radiator Springs Racers – opened as part of the incomparable Cars Land at the new Disney California Adventure in 2012 – returns Disney to its roots: an incredible E-ticket that's chocked full of impossible settings, breathless wonder, and a cast of Audio Animatronics that defy logic in their lifelike expression and movement. Only this time, it's not a cast of humans or even animals. Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, and the rest of Radiator Springs' residents are cars. Full-sized ones, with all the trimmings! And these cars, bounce, drive, blink, and talk through some of the most sophisticated and fluid motions Disney's ever concieved of. You won't believe the realism of the animatronic wonders until you see it in person, but the video above helps.

With more than a dozen of the Cars characters populating the attraction, it's nearly impossible to choose a favorite. That said, there's something very striking about seeing Doc Hudson hoisted up on an auto repair lift. As he turns to the car, he offers some of his usual sage wisdom: "It takes more than new tires to win a race. Now get out there and do us proud." The ride has been compared (rightfully) to Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland next door as the Resort's top attraction. While the big race finale may be the selling point, it's the no-expense-spared animatronics that have really fueled up Disney fans and reminded them just how innovative Imagineering can be.

8. C-3PO

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Debut: Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (2011)
Location: Disneyland, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris
Video: "I am not programmed to fly these things!" 

In our in-depth Lost Legends: STAR TOURS feature, we call the original 1986 attraction "the ride that changed Disney Parks forever." One of the first major collaborations between Disney and George Lucas, the ride irrevocably brought non-Disney films into Disney Parks – all part of new-CEO Michael Eisner's decree that Disney Parks needed to feature the stories and characters people cared about in modern times, even if they weren't Disney stories and characters! And Star Tours was a hit, with guests on a domestic flight to Endor being dragged into a fight between the Empire and the Rebellion thanks to unforgettable first-time pilot RX-24 (or "Rex"). 

In 2011, the ride became its own prequel. In an elaborate preshow, C-3PO steps aboard the StarSpeeder 1000 to conduct his pre-flight maintenance, only to be accidentally closed up in the captain's cabin. Once we step aboard and are cleared for auto-take-off sequence, C-3PO appears on screen. "Why, we can't take off," he rebuts, "the Captain's not on board!" It's too late. As the cabin shield lowers, we see C-3PO himself, mere feet away from us. Sure, the Droid doesn't have a mouth or eyes, but being this close the "real" C-3PO – seeing the gold glint off of his shell – leaves Star Wars fans gobsmacked.

What's more, C-3PO is literally long for the ride, adjusting controls, turning to speak to us, and even holding on tight when the StarSpeeder jumps to lightspeed, subjecting riders – and the Audio-Animatronic – to some serious forces. It's astounding that the C-3PO figure is with us throughout our entire adventure (and to consider that he's in each StarSpeeder, meaning that – counting his appearances in the queue – that are 12 C-3PO figures between the U.S. parks alone...)

7. Davy Jones 

Image: Disney

Debut: Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure (2016)
Location: Shanghai Disneyland (exclusive)
Video: An Undersea Encounter 

Pirates have been a part of Disney Parks for fifty years, all based on Disneyland's original Pirates of the Caribbean dark ride. You know the drill: lost caverns, a waterfall, a cannon battle between a sailing ship and a fortress town, the pirates' raid on the village, jailed vandals coaxing a dog with a key... The formula works, and for fifty years, it changed only by incorporating the key characters from 2003's film adaptation and the ensuing Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.

Shanghai Disneyland changed everything with Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure. A gripping re-invention of the classic, this indescribable dark ride is easily on par with Escape from Gringotts, the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, or Indiana Jones Adventure as one of the world's best modern dark rides. Battle for Sunken Treasure tossed out the Pirates rulebook and started from scratch. The whole ride is packed with unfathomable wow-moments, but one key encounter is with Davy Jones himself. The shocking figure is so realistic, it would easily be mistaken for a live actor in costume as he challenges guests to just try to steal his treasure. It's an awesome and arresting moment and, trust us, the same figure created digitially on a screen would not carry the imposing strength and intimidation of this animatronic.

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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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