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The 25 Most Incredible Theme Park Animatronics On Earth

It wasn’t too long ago that a theme park attraction was lifeless without Audio-Animatronics. In fact, the number and complexity of these robotic animated figures was often proportional to a ride’s budget and success! Put simply: if you wanted to blow audiences away, animatronics figures were the way to do it.

Let’s face it: we’re now firmly inside the Digital Age. Rides like The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man redefined what headlining attractions could be, capturing all the force, thrill, story, and character interactions of old time classics without a single animatronics figure! It was revolutionary, as proven by the fact that modern headlining attractions like Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Transformers: The Ride, Ratatouille, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts are wildly successful, richly-storied, and smart attractions – with no animatronics needed!

Even if there are more and more exceptions every day, it still seems that animatronics can be pretty securely tied to an attraction’s appeal. Here, we’ve collected twenty-five of the world’s most mind-blowing animatronics casts and figures. Each figure also has a YouTube link where we've fast-forwarded to the animatronics' starring moment for you. Obviously those videos (and our list) contain some spoilers for big moments and surprising figures! How many of our twenty-five have you encountered?

Honorable Mention: Carnotaurus

Debut: DINOSAUR (1998)
Location: Disney's Animal Kingdom (exclusive)
Video: "I'm tracking a big dino on the scope!"

DINOSAUR at Disney's Animal Kingdom is an often-overlooked ride that get a bad rap. Why? First, the ride suffered from an famous neutering soon after the park opened to make it less intense (a near impossibility when you're hurtling through dark prehistoric jungles pursued by screetching dinosaurs) and to connect it to the largely forgotten film  DINOSAUR. Second, the uneven ride feels undercooked with some moments of intense realism, and others of plywood sets, static figures, hokey blacklight, and cop-out darkness. Third (and perhaps most damning), the ride's technology, vehicles, and even layout are an almost bolt-for-bolt duplicate of Disneyland's infinitely superior Modern Marvel: Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, drawing inevitable comparisons among fans.

In any case, with Universal commanding use of the villainous T. Rex, Disney opted to use a lightly-exaggerated version of the very real Carnotaur (which means flesh-eating bull) as its prehistoric antagonist... and boy does this dino antagonize! The carotaurus is loud, ugly, and intense, with three progressively louder, meaner, and bigger animatronic figures. 

So why just an honorable mention? Unfortunately, the intimidating dino's last laugh is a laughable encounter where – in the spot that would be Indy's rolling boulder finale – the carnotaur is present as an odd, static, cartoon-proportioned mannequin head that slides forward on a clumsy metral track. It's an odd, hokey, uneven finale for a ride that can't decide if it's self-serious or a four-minute pun. (And, by the way, the totally ineffective scene is an replacement brought in during that infamous neutering, where originally a copy of Indy's boulder cast as the comet-to-end-all-comets was hurtling toward us... much more effectively. Unfortunately, it's to be expected from a ride that bolts static pterodactyls to the ceiling and has a sauropod's long neck end in a glittering starfield on a black tarp. 

 

25. The Enchanted Tiki Birds

© Disney

Debut: The Enchanted Tiki Room (1963)
Location: Disneyland Park
Video: The Enchanted Fountain and Birdmobile

The best place to start is the beginning, and in terms of Disney’s Audio-Animatronics figures, that can only be the Modern Marvel: Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. This Adventureland classic is a musical, tropical serenade populated by 150 birds, Tiki gods, and singing flowers. Unthinkably life-life for their time (and still pretty darn convincing), the Tiki Birds and their Enchanted companions were the world’s first Audio-Animatronics (Disney’s particular, trademarked creation) where each figure is synchronized to sound. And in the Tiki Room’s case, that means a whole cast of birds that turn, blink, and even “breathe” while singing in harmony.

A single “barker bird” used to be parked outside of Enchanted Tiki Room at the entrance to Adventureland, spieling to attract guests into the show like a barker at old-time carnivals. The bird was allegedly so popular that his presence caused major traffic jams as folks crowded around, stunned at the seemingly brilliant bird. He was removed to free up the pathway.

24. The Dragon

Debut: La Tanière du Dragon (1992)
Location: Disneyland Paris
Video: Waking the Dragon

Located in a forgotten dungeon grotto below the park's castle, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, La Tanière du Dragon (The Dragon's Den) is one of the most spectacular "hidden gems" at any Disney Park. The walkthrough attraction allows guests to meander into the rocky hillside of the castle and descend into the dungeon where a long-forgotten dragon is still chained up. Seemingly soundly asleep, the dragon stirs every once in a while, dipping its massive claws into the stagnant water of the dungeon or rattling its chains.

Once in a while, the dragon unexpectedly awakens, its pupils narrowing. When it spots visitors, it growls as its mouth begins to smoke as if firebreathing is imminent. Seemingly recognizing that it's chained up, the dragon relents and puts it head back on the ground, frustrated. The Audio Animatronic is easily one of Disney's most impressive and it's surprisingly complex, with the most minute motions in its seamless and fluid movement.  

23. Maleficent

Debut: Fantasmic
Location: Disneyland Park
Video: "This is my dream..."

For every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action. That law of physics might explain why Mickey Mouse faces off against the supremely evil sorceress nightly at Disneyland Park's Fantasmic! The fan-favorite show features just about every special effect you can imagine as it tells of the Villains' attempts to invade Mickey's dream to trigger a nightmare. The highlight is when Maleficent appears and transformers herself into a nightmarish dragon, looming 5 stories over the audience.

At first, you can see only the dragon's piercing yellow eyes. As the lights rise and fog billows, you can make out the dragon's stunning form as it cackles and surveys the crowd. Finally, the dragon blows a stream of fire onto the river below, igniting the entire Rivers of America lagoon. As Mickey approaches, the dragon lowers its head to stare eye-to-eye with the mouse. With a single blow of his sword, Mickey vanquishes the dragon as electrical sparks shoot from her mouth. Maleficent screams and lifts her head high as electricity courses over her. Then, behind cover from a mist curtain, the towering figure disappears in a moment. A gigantic animatronic packed with fireworks as the climax of Disney's best nighttime spectacular? Count us in.

22. Albert

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

Maleficent may be an impressive and astounding animatronic, but Disney Legend and storied Imagineer Bob Gurr said, "The larger a creature is, the more space there is inside. It's actually easier to design something that's 30 feet tall than, say, 3 feet tall." And our next animatronic is of the latter category.

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.

21. Rocket Raccoon

Image: Disney / Marvel

Debut: Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
Location: Disney California Adventure (exclusive)
Video: Mission: BREAKOUT

After Disney's $4 billion purchase of Marvel, Disney fans readied themselves for the exciting announcement of how Marvel's global super heroes would fit into Disney Parks... until they found out the plan. In 2017, the last elevators ascended into a Lost Legend: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, one of the signature E-Ticket rides at Disney California Adventure. The ride – which had seemed a perfect "Californian" legend for the park's Hollywood Land – was a highlight of the park's $2 billion, ten-year rebirth that had intentionally turned the park into a historic, reverent, thoughtful one with lands rooted in the state's history and legends.

But to make way for Marvel, the 1920s art deco lost Hollywood Tower Hotel would be transformed into a "warehouse prison power plant" based on "the beauty of an oil rig" (these are Disney's words, not ours), creating a vaguely-art deco shaped sci-fi super hero prison looming over a 1940s Hollywood Land and all of Disney California Adventure. The "irreverent" super hero team from Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy took over, blasting '70s and '80s rock music from the newly-industrial structure's gantry lifts.

Most fans will agree that Mission: BREAKOUT! is, in isolation, a fun ride (even if they can't forgive how short-sighted the ride seems to be, especially in the shadow of the park's grand re-opening just five years earlier). The highlight for most is the inclusion of Rocket – the Guardians' foul-mouthed, raccoon-esque, gun-wielding member – in the ride's pre-show. Voiced (as in the film) by Bradley Cooper, the genuinely impressive Rocket is wildly and hilariously animated as he makes his way around the office of The Collector, falling in through an air duct, fluffing his tail, electrocuting himself, hitting his head on a pipe, and swiping a very important Walkman from a collection case.

20. T. Rex

© Universal

Debut: Jurassic Park: The Ride (1996)
Location: Universal Studios Hollywood
Video: It's in the Building!

Universal gambled big when they designed and constructed Jurassic Park: The Ride while the Jurassic Park movie was still in production. In this case, a big gamble was met with a big reward… and an even bigger animatronic. When a playful hadrosaur knocks your tour boat off course and into the dark Environmental Systems Building, all hell breaks loose. Over the radio, a Jurassic Park employee screams, “If you can hear my voice, get out of there! It’s in the building!”

Meanwhile, a pleasant pre-recorded safety spiel warns, “Toxic gases are present. Life support systems will terminate in… 10… 9… 8…” Of course, something is about to happen… something big! Ahead of the boat, a waterfall parts revealing a massive T. Rex that lurches forward, throws its head back and roars, then lowers its massive jaws to within inches of your boat just as it hits a nearly vertical 85-foot drop. A brief but stunning encounter with one of the most intimidating animatronics ever created. Let’s see a movie screen do that!

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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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