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10 Times Disney's Animatronics Malfunctioned, Froze, and Caught on Fire

Like all Disney Parks fans, we love Audio-Animatronics.

That's why we created a must-read list of the 25 Best Audio-Animatronics on Earth, celebrating the essential role that Disney's greatest invention plays in the parks today. Make no mistake – these complex, dynamic, sensational figures have been cutting-edge since their debut in 1963. And like all technological marvels, they don't always work the way they're supposed to...

For Imagineering fans, the only thing more amazing than watching one of Disney's Animatronic marvels work is catching one when it doesn't. Thanks to the age of the Internet, fans' cameras are ready at every moment to capture the slightest crack in Disney's shell of immersive show. That's why we're able to curate this countdown of 10 misfiring, malfunctioning Audio-Animatronics across Disney Parks, offering a fascinating glimpse into Disney's rare failures and flubs... 

10. Falling potato parts

Image: Sasaki Time

Attraction: Toy Story Mania
Location: Disney California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios

A few months ago, we took a tour through 10 Animatronics Outside of Disney Rides and specifically highlighted Mr. Potato Head – a clever "carnival barker" that stands outside of Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney California Adventure (and in the queue of the ride in Orlando and Tokyo). Among Mr. Potato Head's impressive Animatronic abilities are telling jokes, singing, and vaudevillian acts, but the figure can also be "live puppeted" by a Cast Member, allowing Mr. Potato Head to call out to queuing guests, ask and answer questions, and carry on conversations.

Video evidence: A real show-stopping feature of the figure is its ability to reach up, grab his own ear, remove it from its head, and then put it back like a real Mr. Potato Head toy. Naturally, that complex process requires quite a bit of precision, and quite a few videos have captured Mr. Potato Head missing the mark on reinserting the ear. The bamboozled Animatronic then lazily drops the ear on the ground and stalls until a Cast Member can save the day by setting out a step ladder and manually re-inserting the ear. It's a fun (and surprisingly frequent) way for fans to see an Animatronic malfunction in a predictable and easy-to-fix way.

9. Photosensitive pirates

Image: Disney

Attraction: Pirates of the Caribbean
Location:
 Magic Kingdom

Though West Coast Disney fans are quick to deride Magic Kingdom's shorter Pirates of the Caribbean as a pale knock-off of the Disneyland original, Florida's Pirates is still one of the most popular dark rides at Walt Disney World. With over 100 Audio Animatronics (including pirates, villagers, and animals), the ride is stocked with impressive musical marauders. From time to time, figures are removed for rehabilitation and refurbishment, but in general the piratical cast is impressively cared for.

Video evidence: That's what made it so unusual when riders captured a pirate in what appeared to be the midst of an epileptic seizure, violently shaking as he carried out his programming. It was certainly an unusual sight to behold in the otherwise iconic flaming dungeons near the "dog with a key" scene, and perhaps evidence of the real harm of flash photography. 

8. Frozen Frozen figures

Attraction: Frozen Ever After
Location: 
Epcot

Epcot fans weren't too happy when the Lost Legend: Maelstrom was officially sunk in favor of Disney's behemoth animated feature, Frozen. Admittedly an odd cartoon fit for the otherwise cultural World Showcase, the replacement attraction is nonetheless spectacular enough to earn its own in-depth feature in our series of world-class attractions - Modern Marvels: Frozen Ever After.

One of the rides most celebrated aspects must be its cast of Audio-Animatronic characters – lifelike enough to make guests believe the real Elsa and Anna had indeed stepped directly out of the film and into three dimensions! Brought to life via interior-projected faces, these ultra-fluid figures are capable of incredible movement and realism... 

Video evidence: Which, of course, also makes them subject to serious downtime. Countless videos across YouTube show various figures throughout the ride slumped or lifelessfrozen in place, or with their faces "off" or (worse) out-of-sync. In fact, Disney has seemingly had trouble keeping the reluctant E-Ticket consistently presentable, leading to some record-breaking downtime.

But when the ride emergency stops, designers cleverly built in a B-Mode for these expressive Animatronics. For example, when the ride's Norwegian Viking ships stall out inside Elsa's ice palace during the ride's climactic musical encounter with Elsa, the queen's audio track is replaced with an instrumental, her face reverts to a simple smile, and she knowingly waves to riders waiting patiently below her ice balcony – an adorable solution for when the signature figure freezes.

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