Once upon a very long time ago, it was difficult to even picture a Disney attraction without Audio-Animatronics. From Haunted Mansion to Pirates of the Caribbean; Splash Mountain to the Great Movie Ride, there's no question that some of Disney's most legendary, timeless, E-Ticket rides earn their blockbuster status thanks to their impressively-sized casts of robotic characters.
Today, Imagineering has greater Audio-Animatronics technology than ever before... but tends to use it sparingly. Attractions like Na'vi River Journey, Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!, and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run each feature just one character brought to life by animatronic, albeit an immensely-impressive one. Even if Rise of the Resistance, Tiana's Bayou Adventure, and Runaway Railway up the ante, it doesn't seem like we'll see Animatronic casts of 100 again anytime soon.
For the most part, it's clear that we're in the Age of the Screen. And now, that apparently includes screens replacing Audio-Animatronics... Which is exactly what happened in one of the most unique attractions at Disneyland Paris.
Les Mystères du Nautilus
Often regarded as the most beautiful of Disney's six "Castle Parks," Disneyland Paris is a park layered in incredible detail and warmth. Well-known among Imagineering fans is its unique take on Tomorrowland. Given that European visitors wouldn't have any cultural connection to the American mid-century Space Age, Tomorrowland's classic attractions were all rewrapped in Paris as Discoveryland – a golden, steampunk-inspired seaport modeled on the works of French author Jules Verne and the inventive plans for the never-built Possibilityland: Discovery Bay.
Docked in a bubbling lagoon alongside the Lost Legend: Space Mountain – De la Terre á la Lune resides the iconic Nautilus, the fantastic submarine designed by Disney Legend Harper Goff for Disney's 1954 film adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. And thanks to a spiral staircase descending underground, guests can actually step aboard. (Well... kind of. Actually, the Mystères du Nautilus is housed in a hidden showbuilding, with the spiral staircase serving to disorient guests and make them think they're crossing underwater to the docked submarine.)
Inside resides one of Disneyland Paris' fabled walkthrough attractions, allowing guests to explore the chambers and compartments of the Nautilus. That includes the Ballast Chamber, the Diving Chamber, the steaming Engine Room, Captain Nemo's Cabin, and the Chart Room. But the real highlight resided in the sub's iconic heart: the Grand Salon. Inside, guests would find one of Disney's most awesome Audio-Animatronic encounters.
Every so often, the voices of helmsmen would announce that a creature was approaching. As the salon's lights dimmed, Nemo himself would call for the ship's "iris" to be opened. There, through the murky, bubbling depths, guests would brace for the attack of a giant squid – the action-packed finale of both the film and Disney World's E-Ticket ride, Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage.
With the iris open, the squid would appear from the darkness, its tentacles gripping the top and bottom of the sub as it pulled itself in closer, all in a flurry of bubbles filtering up from the deep. (Actually, a clever visual trick – the Animatronic was dry, with a thin layer of water between the double-paned porthole selling the illusion.) This cutting edge figure with its undulating tentacles and gnashing beak would pull itself to the porthole, moving up and down and back and forth as it tried to break through the hull (see video in the embedded tweet below)...
Here’s a video compilation of Disneyland Paris Nautilus, Mireille, the giant squid. One of the most ambitious animatronic ever created by Disney at the time (1994) now gone forever, replaced by screens… pic.twitter.com/CfCXVgtVL5— Themountainking (@Themountainkin1) July 1, 2023
Ultimately, only Nemo's call for an electric discharge would see sparks illuminate the ocean deaths, causing the squid to recoil and shriek, using its tentacles to jettison away from the sub just as the iris closed again.
Incredibly sophisticated for its time, the advanced animatronic with its unique boom-arm-support (to allow it to "swim" into the scene with no visible anchoring mechanics) was a triumph, and led to a genuinely cool, dimensional, and thrilling element for a walkthrough attraction.
On par with Disneyland Paris' fabled La Tanière du Dragon animatronic encounter, this climactic experience was truly a hidden gem of the resort (not to mention the pet project of Imagineer Tom Scherman). So what does it look like without an animatronic? Read on...