Home » To See These 10 AMAZING Animatronics, You’ll Have to Wait… Literally.

To See These 10 AMAZING Animatronics, You’ll Have to Wait… Literally.

Here at Theme Park Tourist, we love Audio Animatronics – no apologies. Audio Animatronics bring Disney and Universal rides to life. No screen can replace the power of seeing Abraham Lincoln stand before you; the terror of a gargantuan monster snapping its jaws in your direction; the awe of seeing dozens of birds begin to sing… And that celebration of this astounding artform is what lead us to create our must-read Countdown: The 25 Best Audio-Animatronics on Earth.

But of course, our love for Audio-Animatronics doesn’t just stop with the “best.” The ways that Disney and Universal use these incredible creations extends far beyond just headlining moments in E-Ticket rides… Which is why our analysis of Animatronics continues with a countdown of figures you’ll find where you need them most: while waiting in line.

It may seem odd that Disney would go through the time and expense of having these characters in lines… But that’s exactly where they’re needed most! More than in a split-second encounter on a ride, these Animatronics in queues entertain, inform, and add life to an otherwise boring wait. 

10. Wardrobe

Image: Disney

Attraction: Enchanted Tales with Belle
Location: Magic Kingdom
Video: Wardrobe

Where does the queue end and the attraction begin? That’s the unexpected question raised by Enchanted Tales with Belle, one of the headlining attractions that opened as part of Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland in 2012. A so-called “play-and-greet,” the attraction invites guests into a hybrid walkthrough / show / meet-and-greet experience that includes an inexplicable special effect to transport guests from Belle’s cottage to the Enchanted Castle…

Once arriving, guests convene with the Wardrobe from the film, who helps Cast Members assign roles for the mini-play that follows. The Wardrobe isn’t just an incredibly sophisticated Audio-Animatronic with an unbelievably lifelike movements… she’s also… you know… a wardrobe, holding the costumes and name cards that guests adorn for the experience. 

While we may not know if the Wardrobe counts as part of the queue or part of the attraction, there’s one thing we can all agree on: Enchanted Tales has one of the lowest attraction capacities ever, making it a very hot ticket for families. 

9. Botanicus

Image: Universal

Attraction: E.T. Adventure
Location: Universal Studios Florida
Video: Botanicus

E.T. Adventure opened alongside Universal Studios Florida in 1990. And while the ride may feel a little long in the tooth for today’s crowds, there’s one part of the experience that you can’t help but love: the queue. After a brief introduction by Steven Spielberg (essentially, we need to get E.T. back to his previously-unseen home planet so his magic touch can bring it back to life), guests are released into a moonlit forest famously pumped full of a distinctive pine smell. As the queue wraps through the towering trees, you may just have an extraterrestrial visitor…

In a prism of lasers, guests may recieve a transmission from Botanicus (one of a dozen original characters created for the ride), E.T.’s teacher from the Green Planet he calls home. There’s a Yoda-like aura from Botanicus, so his arrival in the forest feels somewhat otherworldly and astounding. Though Botanicus has been known to go months without an appearance, a recent refurbishment has helped his broadcasts to Earth become more regular.

8. Mr. Potato Head

Image: Kathryn Greenhill, Flickr (license)

Attraction: Toy Story Mania!
Location: Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Tokyo Disneyland
Video: Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head made it onto our list of Animatronics OUTSIDE of Rides thanks to his installation at Disney California Adventure – where he’s a literal carnival barker along the park’s Pixar Pier. His role in the other two parks he inhabits is slightly different. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Tokyo Disneyland, he’s not positioned to lure in passers-by. Instead, he’s queue entertainment!

Luckily, that plays to one of Potato Head’s strengths – his interactivity. This spectacular spud can be live puppeted, interacting with waiting guests by name! Mr. Potato Head is known to tell jokes and do tricks (like his famous malfunction: taking out his own ear and losing it), ask guests questions and respond to their answers, and more – all with his famous sense of humor. While California Adventure’s figure might be more showy thanks to its boardwalk location, the other Potato Heads actually have a job to do.

7 and 6. The Shaman and Carnictis 

Image: Universal

Attraction: Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Video: Carnictis and the Shaman

Anticipation was high when Universal announced the return of the king… In fact, some fans saw the opening of Skull Island: Reign of Kong as a mea culpa for Universal’s closure of the resort’s one-time headliner and Lost Legend: Kongfrontation. On that classic dark ride, guests would tour the wreckage left in the raging ape’s path during his cinematic escape through Manhattan before coming face-to-snout with the raging, gigantic animatronic ape himself.

Cleverly, the new ride (set in the more mythological Islands of Adventure park) flips the script. Rather than setting Kong loose in our world, we’re dropped into his as members of an explorer’s society bent on uncovering the wonders of Skull Island. Trouble is, most of the wonders here want to eat us, as evidenced by one of the most simple – but impactful – queue animatronics around: the abhorrent carnictis worm. As the queue wraps around its enclosure, the vile creature rears back, squirms, and gnashes its fangs… A chilling foreshadowing of what’s to come…

The queue also passes by an elderly, haunting Shaman of the native people of Skull Island (who, by the way, terrorize guests throughout the queue) preaching fear and reverence for Kong and perhaps offering a final warning for any who dare continue deeper into the island… 

Does Reign of Kong live up to Kongfrontation? For quite a few reasons, no. What fans hoped to be a return to practical effects ended up as (you guessed it!) yet another variation of the same general set-up pioneered by the Modern Marvel: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and since applied to almost every new Universal attraction in the last decade. Even if the ride’s best animatronics are in the queue at least they prove Universal’s still got it.

5. C-3PO

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Attraction: STAR TOURS: The Adventures Continue
Location: Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris
Video: C-3PO

With all of the celebration surrounding Galaxy’s Edge, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Star Wars has been an essential part of Disney Parks since 1986. Due to then-CEO Michael Eisner’s groundbreaking partnership with George Lucas, the Lost Legend: STAR TOURS opened in Tomorrowland, whisking guests from a simple spaceport into a battle between the Empire and the Rebellion.

Though the ride has been updated to “The Adventures Continue” with 3D, HD visuals and a frantic randomizer that scrambles destinations, one thing remains iconic: the queue. Guests’ first view in this intergalactic terminal is a parked StarSpeeder undergoing routine maintenance (and cleverly giving guests a peek at the vehicle they’ll soon be climbing aboard). Watching over the process is C-3PO, who banters with R2-D2 and guests as he looks out across the queue.

Seeing the light refract from C-3PO’s armor as he turns, gestures, and types on his computer is enough to leave Star Wars fans (young and old!) breathless… It’s not every day you get this close to a character you’ve seen on screen. The simple encounter may be downplayed for those of us who’ve seen it a hundred times or more, but the moment is nonetheless satisfying, entertaining, and – when you think about it – pretty cool. Of course, it becomes even cooler when C-3PO inadvertantly becomes the pilot…

4. Na’vi

Image: Disney / Fox

Attraction: AVATAR Flight of Passage
Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Video: Na’vi

Disney gobbled up the rights to Avatar just as the film peaked at the box office (and, coincidentally, just as the Wizarding World prepared to open…), so fans were less-than-thrilled when it was announced that Animal Kingdom would host a permanent land dedicated to the PG-13 action film about humans attacking a peaceful alien moon. The chorus of dissent grew even louder in the years after since Avatar practically disappeared from pop culture without so much as a character or quote remembered. 

When Pandora – The World of Avatar opened in 2017, everything changed. Cleverly, Imagineers had severed the land from the storyline of the film, setting Pandora generations after humans’ assault on the planet was over and also not mentioning a single character from the movie. Instead, guests play the role of eco-tourists, arriving on Pandora to explore its lush, bioluminescent jungles and see the rusted remains of failed human occupation.

The land’s starring ride is Flight of Passage, a breathtaking and wild simulator though the moon’s floating mountains and beyond. To reach it, guests pass through the remains of a Resource Development Administration facility, reclaimed by both nature and the benevolent Pandora Conservation Initiative. In its laboratory, guests witness a most remarkable sight… a Na’vi in stasis in a water tank. It’s one of those classic “Disney” moments that makes guests literally stop in their tracks to stare in wonder and awe…

We’re headed back to Universal to kick off our top three best queue animatronics… Any guesses?

3. Goblins

Image: Universal

Attraction: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Location: Universal Studios Florida
Video: Goblins

For fans of the Harry Potter series, stepping into the grand, soaring atrium of Gringotts Wizarding Bank packs a real emotional wallop. The cavernous space is perhaps one of the most iconic elements of Diagon Alley, and using the bank’s lobby as a queue was a no-brainer. Brilliantly, Universal took the experience one step further. Each of the banking desks around the perimeter of the bank is staffed by a goblin, studiously weighing, recording, and writing with feather quills. Once in a while, a gobin will look up from his parchment, glare or sigh at the passing muggles, then get back to work.

At the far end of the atrium, a lead goblin delivers just the right amount of exposition before hurrying guests along to the corridors and elevators meant to take us deep into the wizarding bank’s subterranean vaults. But even if the experience of the goblins is mostly passive, their silence speaks louder than words and creates an odd, captivating moment. 

2. Rocket

Image: Jeremy Thompson, Flickr (license)

Attraction: Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
Location: Disney California Adventure
Video: Rocket

Say what you will about Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (and boy, have we…), but the irreverent and out-of-place superhero thrill ride does do quite a few things really well. Of course, fitting at Disney California Adventure is not one of them (even with a Marvel super hero land on the horizon). Fans of that park’s billion-dollar redesign looked on in absolute shock as Imagineers stripped the Lost Legend: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror of its art deco Hollywood stylings (seemingly perfect for a park dedicated to, y’know, California) and – in a six month quick-change – turned the lightning-scarred building into a buzzing space prison powerplant looming over the resort.

Inside, the dusty library of the Hollywood Tower Hotel became the private office of Tanaleer Tivan (aka “The Collector”), a briefly-seen character from 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. During the ride’s pre-show, Tivan prepares us for our once-in-a-lifetime chance to board a gantry elevator and travel to the prison’s upper levels where his greatest artifact – the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves – are on display.

However, the unscrupulous Rocket has already managed to weasel his way out, crawling through an air vent to reach and recruit us. The character cleverly appears to “fall” from a vent, crawl along the artifact cases around the room, stand and address us, then swipe Star Lord’s cassette player. The character’s appearance kicks off the more light-hearted approach that Mission: BREAKOUT! uses in comparison its predecessor, and it’s the only chance most of us will ever have to see Rocket “in the flesh.”

1. Hondo Ohnaka

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Attraction: Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
Location: Disneyland Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Video: Making of…

Chances are, you could rattle off a list of a dozen or more Star Wars characters without even having seen the films. Would Hondo Ohnaka make the list? Probably not… But of course, the Star Wars universe is populated by hundreds upon hundreds of characters supported by in-depth backstories of their own, and Weequay space pirate Hondo Ohnaka is no different. To date, the character’s only “canon” appearances have been in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels – each an animated series. But Hondo’s about to pulled into the larger mythos in a big way…

In spring 2019, Disney announced that Hondo would play a major role in the new Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run attraction in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Apparently cutting a deal with Chewbacca to get us behind the famous ship’s control panel, it’s only fitting that Hondo becomes our host while we wait for the attraction aboard the Falcon’s bridge. Cleverly aged since his appearance in the cartoon (which was set in the prequel trilogy… quite a long time ago by the sequel trilogy timeline of the land), Hondo is brought to life as an A-1000 figure (Disney’s most advanced – the same technology as Pandora’s Shaman of Songs).

Even though it may seem odd that Disney opted to put their most impressive Audio Animatronics technology into a Star Wars character most people won’t have heard of, we have a feeling that Hondo will become a de facto mascot of Smuggler’s Run. And of course, it’ll be absolutely hypnotic to be so close to such an advanced figure, even if he’s just delivering safety instructions.

More Animatronics

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

This list is only the start of any look at rides with Animatronic entertainment while you wait. From the birth of the Audio Animatronic with the Enchanted Tiki Room to the applications of this technology set to shake the industry in Galaxy’s Edge, the incredible artform of three-dimensional figure animation has become a centerpiece of the industry.

If you haven’t, be sure to check-in with our other in-depth Animatronics lists: the 25 Best Animatronics on Earth, 10 Animatronics You’ll Find OUTSIDE of Rides, and the 10 Biggest Animatronic Malfunctions. Then, dig into hours of in-depth Disney Parks information in our Legends Library.