Disneyland's Mr. Lincoln debuts Disney's next generation of animatronic storytelling
By Robert NilesGreat Moments with Mr. Lincoln returns tomorrow to Disneyland's Main Street Opera House, as Disney replaces the world's first audio-animatronic human character with the first of its next generation of animatronic figures.
Published: December 17, 2009 at 5:05 PM
This new Mr. Lincoln is based not upon the hydraulic technology that powered all animatronic figures from the original Mr. Lincoln through today's characters. Instead, it's based on a new electronic model, one that allows Disney's Imagineers to construct more realistic human forms from the skeletal level, explained Disney Imagineering Executive Vice President Scott Trowbridge.
Image courtesy Disney
I asked Trowbridge and Imagineering Senior VP Tony Baxter to explain what this new technology will allow Disney to do with theme park storytelling. (Your new buzzword is "autonomatronics." And don't miss Baxter's wish to see a new generation Indy in the Indiana Jones Adventure ride, either.)
As for Mr. Lincoln himself, the newly designed show jettisons the binaural gimmickry of the 2001 version, which was replaced in 2005 by the "Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years" film, with Steve Martin. We're back to a modified version of the pre-2001 Mr. Lincoln show, with narration by Paul Frees and Lincoln's voice again performed by Royal Dano.
In doing research for the show, Imagineers found forgotten studio recordings of Dano's vocal performance, allowing them to replace the previous audio track with a much cleaner version, Baxter said. Indeed, the audio in the show sounds crisper than I've ever heard it. A new digital projection system also displays the filmed prologue to Mr. Lincoln's appearance in vivid color and sharp contrast.
Imagineers have better captured the asymmetry of Lincoln's face and body in this newest figure. Lincoln furrows his brow, wrinkling the skin above his nose. His eyes twitch and eyelids droop. As Baxter and Trowbridge promised, this new Lincoln offers a greater range of facial expression than ever accomplished before with an animatronic figure.
Not yet realized, though, is convincingly lifelike oral articulation. No, a deaf person could not read Lincoln's lips. The lip and tongue movement that would allow that level of detail appear to remain a step beyond current technology. Yet Lincoln remains the strongest step yet toward the ideal of a full articulated human replica.
And let's not forget to celebrate the return of this poignant take on Lincoln's life and the American Civil War. Buddy Baker's score, incorporating music from both previous versions of the show and Epcot's American Adventure, musically sets the stage for Lincoln's appearance, animating the still photos and paintings that precede him.
Epcot's Circle of Life definitely would not have made the Best Theme Park Attraction nominees this year had Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln debuted in time to make the field. Here's looking forward to another long run for Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland.
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