Disney's animatronics seem to be failing all over the place

January 29, 2018, 1:33 PM · Confession time: How many of us secretly hope to see something go wrong when we visit a theme park?

I'm not talking about the "And then something goes horribly wrong" narrative that drives so many attractions, from Star Tours to Transformers. I am talking about an actual malfunction — something that disrupts the normal flow of planned operation and forces a park off script for a moment.

Visitors to Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort got a doozy of a malfunction this weekend, when Ursula literally lost her head on the Little Mermaid ride.

Wow. But not to be outdone, though, Disneyland Paris apparently saw DCA's broken Ursula and raised it a Pirates Auctioneer.

The worst animatronic fail I ever witnesses in person was at the Country Bear Jamboree in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom when I was working there. It was during the "Vacation Hoedown" version of the show when Henry fell victim to a hydraulic leak. Those aren't necessarily noteworthy, except that this particular leak happened right behind Henry's khaki camp shorts, creating a very convincing illusion that the host of the Country Bear show was peeing his pants in front of the audience.

No one heard my "101" "show's over, please leave the theater" spiel over their laughter. (BTW, if any of you were in that theater and got a photo — and at least 100 people did — I would love to have a copy!)

Last week brought another alleged animatronic "fail" when talk show host Ellen DeGeneres brought out what she said was the former animatronic of her that once appeared in the Ellen's Energy Adventure ride at Epcot.

The Orlando Sentinel got Disney to confirm that the hideous creation wasn't actually a Disney animatronic, but just a dummy that Ellen's staff rigged for a gag.

But, yeah, it's not been a good week for animatronics. What was the worst animation fail you've ever seen in a theme park?

Replies (19)

January 29, 2018 at 2:07 PM · Lucky for the most part to avoid those. Probably the worst was on Star Tours (older version) of the Rex droid just dead for the entire ride despite his dialouge still playing, just weird to see.
January 29, 2018 at 4:30 PM · The last day of operation of Konfrontation at Universal Studios Florida. The PR department had promoted an event where fans could come and give the big guy a 21 banana salute (frankly - I seem to remember there was some sort of cute pun created, but I forget what it was now) on the last day prior to shutting it down to build The Mummy.
I was the Duty Manager for the Attractions department and wouldn't you know it...the damn Bridge Kong decided it didn't want to work.
So - we have hundreds and hundreds of fans there for a last ride. The local media was there with cameras to film final riders and what don't we have - a working monkey.
I feel pretty sure the damn thing was doing this out of spite.
Eventually, the amazing Tech. Services team got Bridge Kong into a usable position, but it was not full show ops as I remember it and we opened up just to close it down.
King Kong is dead! Long live the King.
January 29, 2018 at 4:33 PM · Years ago on Ripsaw Falls at IOA the head of Snidley Whiplash during the scene inside the mountain broke off and bounced heading right for our log. We tried to grab it but it took a CUNY bounce and landed in the water behind us. It floated. Didn’t have our phones for vid or pic because we keep them hermetically sealed on that ride! That was pretty funny.
January 29, 2018 at 4:49 PM · I used to work at Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom, and I’ll never forget one night I was at Unload and a little boy came screaming off the ride because one of the chickens on the riverboat was swinging and swaying with its head dangling back and forth. I didn’t get to see that one for myself, but there seemed to be a real problem with the chickens at that time, because I did see one with its head screwed the wrong way round Exorcist style.
January 29, 2018 at 4:52 PM · Plus how bad Trump looks at the Hall of Presidents.
January 29, 2018 at 9:37 PM · About 10 years ago at Disneyland, it was a full moon according to the Cast Members and the whole park was experiencing occasional malfunctions. We decided to go on Pirates of the Caribbean and when we went through, ALL of the audio animatronics were slumped over. The soundtrack was still running but it was very creepy. We still talk about that to this day.
January 30, 2018 at 2:50 AM · I get raising prices to keep crowd levels (relatively) lower. But if that extra money that Disney charges isn't being invested into the parks, you're getting a third-rate experience at a first-rate price.

I mean, it's not NEARLY as bad as the lack of maintenance that killed Marcelo Torres on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad when the ride vehicles weren't properly maintained, or the rotting wood on the Columbia that resulted in the death of a newlywed on their honeymoon when a large metal cleat broke loose and flew into the crowd, but...it's still pretty egregious that Disney continues to ignore maintenance needs after what SHOULD have been lessons learned in the past.

Granted, a broken animatronic isn't nearly as dangerous as those previous maintenance lapses, but it DOES show that Disney still doesn't take basic maintenance seriously.

Don't get me wrong -- I still love the parks, and enjoyed my time working for Disney, but...I can't help but be afraid for my safety every time I visit now. Not because of gangs or violence, but because of thinking "how well has Disney actually maintained this attraction since last time I was here?"

It's enough to have made me skip a few trips just because I don't know that I can trust Disney to provide a safe atmosphere anymore.

January 30, 2018 at 6:59 AM · I guess Disney wanted to start their own headless club to compete with Hogwarts again.
January 30, 2018 at 7:25 AM · Closest I've come is when I saw Mr Potato Head drop his ear.
January 30, 2018 at 8:59 AM · Many years ago Splash Mountain at MK in Orlando had less than half of it's AA's work. I can only remember 1 ride trough when all AA's and effects worked.
But the worst is the Yeti at AK and the way Disney stopped caring to make it work.
January 30, 2018 at 12:03 PM · There's a hilarious video on YouTube, in which Mr. Potato Head at Tokyo Disney fails, acting like he's falling down drunk.

Overall, I think Disney does a good job of maintaining their rides. It's just a coincidence that two AAs got "decapitated" on the same day.

January 30, 2018 at 12:13 PM · Geez Kenny, way to bring us all down!
January 30, 2018 at 7:36 PM · But how does that even happen? The heads are usually bolted and sealed in place since they're the most important parts! Can someone explain as to how that happened???
January 30, 2018 at 8:10 PM · Like referenced above, I think the Bridge Kong on his last day was the worst. And I was the person working Tower when we went down. I spent 4 hours hanging out in there waiting for it come back up while the rest of my fellow teammates went out front one last time to turn guests away for a 11-1!
January 30, 2018 at 8:47 PM · Kenny- stop ruining Clayton's day with inconvenient facts. Let him live in a world of bliss. Poor guy can barley make it through the day as is...
January 31, 2018 at 7:22 AM · Barry, this is a conversation about animatronics breaking down, not Disney's safety record.

As Robert mentioned, animatronics have been malfunctioning since the parks opened. Its just now everybody has a camera and can broadcast that news.

For what its worth, I have been going to Disney World for the better part of 30 years and I have never seen a catastrophic animatronic fail

January 31, 2018 at 10:25 AM · The worst thing that ever happened to me was being forced to listen to It's a Small World Afterall on a continuous loop when the ride broke down for 30 minutes.
I'm still in therapy.
January 31, 2018 at 6:47 PM · Animatronics malfunctioning is a bad sign. If preventive maintenance is not being done to keep animatronics working, why should guests assume preventive maintenance is being done to keep rides safe?
February 1, 2018 at 11:00 AM ·
I second what said about this. How DO their heads fall off like that?

As for other Disney fails, I saw Mickey lose his eye on a cruise once! Granted that's a costume and not an animatronic but it was still really bad. Link to that video here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZA3p41ErOXg

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