Top 10 Most Incredible Theme Park Animatronics
Trivia Top 10 Most Incredible Theme Park Animatronics



Top 10 Most Incredible Theme Park Animatronics

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Zachary Siechen
These theme park animatronics feel so real. For this list, we'll be looking at the most memorable, historic and downright impressive animatronics to ever take the theme park stage. Our countdown includes Calico Miners, T-Rex, Barker Bird, and more!

Top 10 Theme Park Animatronics of All Time

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Theme Park Attractions of All Time.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most memorable, historic and downright impressive animatronics to ever take the theme park stage. We’ll be ranking them based on their technological prowess, their significance in their times, and their overall ability to embody a compelling living creature. We’re considering animatronics with current or previous theme park appearances, only.

Do you have a favorite amusement park animatron? Tell us in the comments!

#10: The Seven Dwarfs
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park

With the completion of “New Fantasyland” in Disney’s Magic Kingdom, we were introduced to “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, '' which was the star of the expansion. While the steel roller coaster is fun, it’s the familiar “heigh-ho” of our seven funny-nosed friends that proves most memorable. When the train slows, we get a superb look at some of Disney’s first “full 3D” animatronics, implemented with computer-generated facial expressions that are modeled after their original cartoon counterparts. Attractions like “Frozen Ever After” and “Toy Story Mania” also feature this unique marriage of animatronic and digital projection with Anna, Elsa and Mr. Potato Head, but the technological advancement looks its best here, when staring down Dopey Dwarf’s diamond “bug” eyes.

#9: Calico Miners
Calico Mine Ride, Knott’s Berry Farm

Where the diamond miners are the way of the future, these classic gold diggers are equally significant fossils of the past. Once upon a time in America, a young farmer’s berry farm blossomed into an amusement park that features the iconic “Calico Mine Ride.” One of the oldest still-operating dark rides, this attraction houses upwards of fifty animatronic mineworkers that hammer, chisel, shovel, and give out warnings. Their motions are simple but diversified, so the collective choreography of these lifesize figures is a stellar sight, even today. The Calico Miners exude the same visual fascination as Disneyland’s pirate crew, though they appeared almost a decade prior. Still as glorious as in their glory days, these forty-niners remain tremendous flagships of theme park entertainment.

#8: Kong
Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Universal's Islands of Adventure

Universal Studios is no stranger to the great King Kong. An impressive thirty-foot Kong machine terrorized guests of the Hollywood Studio Tour until the disastrous 2008 backlot fire. From the ashes rose King Kong 360 3-D, and by extension, Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s “Skull Island: Reign of Kong.” Most of the Florida attraction features impressive images on 3D screens, the ride’s finale allows adventurers to meet Kong “in the flesh,” as this imposing animatronic snarls a reminder that the jungle is his territory. His sweeping head motions, highly-detailed scarred face, and convincing facial expressions might make you believe this gargantuan ape is actually real. After being dwarfed by Kong’s automobile-sized cranium, you’re unlikely to forget this “Kongfrontation” for quite some time.

#7: T-Rex
Jurassic Park River Adventure, Universal's Islands of Adventure

Going from one Islands of Adventure attraction to another, here we have the “Jurassic Park River Adventure'', which houses its own elusive titan. The nightmare from the “Jurassic Park” films comes excitedly to life after your boat is knocked off course, and you find yourself surrounded by free-roaming prehistoric predators. As you approach the climactic 85-foot drop, the ground shakes as this stunning animatronic behemoth emerges from glowing smoke. Sound effects and lighting reinforce the machine’s expertly coordinated movements, really making you believe that you’re about to be lunch. While “Jurassic World” and the Indominus Rex have taken over the Hollywood counterpart, Rexy remains the main attraction for dino hunters worldwide, and this exceptionally crafted automaton holds up just as well as its sister in Speilberg’s 1993 classic.

#6: Pirates & Wenches
Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland & Magic Kingdom Park

The last ride to receive the Midas touch of Walt Disney himself also introduced us to some of the most memorable theme park characters of all time. Originally conceived as simply wax figures, each of the 75 or so moving Pirates, Villager and Wenches exhibits a specific look and personality, all together creating the most fantastic menagerie of Caribbeans this side of the Spanish Main! Whether it’s the Auctioneer, the Helmsman, or the infamous Redhead, all who visit will likely leave with a favorite. Appearing in Disneyland in 1967 and later at Walt Disney World in 1973, the attraction has undergone several refurbishments, upgrading certain scenes and adding the unmistakable Cap’n Jack Sparrow. For certain, there can be no discussion of animatronics without bringing aboard these buccaneers.

#5: The Dragon
La Tanière du Dragon, Disneyland Paris

Animatronics and walkthrough attractions are uncommon bedfellows, but hop a flight to old Paris (prononciation Français) and you’ll find both beneath “Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant”. By venturing into “La Tanière du Dragon”, explorers encounter a dragon that is always onstage, constantly moving as it wakes and sleeps. Unlike the iconic Maleficent dragon-matronics, notable for their appearances in “Fantasmic!” and the “Festival of Fantasy Parade '', this slumbering serpent behaves like a resting housecat, so as not to frighten younger guests. Endearing and seemingly devoid of an “off” switch, it's become an unprecedented worldwide fan-favorite. Head imagineer Terri Hardin originally planned her to be the skeleton of dragon-Maleficent. As it turns out, this captivating beastie needs no pre-existing movie to justify her claim to fame.

#4: Shaman of Songs
Na’vi River Journey, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

At the time of her debut, the Shaman of Songs was the most elaborate animatronic ever crafted for a Disney park. She hails from the “Na’vi River Journey”, an attraction in Animal Kingdom inspired by James Cameron’s film “Avatar” and the world of Pandora. As a guest of “Alpha Centauri Expeditions”, you’ll drift down the Kaspavan River to be greeted by the shaman’s tranquil harmonization with nature. Groundbreaking new technology and countless synchronized movements animate every inch of the shaman, down to her very fingertips. This na’vi is a paragon of the Disney philosophy that an animatronic should be not just a robot, but a nuanced piece of imagination made real.

#3: Barker Bird
Enchanted Tiki Room, Disneyland & Magic Kingdom Park

The birds of “The Enchanted Tiki Room” might seem comparatively dated, but they were a never-before-seen phenomenon in the 1960s. The tropical hideaway featured singing macaws and wily tiki gods, and it was the very first attraction to showcase audio-animatronics technology. Juan the barker bird, dressed in carnival showman attire, perched outside of the tiki room and enticed guests to come inside. He moved, talked, and gave visitors an idea of what the “Tiki Room'' show would be like, and he introduced park-goers to a whole new species of robotics entertainment. His devious eye-patch-wearing cousin would later appear outside of the Magic Kingdom’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction. Since retired, these birds were the very first appearance of animatronic magic for many theme park junkies.

#2: Spider-Man Stuntronic
Avengers Campus, Disneyland Park

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a new era of animatronic innovation. The ever-expanding MCU made its way to Disney California Adventure with “Avengers Campus”, a Marvel-themed section of DCA that opened in summer 2021. Part of its unveiling involved an acrobatic Spider-Man show, culminating with the hero’s extraordinary launch through the air. Incredibly, this was no stuntman, but an invention of Disney Imagineering. Newly-patented technology, coined “stuntronics,” allows Robo-Spidey to backflip 85 feet above the ground, using specialized sensors to adjust for an offstage landing. The “Themed Entertainment Award” winning creation performs alongside a live Spider-Man actor to solidify the illusion, making for a truly unforgettable blend of technology and storytelling. He’s a revolutionary harbinger for the future of theme park entertainment.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Ursula - The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, Paradise Gardens Park
Seven Feet and Eight Tentacles of Sea Robo Sea Witch

Elektro & Sparko the Robot Dog - 1939 NY World’s Fair
The Very First Animatronics EVER!

Zoltar - Various Parks
A Very “Big” Fortune Teller with No Equal

Yeti - Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
“Disco Yeti” Now, but When He Moved, We Were Sure He Was Real

Lucky the Dinosaur - Various Disney Parks
Disney’s Imagineers’ First Free Roaming Animatronic

#1: Abraham Lincoln
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Disneyland Park

This list has been “Disney-heavy,” but Disney is simply the King of audio-animatronics - Walt Disney Productions’ WED Enterprises was the first company to patent them, after all. Walt Disney himself was involved with “Carousel of Progress” and the emblematic figures from “It’s A Small World”, but what began theme park animatronics was “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” Channeling his childhood fascination with the nation’s sixteenth president, Disney’s team introduced the world to a Lincoln who could rise, gesture, move and speak in the pitch-perfect mannerisms of Walt’s nineteenth-century icon. Even today, no technological advancement quite compares to the exhilaration of experiencing Lincoln’s actual speeches, resurrected from history. Eventually expanding to Magic Kingdom’s “Hall of Presidents”, this figure of human inspiration is quite simply…[“...the stuff that dreams are made of.”]