The Walt Disney Company has honored their founder, Walt Disney, in many different ways throughout the years. His name and image still bears an important role in all things Disney. But there has never been an Audio-Animatronic figure of Walt Disney. Why not? Perhaps there should be.
Audio-Animatronics are a popular technology used in many of our favorite theme park attractions, and it goes all the way back to Walt’s lifetime. Some of the earliest figures created were small birds as we see them in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. As the technology progressed, it was eventually used to create human figures. Walt himself was particularly proud of the recreation of President Abraham Lincoln for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It’s remarkable to think that versions of these initial Audio-Animatronic figures are still in Disneyland to this very day.
But it didn’t stop there. The Walt Disney Company has continued to recreate historic figures in presentations like the Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom, The American Adventure at Epcot and many others. So why not Walt?
The company has done a lot throughout the years to keep the spirit of Walt alive in various different ways. The most prominent is probably the Partners statue originally dedicated in Disneyland park back in 1993. This famous statue of Walt holding Mickey’s hand while admiring what they created has been recreated for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and numerous other Disney Parks around the world. This Walt Disney statue tradition has continued in newer parks like Disney California Adventure with “Storytellers,” and there are even plans to bring a new “Dreamers Point” statue to Epcot.
It’s also not uncommon to hear Walt Disney’s voice in the parks. Most prominently, I think of hearing Walt speak in various fireworks spectaculars throughout the years. The company often refers back to Walt Disney quotes and speeches to guide (and sometimes justify) their latest creations. His opening day Disneyland speech is one that you hear used regularly, even when it doesn’t particularly make sense (like when riding Disney’s Magical Express on your way to Walt Disney World Resort).
Of course, Walt’s image is seen everywhere on Disney Resort properties. You can often find photographs of Walt in hotel lobbies and restaurants like the Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure or even Restaurantosaurus at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The photos and images of Walt around the Disney Parks are plentiful and always appreciated. Video of Walt can be found in the parks as well, like in the finale of Epcot’s American Adventure or the queue for Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.
The one thing I never thought I’d see in a Disney Park is a performer portraying Walt Disney, but that’s exactly what we got with the premiere of the Share a Dream Come True Parade in Magic Kingdom, celebrating 100 Years of Magic in 2001. At the beginning of this parade, there was a performer sitting on a mini-float portraying a young Walt Disney, sitting at an easel and canvas drawing the one and only, Mickey Mouse. I remember seeing this and being shocked (and somewhat delighted) that The Walt Disney Company honored their founder in this way, but it was still a very surprising move on their part.
With all of these tributes to Walt Disney, why haven’t we yet received an Audio-Animatronic version of him in a grand Disney Parks attraction? I honestly don’t believe there is a good reason, but I’ve heard Imagineers say that it would be creepy, or that Walt wouldn’t want it. I would argue that it wouldn’t be any more creepy than some of the presidents and celebrities that have their own Audio-Animatronic counterparts – and you can bet that if the company were to make an Audio-Animatronic Walt, they would invest heavily in it.
As far as the argument that Walt Disney himself wouldn’t want it, you could say the same thing about the iconic Partners statue. But that still exists, and frankly, I can’t imagine the parks without them. Walt personally invested heavily in recreating historic figures like Lincoln, and therefore had no problem bringing these dearly departed people “back to life.” If a deceased president can live on in this way, why not Walt?
I personally would like to see a spectacularly made Audio-Animatronic Walt Disney done in a way that honors the man and celebrates his creations. My guess is that there are enough audio recordings of Walt Disney in existence that could be pieced together to create a respectful and beautiful stage show. The most fitting home would be the original Disneyland park, which is the only park that Walt Disney saw open in his lifetime. If you know anything about Walt Disney, it’s difficult to walk through Disneyland and not be overwhelmed by the idea that Walt spent ten plus years personally overseeing his dream and creation.
What do you think? Would you like to see an Audio-Animatronic Walt, or would it be too “creepy” or distasteful? If you do like the idea, where would you like to see it placed?
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.