Dateline August 28, 2003: The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, home of the largest collection of dinosaur specimens and remains west of The Rockies. We sent our man in LA, C W Oberleitner, to attend the official coming out party for Lucky the dinosaur, Walt Disney Imagineering's first fully independent walking Audio-Animatronics character.


From the vantage point of late summer 2003 it's difficult to remember a time in early 1963 when a select group of guests were invited by Walt Disney and the staff of WED Enterprises -- the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering -- to attend a performance of a new dinner theatre attraction being prepped for Disneyland. The attraction was "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" and if you can't recall ever having had a meal while visiting the Tiki Room there is a reason.

Test audiences were in such wonder and awe of Jose, Michael, Pierre, Fritz, the "girls" of "the glee club" the singing decorative flowers, plants and totems that they just plain forgot to eat. Walt soon realized that it would take too much time to both serve meals and perform the show. Much to the chagrin of corporate sponsor Stouffer's the decision was made to expand the show and stop serving meals.

Forty years later the "Enchanted Tiki Room" tends to inspire nostalgia more than wonder and awe. Audio-Animatronics, the technology behind Jose and the gang, has moved on and produced a series of ever more sophisticated performing characters. The first human Audio-Animatronic figure was Mr. Lincoln. Followed in short order by those scurvy knaves from the "Pirates of the Caribbean." One of today's most complex and realistic Audio-Animatronics is Hopper the grasshopper from the "It's Tough to be a Bug" shows.

Last Thursday, at The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Walt Disney Imagineering formally introduced Lucky the dinosaur to the world. Lucky is part of the "Living Characters" initiative at WDI. He walks on his own, pulling a large flower cart behind him, and engages, with the help of Chandler the handler, in personal experiences with those around him.

Sharp-eyed Disney fans may have caught sight of some of Lucky's earlier "play testing" at Disney's California Adventure. Lucky has also been seen in pictures posted around the web at various unofficial Disney fan sites. I want you to know nothing you've seen in any of those images or the ones that accompany this story will prepare you for the experience of seeing Lucky for yourself.

In the words of Bruce Vaughn, Vice President of Research and Development, Walt Disney Imagineering, "Lucky represents a leap in our ability to deliver stories in ways that are personal, up-close and interactive -- and as a result, more magical."

Photo of WDI VP Bruce Vaughn
WDI Vice President of Research and Development Bruce Vaughn introduces Lucky.

Lucky's introduction last Thursday was the first time in a long time I've seen anyone -- and this was especially true of the adults in the crowd -- approach a Disney Audio-Animatronics character with a sense of awe and wonder reminiscent of those first Enchanted Tiki Room audiences.

Photo of Lucky peering out from behind the curtains
Chandler the handler encourages Lucky to tour The Natural History Museum.

According to John Harris, curator of the Natural History Museum, Lucky is most likely descended from ostrich like dinosaur Gallimimus. He went on to say that unlike Gallimimus, "Lucky's features are fortunately softer and more inviting to children."

Photo of Lucky and Chandler the handler
Chandler asks Lucky what relative at the museum he would like to see first.

Photo of Lucky with John Harris
Lucky presents museum curator John Harris with a Mickey Mouse plush doll
while Bruce Vaughn and Chandler look on.

By shifting their focus from hydraulic systems to electronics and taking advantage of the advances in computing power that have taken place over the past forty years Lucky's design team at WDI have been able to do far more than just create a free moving Audio-Animatronics character. They have done what animators at the Disney studios do better than anybody else. They have given Lucky a warm, fun loving personality complete with foibles. Lucky laughs, sneezes, snorts and grunts with displeasure. He even gets the hiccups from time to time.

Photo of Lucky with a small boy
Made for each other. A young boy from the audience strokes Lucky
who in turn sighs with pleasure.

Photo of Lucky signing an autograph
Lucky signs autographs. His signature is a four-leaf clover, which is also his favorite food.

Photo of Lucky wearing Mickey Mouse ears
Lucky poses for pictures wearing his favorite hat.

Beginning today (Tuesday, September 2) Lucky returns to DCA for three more days of play testing. Your last opportunity, for the time being, to visit with Lucky will be Thursday, September 4. After that, according to statements made by WDI, "Lucky will return to his home at Walt Disney Imagineering."

While Lucky's creative team debriefs him on his experiences before the press and among the guests at Disney's California Adventure his owners, the executives at Team Disney Burbank, will be deciding where Lucky's new home will be.

It's no secret that both Walt Disney World in Florida and the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim are vying for the honor of being Lucky's new home. At this point it's anybody's guess where the happy go lucky young dinosaur will eventually park his flower cart.

In Florida, if Lucky proves to be a big hit, he could in short order return his initial development costs hundreds of times over. Lucky could be just the thing to encourage families to plan further ahead for that extended WDW / Animal Kingdom vacation.

Here in Southern California Lucky could help restore the luster to the Disneyland Resort's tarnished reputation as the innovative leader of the theme park industry. And, bring throngs of guests to the sparsely visited Hollywood Pictures Backlot section of DCA. Because Lucky and the technology that makes his appearances in the parks possible is so new it might also be advantageous for him to be living just an hour's drive from WDI in Glendale.

Wherever Lucky's home finally turns out to be he is sure to be a big hit with Disney theme park guests of all ages. Based on what I saw at his introduction last Thursday expect to see adults muscling children out of the way to have their pictures taken with Lucky in his mouse ears.

Photo of Lucky in front of some dinosaur statues
As his ancestors look on Lucky mingles with his guests.

C'ya real soon!