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Why For isn't WALL•E rolling around the Disney theme parks yet?

Why For isn't WALL•E rolling around the Disney theme parks yet?

  • Comments 15

First up, Cameron writes in to say:

Hi Jim,

Last year when Wall-E came out I was looking forward to visiting the park(s) and getting to meet an actual Wall-E.  I thought this would be part of the Living Character Initiative and would be a grand opportunity after seeing Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker.  I saw some publicity of Wall-E on the red carpet and making visits to the studios and science museum appearances, but so far haven't seen him at the parks.  Any chance I might see an actual rolling, talking and interactive Wall-E on my next visit?


The Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E hit the road last year,
at one point stopping in Seattle to visit that city's science museum.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Thanks very much.

Have a happy!

Cameron

While Lucky the Dinosaur, Muppet Mobile Labs and the Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E may make for great photo ops … From an operational point of view, these incredibly complicated machine are kind of a nightmare.

Take – for example -- WALL•E. The Imagineers really did an amazing job of recreating the title character of this Academy Award-nominated Pixar film. The only problem is … Because of all of the machinery necessary to run the thing, the Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E weighs 700 pounds. So were WDI to send this cute little robot out into the Parks to do meet-and-greets with the Guests and were WALL•E’s tread to accidentally roll over some child’s foot … Well, we now exit the Magic Kingdom and enter LawsuitLand.

Then when you factor in how delicate these Living Character Initiative machines are (more importantly, how truly difficult they are to operate). I was on the Disney lot late last summer and I remember overhearing this protracted negotiation between the Studio’s Marketing staff and the folks who run the Tokyo’s International Film Festival. The people behind TIFF really wanted the Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E to roll down the red carpet at this Pixar film’s Japanese premiere.

But before Disney’s PR officials would allow this to happen … Well, they needed to know exactly what the WALL•E robot was expected to do, who this Living Character Initiative creature would be interacting with. In short, Disney wanted to see the full script in advance to that it could then ensure that this cute not-so-little robot didn’t malfunction and/or misbehave in front of the entire Tokyo press corps.

As you can see by the photo below, WALL•E's red carpet appearance at the Tokyo International Film Festival back in October seems to have gone okay.


(L to R) Takahiro Suzuki, “WALL•E” producer Jim Morris, director Andrew Stanton,
sound designer Ben Burtt and Toshikazu Miura at the closing night
of the Tokyo International Film Festival.
Photo by Sarah Cortina

But as for the Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E turning up in the Parks on a regular basis anytime soon and mingling with the public … I wouldn’t count on that, Cameron. Just the insurance issues involved here make Disney’s lawyers queasy.

Mind you, there’s been some semi-serious talk lately about WDI creating a WALL•E–themed attraction for the Parks. Some sort of ride-thru that would then be dropped into various Tomorrowlands around the globe. But we’re still a number of years away from that particular Blue Sky project becoming a reality.

So – until that happens – I guess that we’ll just have to make do with these WALL•E–themed photo ops that you find around the Parks.

 

Next up, Andrew from Phoenix writes to ask

Jim,

I loved last week’s "Why For" article. So I decided to write and ask a question of my own. All of us Disney dweebs know that the Yeti on Expedition Everest has been broken for quite some time now. But there seems to be no plans on fixing the poor guy. Any idea what’s going on? (I) can't imagine (that) Disney is just gonna let its pride and glory that they hyped so much sit there broken!

Thanks for your time,

Andrew from Phoenix

Sadly, it’s going to be quite a while before this enormous AA figure takes any more swipes at tea trains.

What’s the problem? In short, the Imagineers – back when they were designing the Yeti – didn’t take in account what the long term effects of continually operating an Audio Animatronic of this size might be.

For all your engineers and physics fans out there, let me throw out a few quick stats. So that you can then get a rough understanding of the issues that WDI is dealing with here:

  • This 22-foot tall AA figure weighs 20,000 pounds

  • Because of the dramatic positioning of the Yeti (i.e. this fearsome creature literally hangs down from the ceiling as it takes swipes at passing trainloads of tourists) , in order to keep this AA figure airborne, the Imagineers could had to attach a structural boom to its back.

Photo by Jeff Lange

  • Every 40 seconds, the 19 actuators that actually drive the Yeti have to move this huge Audio Animatronic 5 feet horizontally and two feet vertically … and then quickly reset for the next trainload of tourists

  • To give you some idea of the amount of power we’re talking about here … Just the thrust of the Yeti’s arm has the equivalent amount of force to a 747 jumbo jet taking off

  • The amount of power necessary to drive this 20,000 AA figure? Slightly over 259,000 pounds force

Now picture a heavy-duty yet sophisticated machine like this – the largest, fastest moving AA figure in history -- having to work non-stop 10 - 12 hours each day, 365 days a year. With the vibrations caused by all those pounds force being used repeatedly resonating up through that structural boom that supports the Yeti and then down through the sled that actually drives this AA figure’s back-and-forth movement.

In short, it’s the very force that drives the Yeti that caused this AA figure to break down. In the Imagineers’ quest to create a machine that looked & moved like this wild, living creature … Well, they built a robot that was almost destined to rip itself to shreds.

That’s where the folks at Disney’s Animal Kingdom find themselves dealing with right now. Expedition Everest’s Yeti has multiple operational issues. In order to bring this AA figure back on line, get the Yeti once again performing in A mode (i.e. so that this enormous robot dramatically lunges at each tea train as it passes, lashing out with his arm at WDW Guests) is going to take months as well as a ridiculously large amount of money.


Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And given that “Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain” is still a heavy attendance driver for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, there’s just no way (particularly in this troubled economy) that WDW is going to be willing to take this thrill ride off-line for a lengthy repair.

I mean, if you’re willing to overlook this one element of “Expedition Everest,” this DAK thrill ride is still wildly entertaining. As is evidenced by the 1800+ Guests who whiz around its 4,424-foot track every hour that this theme park is open to the public.

So sorry if I’m the bearer of bad news here, Andrew. But it could be quite a while before this AA figure is back in A mode.

And -- finally -- Madelyn writes in to ask ...

Hi, Jim,

I’m Madelyn. You know how there is a Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida. Will there ever be a Disney in New York, like a theme park ?

Madelyn

Well, The Walt Disney Company came awfully close in the past. Perhaps the first time that the Mouse toyed with doing something of size in and around NYC was back in early 1961. When the owners of Freedomland allegedly approached Roy O. Disney and asked if Walt Disney Productions would be interested in taking over the then-troubled theme park. In essence buying these folks out.



As I understand it, Roy O. at least went through the motions. He reportedly asked to see Freedomland’s books as well as sending a veteran Disneyland official to the Bronx to go check out the park itself. Though – given that, at this time, Walt was talking with Robert Moses about possibly doing something for the New York World’s Fair – I think that the real reason that Roy O. met with the Freedomland folks was that he was on a fact-finding mission.

I mean, Roy O. was a numbers guy. Which is why Walt’s brother wanted to see information on Freedomland’s attendance levels. How much visitors to that park spent on food and souvenirs. So that he could then share this information with his brother. So that Walt would then at least have some realistic expectations as he began working on the ’64 World’s Fair with Moses.

Mind you, Walt himself once toyed with building something of size in New York State. But this wouldn’t have been in or around the Big Apple. But – rather – in the westernmost portion of the Empire State. Niagara County, to be exact.

Based on what veteran Imagineers have told me over the years, what Walt envisioned building near Niagara Falls wasn’t exactly a theme park. Sure, it would have had a few shows & attractions. But this project’s main purpose was to celebrate the natural beauty of this area. To give Guests a real appreciation of the power & the majesty of the Falls.

So why didn’t Walt go forward with this project? I’m told that the over-built area around Niagara Falls itself reminded Disney of Anaheim’s urban sprawl. Which is why – even though Niagara County already had strong enough tourism numbers that it could have supported a Disneyland-type park -- Walt eventually abandoned this idea and went off in search of a blank piece of canvas. Which is why he wound up in the swamps of Central Florida.


Had The Walt Disney Company gone forward with its 1995 era plan,
it would have built a 47-story hotel right on this corner

Speaking of urban … Back in the 1990s, Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner once actively toyed with building a resort / indoor theme park right at the edge of Times Square. At that time, The Walt Disney Company held the option to build on a piece of property on the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. Right next door to the New Amsterdam Theatre.

And the Imagineers … They came up with quite the ambitious plan for this project. A 47-story building that would have been Disney’s DVC property for NYC. Guests who visited this resort would have be able to book special packages that would have then gotten them primo seats to Disney’s Broadway shows. Not to mention taking special Disney-hosted tours of the City. And did I mention the smallish coaster that was supposedly to have rolled along the rooftop before plunging down the side of the building?

So why didn’t Disney go ahead with construction of this Times Square structure? The way I hear it, in the wake of Euro Disney under-performing, Michael got cold feet and eventually allowed Disney’s option on that piece of land at 42nd & 7th to slip away in late 1995 / early 1996. Though I have also heard that – given NYC real estate exploded in the late 1990s / early 2000s – it is now allegedly Eisner’s greatest regret that he didn’t allow the Company to go forward with this particular project.

So will Disney eventually do something in NYC? Well, as recently as last fall, the Company was exploring the idea of building an entertainment  / retail complex right in the heart of Times Square. Taking over the space that the Virgin Megastore currently occupies and then changing it into this weird hybrid of the World of Disney on 5th Avenue and  the El Capitan & Soda Fountain on Hollywood Boulevard.

Unfortunately, given what’s going on with the economy right now, The Walt Disney Company has lost its taste for adventurous & experimental. Which is why the space that the Virgin Megastore occupies in Times Square was recently snatched up by the people who run the Forever 21 retail change.

That said, just because that spot on Times Square got away doesn’t mean that the Mouse isn’t looking for another spot in the City to set up shop. Especially when you take into consideration that Disney’s lease on its 5th Avenue flagship store is up in 2010 … Well, it’s only a matter of time ‘til Mickey takes Manhattan. Again.


Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And speaking of time … I’m out of time for this week. But if you happen to be down in the City this weekend, be sure and swing by the Jacob K. Javits Center and check out the third annual New York Comic-Con. Which (as I mentioned earlier this week) will feature cool Disney-related events like that preview screening of the first 50-minutes of “Up.”

Speaking of Disney-related crud … If you’d like your Disney-related questions answered as part of this weekly column, please send them along to jim@jimhillmedia.com.

That’s it for this week. See you next Monday !

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  • Well, I disagree that Everest is a wildly entertaining ride. It has a nice queu, and the mountain looks kinda cool - but otherwise it's just an average corkscrew rollercoaster with ho-hum effects, and, thanks to the broken Yeti, no big payoff at the end (unlike the far-superior Twilight Zone Tower of Terror). I rode it multiple times during my last trip to WDW, just to try to get some kind of bang for my buck, but it was underwhelming every time I rode it.  You got a flash of the Yeti - red glowing eyes, mostly, but no glimpse of the actual figure - and then it's all over, and given that the rest of Animal Kingdom is an horrifically expensive bore, you (or at least I) get on the shuttle and head back to a FUN park, like Disney's Hollywood Studios. IMO, Everest is a failure. I'll bet the Imagineers who screwed it up are looking for work right now...and deservedly so.

  • I could not disagree with you more gigglesock. I am a Disney Fanatic that has been going to the parks religiously since 1982. I have no problem complaining when I think Disney messes up or ruins an old favorite of mine. But Everest is by far my favorite ride at the parks now. It is quintessential Disney. Taking a ride that would be a ho-hum average coaster elsewhere, and building an entire story around it and making it into an experience (similiar to the also outstanding Tower of Terror). It is a bummer that the Yeti is stuck on B mode, but otherwise this is a perfect E ticket.

  • With how Imagineering claims to be so detail oriented, it strikes me as odd they install such a machine, and NOT take into account the effects on the building. There are strict rules that govern such things(building codes), it is a failure of regulatory agencies and WDI to let this thing even operate.

    I'll bet there is a lot more to this story.

  • "But it could be quite a while before this AA figure is back in A mode."

    Quite awhile = never

    I always wondered why they didn't put the yeti in a better position so that you see it better and for longer.  It seemed such a waste to spend so much $$ for such a brief glimpse.  Now that it isn't working, the yeti's positioning seems to be a much better decision.  It was almost as if they were anticipating it remaining in a non-functioning state.

    Still, even with a malfunctioning yeti, Everest is still one of the most unique coasters ever and far beyond just an "average corkscrew rollercoaster with ho-hum effects".  The backward-on-a-circuit track effect alone sets it apart from any other coaster.  The projected yeti looks like a cartoon, of course, but all of the other effects are superb (when they are working).  Still very ridable for me.

  • **The backward-on-a-circuit track effect alone sets it apart from any other coaster. **

    If you've never ridden on a corkscrew roller coaster that goes backward, then you haven't been to many theme parks, my friend.

  • If you cannot read what he wrote, backward-on-a-CIRCUIT TRACK, you shouldn't reply to him at all.

  • The Yeti is too expensive to fix, too humiliating to scrap, so it will REMAIN in B mode.  

  • **"If you've never ridden on a corkscrew roller coaster that goes backward, then you haven't been to many theme parks, my friend."**

    Apparently, I haven't been to as many theme parks as you.  Where else can I find a coaster that is on a circuit (ie, a circular track) that begins in a forward direction, switches midway to a backward direction, and then switches again to forward while never retracing its path?  I've been on plenty of corkscrew coasters that go forward and then retrace their path backward but never on a circuit.  Please enlighten me, my friend.  Where are these other coasters that have a similar BACKWARD-ON-A-CIRCUIT EFFECT that I seem to be missing?  Can you tell me, my friend?

  • I believe that The Mummy coaster at Universal Studios Hollywood is on a circuit track.  Not sure about the one in Florida.

  • Just to make a minor correction, but a 'corkscrew' roller coaster is usually a type that involves an upside down element.  The backwards section of Expedition Everest is known as a 'helix' or 'spiral turn'.  I just thought I should clarify this for people that might think that EE has upside-down inversions, which it does not.

    I also have to agree, the backwards section of Everest is quite thrilling and unique.  Although there are many roller coasters at other parks that travel forward and backward, EE is the only one that I'm aware of that offers the element on a full circuit coaster.  And completely in the dark, too, I might add!  EE is a very unique coaster experience.

  • **If you cannot read what he wrote, backward-on-a-CIRCUIT TRACK, you shouldn't reply to him at all.**

    Ooh, a CIRCUIT track. I didn't know that. But now that I do, it makes all the difference.

    But seriously, I rode on a back-and-forth corkscrew roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia years ago. It was so intense, I swore off roller coasters for a while.

    And PintoColvig, I seriously doubt your average Disney visitor gives a frick about HOW a roller coaster goes backwards. If the big attraction of Everest is supposed to be the Yeti, and yet all you actually see is a pair of glowing eyes and maybe a flash of teeth combined with cheezy strobe lights, then the ride is a disappointment, if not a rip-off. I call 'em as I see 'em.

  • **the ride is a disappointment, if not a rip-off. I call 'em as I see 'em.**

    And apparently people are disappointed all day long at Everest, judging by the long lines it attracts each day.  Some are so disappointed, they go back several times during the day.  I call 'em as I see 'em, too.

  • I don't know all the technicalities of EE, but for me it's always been a Matterhorn for Florida. Except that Florida's Matterhorn isn't painted all the way around, it's much less likely the whole family will be able to or even want to ride, and you can't see Florida's abominable snowman as well as you can in California. Part of the theory of spending all the $$$ for a really complex AA figure is that the paying customers can actually see it and have a little "wow" time with it - the WWotW in GMR or dueling pirates in Paris' PotC. Even in "A" mode, by the time you see the yeti, it's time to go.  

    As for Wall-E, who knows. In the early 80's, the Coca-Cola Company had a full-sized "Cobot" that they took around to fairs, tradeshows etc. It was basically a fullsized R2D2 except with a Coca-Cola can for the body. It rolled forward, backwards, turned, the top spun around, lights flashed, beepers beeped. All with the help of a discreet helper with a good sized remote control. Lawsuits were popular, even in those early days, but these Coca-Cola guys did something pretty unique. When they saw a kid running towards the robot, they stopped the robot so no one was run over. A little primitive, but it did seem to work.

    These sad stories are just more examples of our time, and something Walt never really had to concern himself with. Obesity in America is clearly a problem - 20,000 pound yetis that can't move, 700 pound robots that can't roll. I'm all for signing Jenny Craig as a park sponsor. Let's the kids line up for Tinkerbelle, I want my picture with Valerie Bertinelli.

  • PintoColvig said:

    **the ride is a disappointment, if not a rip-off. I call 'em as I see 'em.**

    And apparently people are disappointed all day long at Everest, judging by the long lines it attracts each day.  Some are so disappointed, they go back several times during the day. **

    Well,  maybe they returned for the same reasons I did - "Hey, I paid big bucks to visit WDW and in particular, came to AK, boring as it is, for this specific ride. And I still don't see what the fuss is all about. What the hell, maybe I'll ride it again - maybe I missed something..."

  • Was the Times Square Disney Store next to Forever 21 canceled?  Also, isn't the NYC World of Disney already closed?

    ny.racked.com/.../times_square_tween_dream_disney_to_open_next_to_forever_21.php

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