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Muppet Mobile Lab gets ready to roll through California Adventure

Muppet Mobile Lab gets ready to roll through California Adventure

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The way I hear it, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew & Beaker were the real highlight of this year's corporate Christmas party at the Walt Disney Company.

Over the past two months, numerous Mouse House insiders have written to me -- wanting to share details of their bizarre encounters with this next phase of Disney's "Living Character Initiative" program. These folks were just standing around at the party, minding their own business. Only to have this rocket ship-shaped craft roll up right next to them. And the next thing they knew, these remote controlled AA versions of Bunsen & Beaker would begin interacting with them.

Given Beaker's limited vocabulary (I.E. He only speaks in "Meeps"), Dr. Bunsen Honeydew had to do most of the talking. And the routine that he'd do would typically start off with the good doctor first complimenting the party guest on their outfit ("That's a lovely ensemble you wearing. It wouldn't -- by chance -- be flame retardant, would it?"), then try & cajole them into taking part in a field experiment for Muppet Labs.

Given that this particular "LCI" project was still under wraps at that time, senior company officials supposedly asked politely that no pictures be taken of the Muppet Mobile Lab. As one party guest told me:

"They actually said 'I don't want to see any pictures of this popping up on Jim Hill or Al Lutz's website.' "

And it would appear that all of the guests at this particular holiday gathering complied with that request.

So where did the image below come from? Sorry, I'm not at liberty to say. What I can tell you is that this photo was reportedly taken early one morning while this "Living Creature Initiative" unit was being test driven around the WDI parking lot.


And -- to be honest -- I guess I should mention that this very same photograph has been posted in Muppet Wiki. Though (to give you some idea how incestuous the Internet has become these days) which article does the Muppet Mobile Lab entry of this online encyclopedia cite as its primary source? My own "The Muppet Mobile Laboratory to begin rolling through DCA in early 2007" story from September 2006.

Anyway ... What else can I tell you about these two remote controlled AA figures? The sculpts of Bunsen & Beaker were based on the really-for-real puppets that were used in the production of "Muppets Tonight." The folks at Muppet Holding Company LLC (Now Muppet Studios LLC) made these cloth characters available to WDI. And the Imagineers then carefully measured each Muppet to make sure that they got the scale on each of these new "Living Creature Initiative" figures just right.

More to the point, Dave Goelz made a trip down to Glendale late last year to consult on the Muppet Mobile Lab project. And he reportedly seemed thrilled with the job that WDI had done with his character, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

So when will Bunsen & Beaker stop playing the party circuit and finally make an appearance in the theme parks? According to what I've heard, the Imagineers weren't entirely pleased with how the Muppet Mobile Lab performed at Disney's corporate Christmas party. Which is why this "Living Creature Initiative" unit was then taken back to Glendale for a little tweaking. (More to the point, so that the roughly-worked-out scripts for Bunsen & Beaker's mostly improv routines could be punched up a bit).

Now that all that work has been done ... Supposedly sometime over the next few months, the Muppet Mobile Lab will make its very first official test drive through DCA's Hollywood Pictures Backlot area.

Anywho ... I just thought that you folks might enjoy getting a glimpse of the latest incarnation of Disney's "Living Character Initiative" program. Which (to my way of thinking, anyway) is a significant step up from Lucky the dinosaur.

After all of those reptilian coos, growls & whines, we now get ... Meeps!

Your thoughts?

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  • If this brings in extra people to Muppet Vision 3D then I'll say its a success.  Looks good, thats for sure.

  • BEEKER! I love these two! If these two end up looking as good as the Dino that works his way through Animal Kingdom, then this could be a real crowd pleaser! Thanks, Jim for the inside scoop!

  • Now THIS is a good way to be using the Muppet characters!

    (And THIS is more in line with the type of stories I like to see 'round these parts...I don't care if you cover good news vs. bad news...I just want INTERESTING news)

  • I love the Muppets, and this is one of the greatest ways to integrate them into the theme parks. Looking forward to it!

    Thanks for the picture, Jim.

  • The image was included in a presentation that was sent out by Jay Rosoulo to all Cast Members regarding updates from the Disney Parks press event that took place this past week.

  • Now they need to make Animal! (on a chain, behind a drum set, antagonizing guests)

  • Maybe this belongs in the other comment section, but here's what I was expecting to read:

    How much this project cost, since costs were paid in actual US dollars, not paper stock. This expense doesn't fall under maintenance or payroll - are executives concerned about this output of dollars to get something that can't be advertised as an attraction, and won't to pulll anyone into the park? It's a curious thing to see, but I don't see people getting inspired to fly across the country for it. So if it's ok to spend money on this...

    Included in costs, did we really need to pay a consultant's fee for Goeltz? A moderately talented puppeteer can re-create these puppets without measuring the original puppets. I realize Imagineers have a history of calling in consultants to get exact dimensions or the smallest details, but all that usually ends up achieving is an extra line of fun facts in the press release or trivia book.

    Is this really perceived as that advanced? What cutting edge technology was used that wasn't used in the Lion King Celebration Parade a decade or so back? The characters have no eye movement, and as far as I can tell no hand movement - basically a plain ventriloquist doll on remote control - few other characters would offer this low-tech option of "living." Most kids have seen a remote controlled toy - this is just a larger version.

    The company has advanced AA characters - Wicked Witch at MGM, dueling pirates in Paris - that are even better because of the strong storyline. Technologically advanced (freewheeling AA figures) obscure characters, yet without a strong storyline - what has been achieved? The characters are physically removed from small kids, and parents mumble "what were their names again?"  Technology for the sake of technology is fine, but it doesn't always entertain.

    There's a much bigger bang for your buck paying a really good face character of Snow White or Jasmine. If you don't believe me, just watch the autograph line when the character performer is talented. If you want to use remote control technology, introduce those Feld rubber heads that incorporate eye and mouth movements. Combine technology with recognizable characters to enhance guest experience = money well spent.  

  • Whil curmudgeon has a valid points, I disagree entirely. I don't think the question of value is always about 'how cutting edge' the technology is. I think you can break new ground (and more importantly be more entertaining) by using existing technology in new and inventive ways too.

    And let's not complain about Disney spending $$ to get something RIGHT. I have no problem with them paying Goeltz to come in and check things out... now mention how much Ann Leibowitz got paid for her pictures (and the stars too) and my head will explode!!!

    Just speaking for me personally, I think almost any halfway decent looking person can pull off a face character... while making a animal or muppet come to life is something special (and Im not talking about a monkey/muppet suit either).

    And lastly, it's this type of thing that makes me want to go to DCA when I visit DL.

    I applaud this and hope it continues.

  • Great!  Keep the Muppet news coming...

  • As you can see from my avatar, I had an up close experience with Lucky when he was visiting Animal Kingdom. In all, about 10 different 8 year olds and myself got to meet him. I guess the handler just saw how fascinated I was with Lucky (I followed him closely along his entire route) and figured I'd appreciate getting a close encounter with the dino, who seemed to like my hat. That moments ranks among some of my favorite Disney memories. The promise of the Mobile Lab and other such encounters is a great sign for the direction character interaction at the parks will take.

  • I wonder if one day walk-around characters will be primarily AAs- particularly characters that can't translate to actors,

  • Westworld anyone?

  • Ooh, smelliness. I want to see Beaker and Honeydew out east!  However, I also t hink there could have been more amusing characters to use. What about Fozzi? Or Gonzo? I think either of them would be more recognizable and it would be easier to get amusement out of people from them. Oh well.

  • Its great that they will be testing it in DCA.

    I have a feeling that eventually it will end up in MGM studios florida.

    If the plan for DCA goes thru and the Muppets 3d is closed and replaced with Philharmagic having just tthose two characters roaming might be a bit strange.

    It would be nice if they kept the muppets alive though and continued to come up with ways of using them in the park without having to have an attraction.  Maybe eventually a real attraction in one of the empty buildings in that area is built.

  • I love what disney has done here. Kudos to them. I think that this looks to be very intertaining for kids and adults.

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