June 15, 2024

First Look at Imagineering’s Innovative Audio Animatronics in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure

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Disney has shared an in-depth first look at the advanced Audio Animatronics in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Walt Disney World and Disneyland ahead of the reimagined ride’s Summer 2024 opening at Magic Kingdom. We have




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Disney has shared an in-depth first look at the advanced Audio Animatronics in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Walt Disney World and Disneyland ahead of the reimagined ride’s Summer 2024 opening at Magic Kingdom. We have full details, plus photos & video of the characters in action, and my thoughts after seeing these AAs in person this week at Walt Disney Imagineering.

The last several weeks have been huge for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the reimagined replacement ride for Splash Mountain. The new-look attraction will use the exact same ride system and remain a log flume with an outdoor section, interior show scenes featuring Audio Animatronics critters, and several smaller drops culminating in one big drop. Same idea, different story and substance.

In mid-February, the company announced that, in a rare change of pace, construction is ahead of schedule and the Walt Disney World version of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open in Summer 2024 instead of the previously-announced Late 2024. (It’s been crickets about an official date…but our guess is late June.) Along with that, Imagineering shared a brief but wow-inducing sneak peek at one of the Princess Tiana Audio Animatronics that’ll be in the attraction. Today, we’re back with more of that–sharing several more characters!

I had a chance to visit Walt Disney Imagineering and see these Audio Animatronics in action. I’m not often at a loss for words, but all I can say is wow. That makes this article especially challenging, as photos were not allowed inside the area where the Audio Animatronics for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure were staged. (Photos here were provided by Disney, not shot by me.)

Okay, obviously wow isn’t all I have to say. In between picking my jaw up off the floor, there were several things that I noticed. The first is that all of the Audio Animatronics being worked on were labeled “DL,” which meant they’re destined for Disneyland. As it turns out, all of the Audio Animatronics bound for Walt Disney World are already installed. That was expected, but still good to have it confirmed by Imagineers as it bodes well for an opening date.

In addition to being labeled, all of the dozen or so Audio Animatronics I saw were numbered. Disney previously shared that there will be 17 original character Audio Animatronics from The Princess and the Frog physically created for the attraction, and that matches what I saw at Imagineering. Most notably, there will be multiple appearances by Princess Tiana, who will make wardrobe changes throughout the ride, plus other major and recognizable characters from the movie, including Louis the Alligator and Mama Odie.

The characters I saw included multiples of Princess Tiana and Louis the Alligator (the latter at various stages of the build process–seeing the skinned vs. exposed electronics was a neat juxtaposition), two instances of Mama Odie, plus Eudora, Charlotte, Ralphie, and Prince Naveen. Oh, and one (1) beaver from the first critter crew. (Nothing from the second critter crew.)

Between what I saw and what’s been announced for the adorable animal bands, the minimum Audio Animatronics count for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is up to 29 (17 characters, 12 critters–Louis counts as a character, not a critter). Again, this is the minimum, and before we’ve even seen the final round of the critter crew (I assume that’s 6 more, putting the total count around 35). My guess is that the final band will feature frogs, alligators, and maybe more turtles–those are the remaining animals left from Splash Mountain that would make sense to have their roles reprised.

I think it’s worth pointing out that there will be 29+ Audio Animatronics, as there were a lot of naysayers saying Tiana’s Bayou Adventure would be almost entirely screen-based or greatly reduce the number of AAs. I think that was a fair concern at the very beginning, as Disney does have a history of reducing and removing maintenance-intensive AAs from attractions. But Disney said a while ago that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure would feature “dozens” of Audio Animatronics…and yet, many fans still doubted this.

Disney had already teased that there would be advanced Audio Animatronics figures (plural) in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, but I guess I kind of figured the quality would top out at the Princess Tiana featured in the first tease. And that maybe there’d be a couple of characters like that, but others with more limited motion.

That’s why even earlier this week, I hedged my character Audio Animatronics count with a note about the possibility of static figures. (In fairness, Disney tried to count all of the Stormtroopers in Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance as Audio Animatronics, even though most of them are not.)

While there are some characters who do have a slightly more limited range of motion, like Eudora and Charlotte, even those are absolutely advanced Audio Animatronics. They’d be impressive additions on just about any other attraction; just not so much on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.

To that point, the Audio Animatronics that most commanded my attention were the various Louis the Alligators. His range of motion and fluidity as he essentially dances are unlike anything I’ve seen of Audio Animatronics. He’s next level, easily having more rhythm than me, an actual human (not that that’s really an accomplishment).

Part of this, admittedly, is that I’m biased towards this type of comedic-relief critter characters. I love Big Al in Country Bear Jamboree and loved Brer Bear in Splash Mountain. And from what I saw, there’s at least one scene with Louis that’s very reminiscent of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure’s predecessor. (It seems like there will be a fair amount of homage to Splash Mountain via gags and indirect character callbacks.)

At first, I was taken aback that Louis the Alligator is technically a fur character (more like felt than shag–almost akin to the meet & greet character). In the photos and video, you can kind of see this. I’m sure some will criticize this decision, but even up close it gives him a nice bit of texture and helps him blend better with the other animals (like the aforementioned beaver). I’d hazard a guess that floating by from a distance, you won’t even be able to see the fur.

There’s also an instance of Mama Odie with Juju that I really liked. It’s another cute gag, combined with an impressive Audio Animatronics. I hope this is the recipe for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure–advanced AAs, catchy music, cute critters, and funny gags. That’s always been winning formula for Disney dark rides.

I cannot stress enough how happy I was to not see the projected faces a la Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. There was a time when those were cutting edge technology, but they just haven’t aged well. I don’t think they look as terrible in person as some fans do, but they’re nothing like this. That always felt like the tail of technology wagging the dog, and Imagineering getting a bit ahead of itself before the technology blended in seamlessly. I guess now that seamlessness will never arrive.

These Audio Animatronics just look so incredible and…well, “lifelike” probably isn’t the right word, right? They’re basically animated characters jumping out of the screen and into the dimensional sets of the attraction. They’re absolutely stunning, perfectly melding old and new technology to create something with wow-factor that, at least in my opinion, will probably stand the test of time. Just like the Audio Animatronics from classic dark rides still look great today.

One thing that struck me throughout the tour of these Audio Animatronics (and other technology showcased) was how many times an Imagineer referenced this being the first time something that had debuted at one of the international parks would be making its way to Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

In this case, Imagineering is using Audio Animatronics in the style of the impressive new Elsa from World of Frozen at Hong Kong Disneyland, Zootopia at Shanghai Disneyland, as well as at Tokyo Disneyland as part of Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast. It’s safe to say the style also appears in Fantasy Springs at Tokyo DisneySea.

Domestic parks fans are used to seeing the international parks get all of the cool new things (I don’t think that’s actually true, but it is a common complaint–and we’re often late to the party, just look at trackless dark rides.) It’s great in and of itself to see this latest generation of animated character Audio Animatronics make their way to Walt Disney World and Disneyland so quickly.

I’d actually take that a step further–some of these Audio Animatronics for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure are more impressive than what’s in Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast. (As much as I love that ride, a couple of the Belles are a bit too limited in motion for the dynamism and duration of the scenes.)

Maybe it’s just because I had the opportunity to stand in one spot within a few feet of the Audio Animatronics, rather than floating on by relatively briskly, but I was absolutely entranced by some of these. The fluidity, range of motion, and little details that give them personality and bring them to life are really something special.

I still wouldn’t put them above the Shaman of Songs on Na’vi River Journey (there’s something about that character that connects on an emotional and almost human, or I guess alien, level). But then again, there’s only one Audio Animatronics figure at the very end of Na’vi River Journey, and there are going to be a few dozen high quality ones on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Unless there’s a surprise I still haven’t seen, Louis the Alligator is claiming the #2 spot on my list of the Top 10 Audio Animatronics at Walt Disney World.

You don’t just have to take my word for it. The new “We Call It Imagineering” YouTube series first episode is all about Audio Animatronics, and portions are filmed in the same area and of the same figures as the ones I saw. Watch here:

I’d highly recommend watching this excellent ~14 minute video, as about half of it revolves around the Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Audio Animatronics, with Imagineers from various disciplines coming together to discuss the “collaborative dance” (or sometimes battle!) that they do to make the AAs come to life.

Their words do all of this better justice than mine, and there’s nothing like seeing the footage for yourself. There are also a lot of other Audio Animatronics featured, along with walks down the hallways of WDI. You’ll probably want to set aside more than 14 minutes to watch, as you’ll surely want to pause and pore over the backgrounds for Easter Eggs…or hints of future projects in the pipeline.

Here’s another, more succinct video of the TBA AAs from the DisneyParks Instagram:

 

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Ultimately, this has me even more excited for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. I honestly didn’t think that was possible after the first two rounds of cute critter band members and the sneak peek at the Princess Tiana Audio Animatronics figure from last month. I also really never would’ve guessed that my hype level would be this high a few months ago, when all of the teases were substance-less and I was beginning to worry that was because there wasn’t much of substance to showcase.

Now I’m at the other end of the spectrum, mentally putting the pieces together and trying to prevent myself from getting too excited, as there’s also the possibility that somehow the whole does not add up to the sum of its very impressive parts. It’s always possible show scenes, staging, or storytelling leaves something to be desired. But at this point, the ride system/layout and Audio Animatronics are both known quantities, and are undeniably excellent. The supporting cast of critters looks adorable and memorable. The music from the movie is really good, and it’s safe to assume the same will be true for the ride unless they “pull a Disney Enchantment” (as the kids say). Suffice to say, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is shaping up nicely.

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Your Thoughts

Surprised by the quality and quantity of Audio Animatronics in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure? Excited for the new-look ride? How much ‘inspiration’ from the former Splash Mountain are you expecting to appear in the reimagined version? Agree or disagree with our assessment of the attraction? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!




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