Robobama to join Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World

Change is coming to Liberty Square. Walt Disney Imagineering has finally given the public a glimpse of the new Audio-Animatronic version of President Barack Obama, set to debut at the grand re-opening of the rehabbed Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on July 4, 2009.

The Hall of Presidents has been closed down for renovations since November of last year, and some general enhancements have been made to the building – most notably, ADA compliance has been ramped up, and wheelchair access has been greatly improved. The show lighting has also been reworked with LED spotlights, and the accompanying film will now be digitally projected.

Most notably, President Obama will now deliver a speech via a new, refined Audio-Animatronic recreation that has been endearingly nicknamed “Robobama” by some of the Imagineering crew working on the project. Reportedly, Obama will deliver his oath of office, as well as a pastiche of comments pulled from his previous speeches, put together into a special project just for the Disney attraction. Obama recorded the speech personally in the White House after taking his actual oath of office, giving Imagineering a scant few months to prepare the figure for its debut this July. Undoubtedly promising “Yes, we can,” Imagineering pulled the show together quickly, and the show’s upcoming target date for relaunch should be easily met.

The Obama Audio-Animatronic, sculpted by WDI’s Valerie Edwards, is rumored to be of the latest-generation Audio-Animatronic technology, giving the robot the same facial movements and idiosyncracies as the actual Obama – in much the same way that Johnny Depp was recreated for the recent upgrades to the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions. Previously, a “hero” Animatronic had been created with the intention of re-dressing the figure for each standing President, while the previous President would be recreated as a simplified animatronic that didn’t require the ability to speak. For example, Bill Clinton’s figure was re-dressed as George W. Bush. But, it is not apparent that this is the case for Obama, and it seems likely that the Obama figure was created from scratch.

And even though all of the President animatronics are wearing suits, it is unlikely that they will be confused for penguins, despite the fact that Morgan Freeman has been tagged to narrate the updated film that will be shown as a part of the attraction.

“The program ends with each president nodding or turning toward the audience during a roll call, as if Mount Rushmore had suddenly come alive,” said writer Jacques Steinberg, reporting for the New York Times. Abraham Lincoln will stand and deliver the full Gettysburg Address as he had in Disneyland’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction, and for the first time, George Washington will also speak.

Whether or not the “Lincoln” enhancements in the revamped “Hall of Presidents” show will echo anything being reworked for the Disneyland “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” which is also currently being rehabbed for a scheduled re-opening date of Sept. 26, 2009, remains to be seen. According to insider reports from Imagineering, there had been a significant internal debate going on in Glendale regarding the Disneyland attraction, between those wanting to tone the show down and remind people of the original attraction created for the Illinois Pavillion at the ’64 World’s Fair, and those wanting to stretch the technology to its limits, creating a next-generation Lincoln Audio-Animatronic show. Regardless of the direction Imagineering has gone, the new show is destined to inspire awe in a new generation of park-goers.

As far as the Hall of Presidents show is concerned, the next show should be a crowd-pleasing and emotional look at the heart of American liberty. It can never hurt to promenently feature a much-loved sitting President, either. Upon seeing pictures of his animatronic double, Obama shared some of his characteristic charismatic aplomb. “You’ve made him better looking than I am,” Obama reportedly said to Imagineer Pamela Fisher.

“We had to shut down the show anyway to welcome number 44… so we (took) the opportunity to refurbish the attractions and the facility… and also kind of wave the magic wand around a little bit,” Fisher told the Orlando Sentinal of the upcoming show.


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