After a long delay, the Donald Trump audio-animatronic has made his debut at Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents. Some have said the new robot looks like Jon Voight. Some have said he looks like a Chucky doll. One conspiracy theory is that the Disney Imagineers, assuming a Clinton victory, got a jump-start building a Hillary robot and, in order to save money, morphed the robot into President Trump.
Wonder what the reaction was to President Obama’s audio-animatronic? Read our coverage from 2009.
The following story appeared in the pages of the St. PetersburgTimes on July 4, 2009. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos of Walt Disney’s “The Hall of Presidents” from the Times files.
'ROBOBAMA' MAKES DISNEY DEBUT
By Mark Albright, Times staff writer
LAKE BUENA VISTA - After an eight-month rehab and a total script rewrite, Walt Disney World on Friday reopened the Hall of Presidents with an animatronic Barack Obama in the starring role.
Unveiled in the patriotic Independence Day setting of 1,000 immigrants being sworn in as U.S. citizens, Obama becomes the third consecutive sitting president to land a speaking role in the 38-year-old Magic Kingdom attraction.
Recorded in a 20-minute session videotaped at the White House, the real Obama got a another shot at taking the oath of office (this time he nailed it on the first take), then did it again when Disney producers asked that he be a bit more animated with his hands. (A White House tape of the session is posted at whitehouse.gov).
At Disney World, the mechanical Obama also delivers a short speech, Abraham Lincoln recites the full Gettysburg Address and George Washington gets his first speaking role.
Nicknamed “Robobama” by the artisans who created him under tight secrecy in a Los Angeles warehouse, Disney’s presidential replica is more realistic than predecessors thanks to new technology such as a more flexible silicone skin.
His mouth wraps around more sounds like “oh” than just jawing up and down. The muscles in the chin and cheeks flex as he talks. While Disney tried to program in a few of Obama’s natural shoulder gestures, some come off looking too deliberate.
“On a scale of one to 10, I’d give them a nine,” said Andrea Menozzi, a 40-year-old ComAir pilot from Miami.
Disney only permits its own photographers to take closeups to preserve the dignity of the office and ensure people don’t see the wires and robot underneath that looks like something from a Schwarzenegger movie.
More than 100 Disney staffers worked on the project.
“We are sticklers for detail,” said Eric Jacobson, a senior vice president with Disney Imagineering. “This is as authentic and lifelike as we can make it.”
Disney not only rebuilt the home of the attraction for the first time since it opened, but also digitized a new film and outfitted all 43 presidential robots with new hairpieces, costumes and skin (there have been 44 presidents, but historians count Grover Cleveland twice because of a gap between terms). Producers also made the story line less about wars and civil rights and more about the evolution of the presidency and how “anyone can become president.”
The updated story line was drafted in 2006 in concert with presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
“I really like the way the story now comes full circle from Lincoln and slavery to Obama and his being our first black president,” said Michelle Gimenez, 31, of Orlando, a manager with Hewitt Associates. “It’s very realistic, except the president did seem a bit too pale.”
Disney producers said they got the skin tone right, saying stage lighting can alter perceptions and reality.
Disney didn’t forget George W. Bush. The former president appears in the film rallying support with a bullhorn in the rubble of the World Trade Center. A replica of his flashy inaugural cowboy boots share lobby space with such museum-quality artifacts as Herbert Hoover’s fishing reel, John Adams’ coat buttons and Ronald Reagan’s silver belt buckle.
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.