Will Disney’s Latest Technology Replace Character Performers?

The Walt Disney Company is always on the cutting edge of new technology, with Imagineers continuing to find new ways to create more immersive experiences for Guests at the theme parks and Resorts. Walt Disney even famously said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

New technology comes in all forms at Disney Parks, whether it be projection mapping during shows like the Happily Ever After fireworks (which returns soon to the Magic Kingdom!), on Audio-Animatronics like the characters on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or interactive experiences like those seen on the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, just to name a few.

The latest technology in development at the company is taking immersive experiences a step further by creating freestanding robotic characters that you have to see to believe.

Hulk Walkaround robot

Screenshot from 2022 D23 Expo

RELATED: Disney Debuts New Character Experience Featuring the Star of ‘Turning Red’

During the 2022 D23 Expo, Disney showcased some of its upcoming technology by announcing a limited-time event at Avengers Campus at the Disneyland Resort featuring a freestanding walkaround Hulk character made using a performer and an exoskeleton. Guests in attendance (or watching via live stream) saw the character walk across the stage for the first time, and later many were able to see him in action at Disneyland.

Disney has continued to develop this technology to see how it can be used for a variety of immersive environments, and some of the latest updates were just shared at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. The Disney Parks Blog shared the developments that included a showcase by Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Josh D’Amaro with the new robotic characters.

Judy Hopps Robotic Character-Disney

Credit: Disney

RELATED: What Does the Future Hold for Disney Parks as Bruce Vaughn Returns to Imagineering?

Joined by several Imagineers, D’Amaro showed the audience a prototype of Judy Hopps from Zootopia (2016), who took to the stage on rollerblades. The event marked the first public appearance of the new prototype and the multiple moves it is able to pull off, such as somersaulting, falling, and getting back up, all on its own.

Another “Blue-Sky” concept was demonstrated for those in attendance with a “pixie-sized” Tinker Bell that Guests could interact with, giving a unique experience to have a totally immersive experience accurate to the character’s source material in Peter Pan (1953).

Tinker Bell robotic character

Credit: Disney

RELATED: ‘Encanto’ Attraction Coming to Magic Kingdom (Well, Maybe)

The Hulk who debuted at D23 last year also made an appearance, wrapping up the presentation that became one of the highlights of this year’s SXSW event. While the technology is certainly very impressive, Disney fans on social media were quick to bring up one question that was not intended to come out of the presentation….Would these types of characters take away from entertainment Cast Members in the Parks and Resorts?

The question comes up as Cast Members at both the Walt Disney World Resort and Disney Resort continue to fight for higher wages amid rising costs of living. On top of the current union debates, Disney fans have not forgotten the layoffs that took place at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, we cannot answer the question without insight into the future, but we are optimistic that changes to the character lineup at the Parks would not impact performers. Other areas of the theme parks and Resorts are changed or removed on a regular basis, but the Cast Members remain, so we would expect this to be the same situation if new forms of entertainment were revealed. (For instance, when a ride closes, the Cast Members who worked there are not out of a job, they are moved to a new position.)

As we wait to see if or how the new technology rolls out in the Parks, we at Disney Tips will continue to monitor new experiences at Walt Disney World and beyond, and any possible impacts to Cast Members.

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."