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I, For One, Welcome Our New Go-Bot Overlords

World Showcase characters circa 1982, EPCOT Center One of the most oft-repeated elements of early EPCOT lore is how, when the park opened in 1982, it was completely devoid of any of Disney’s signature characters. Disney executives thought it important that the new theme park create its own unique identity, and feared that taking Mickey and the others outside the borders of the Magic Kingdom would dilute their impact and make that park less special. Instead, Disney hoped to rely on its stable of artists and Imagineers to create a whole new generation of EPCOT-specific characters that could capture the imagination of young visitors and, of course, sell lots of merchandise.

This task was made easier when Journey Into Imagination was added to the Future World roster late in EPCOT’s development, as that attraction’s host Dreamfinder and his pet dragon Figment would be highly sought photo opportunities for years to come. For World Showcase, it was decided to repurpose the eight-foot-tall “dolls” from the 1976 Bicentennial’s America on Parade, and to dress them in various country-specific costumes (as can be seen in the picture on the right). Needless to say, the effect was somewhat terrifying and these towering international golems didn’t prove as endearing to children as Mickey and Donald. They were soon removed, and eventually the company gave up and allowed the classic Disney characters into the park.

But what’s widely unknown is that Disney’s attempt to create EPCOT characters went far beyond Dreamfinder and the Showcase dolls. In an internal Imagineering publication from January of 1983, cast members were allowed a sneak preview of EPCOT’s cuddly, robot future – The Go-Bots!

Go-Bot Imagineering sketch, EPCOT, 1983

At the end of last April, thirty-seven WED & MAPO employees submitted their design concepts for a new generation of Disney walk-around characters whose purpose would be to greet and entertain guests in EPCOT Center. This was no small task considering that we were entering the last six months to our October opening day and time and imagination were at a premium.

Each participant was asked to develop a “concept for a walk-around character with the charm of Mickey Mouse and the unique feeling of EPCOT Center.” If their concept was chosen for further development, they would receive a trip for two to EPCOT Center.

At the beginning of January an announcement from the Creative Development Division was made and the Imaginews is pleased to congratulate Chris Runco from Special Effects on having his concept chosen and sent on to Entertainment in Florida for further development.

Chris’ idea was for a group of “Go-Bots” each with his or her own unique personality and each made of “squeezable” padded cloth and sponge rubber, with big molded plastic buttons. When the “Go-Bots” are hugged, patted or otherwise interacting with guests, they would beep, buzz or make “pocketa-pocketa” sounds with electronic noisemakers controlled by the person inside. As Chris says, “my main thrust was to create a technological character as warm and as friendly as our Magic Kingdom Characters.” The result – huggable “Go-Bots.”

Congratulations to Chris, and many thank you’s to everyone who spent their time and talent developing and submitting their ideas.

Spoiler alert: They never made the Go-Bots. Weirdly, though, someone else did. Those of you who are, like me, children of the 1980s will remember Tonka’s lame Transformers knock-off GoBots; they starred in a brief cartoon series and were sold in stores from 1983-87. Not very “squeezable”, though.

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