A subject that comes up often when discussing EPCOT of old is the strange giant dolls that used to roam the promenade around World Showcase before characters were allowed in the parks. Disney wanted to offer a completely different theme park experience at EPCOT; if people wanted characters, went the thinking, they could go to the Magic Kingdom. There was no need for EPCOT to re-hash what had been done before.
Yet the need to have something for guests to interact with led to some hits and misses, and perhaps the oddest of these were the World Showcase dolls. But seeing pictures of these characters don’t convey their true ominous nature – years before the fancy new interactive Mickey, these characters could move their eyes and blink. Witness for yourself the chilling effect.
What’s strange is that unlike so many elements that were cobbled together for EPCOT at the last minute, these dolls were in the works long before the park’s 1982 opening. In September of 1980, the cast newsletter for Walt Disney World’s Maintenance Division published a blurb about the work being done in their machine shops to make these dolls “come to life”. And, naturally, there’s a creepy picture!
SPEAKING OF CHARACTERS
A new dimension has been added to the latest character heads being manufactured by the Staff Shop for use in the World Showcase to represent each participating nation. These new doll heads are made of a fiberglass reinforced plastic shell. The Machine Shop has developed a mechanism that provides the dolls with the capability to roll their eyes from right to left and/or blink the eyelids.
The eye-movement mechanism consists of an aluminum frame containing an intricate system of pivots and linkages operated by two servomechanisms. The servomechanisms and some small hardware (balljoint pivots, swivel links, etc.) are of the same type found in radio-controlled model aircraft. The servos are powered by a detachable, belt-worn “Battery-Pack” and are actuated by three micro-switches contained in a hand-held control unit; thus the character can activate eye moment at will as a manner of expression.
Frames and major components are manufactured in the Machine and Metal Shops. The Machine Shop is also responsible for the assembly and adjustment of linkages and limit switches, as well as the final testing.
As you wander through the World Showcase extravaganza and see any one of these one hundred twenty dolls of various nationalities, you can credit their final “characterization” to our Staff Shop personnel, who apply the final touches with their expert detailing.