The machines have taken over.
From dinosaur concierges to Disneyland malfunctions, animatronic creatures are eerily fascinating. Our better judgment tells us that they are not real, especially when their circuits short and their voices slow and deepen and eventually stop. Still, behind their mechanical movements and glassy, artificial eyes, is a glimmer of life, toeing the line between awe-inspiring and awful. Travel near and far to see these creepy and mysterious bots come to life.
Munch’s Make Believe Band at Chuck E. Cheese
WHERE: All over the U.S., plus South America, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Trinidad and Tobago
Munch’s Make Believe Band and the Rock-afire Explosion were house bands for two separate chains, Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater and ShowBiz Pizza Palace, respectively, until the franchises merged and became Chuck E. Cheese, and Munch’s became the official house band. Band members include Chuck E. (of course), Helen Henny, Jasper T. Jowls, Mr. Munch, and Pasqually. Though the band is being phased out in a few locations, you can still catch them at most Chuck E. Cheese establishments. But Rock-afire Explosion (whose band members had names like Billy Bob Brockali, Mitzi Mozzarella, and Fatz Geronimo) made an appearance in the 21st century, performing as Cee-Lo Green’s backup band in Las Vegas [side note: we DO NOT endorse Cee-Lo Green] so who knows what the future holds. Videos from inside Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties as recently as 2018 reveal that not much has changed over the years: the animatronic animals still have the voices of clowns that mock you in your nightmares, giant eyes that blink at an unsettling frequency, and stiff movements that lack any resemblance to human life.
All of the Robots at Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
A life-like concierge, T-Rexes who look angry but greet you with pleasantries and have very strange hair, and a cute in-room alien that sings, are just some of the notable animatronics at this all-robot-run hotel in Tokyo. Relax, everything’s normal.
The Little Mermaid Ride at Disney California Adventure Park
WHERE: Anaheim, California
This one is actually pretty cool: the Imagineers researched just how Ariel’s hair would move if she were under the sea, and the characters’ “skin” is made of a very adaptable and lifelike material, all thanks to Disney magic. I say this as an adult: the ride is worth a visit just to witness the technological achievements. Be aware that things can go awry, though, like when Ursula lost her head that one time. Poor, unfortunate soul.
The Bhagavad-gita Museum
WHERE: Culver City, California
Bhagavad-gita, or the Gita, is philosophical Hindu scripture, considered a sacred classic in Indian literature. This museum at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness of Los Angeles teaches visitors the Gita using animatronic figures made with an ancient doll-making artistry from India. These 11 life-size sculptures have been at the museum since it opened 1977; there are also dioramas throughout the museum.
The Animatronic Tiger at the Hammargren Home Of Nevada History
WHERE: Las Vegas, Nevada
Owned by a retired neurosurgeon (he operated on Roy of Siegfried and Roy after he was attacked by a tiger) and former Nevada Lieutenant Governor Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, this has been referred to as the “Craziest House in the World.” It had bonkers and terrifying relics, salvaged mainly after casinos in the area shuddered, including an animatronic tiger. The collection has taken up a new location, and though it’s no longer open to the public, private tours are available on occasion.
Singing Chipmunks at Musée Patamécanique
WHERE: Bristol, Rhode Island
About 25 minutes from Boston, this museum spans six blocks and has by-appointment-only tours, where a guide gives you a map and leads you to a secret location. Storybook inventions like an olfactory clock and a time machine, plus owner Neil Salley’s “own patented form of holography,” make up the exhibits of this ominously nebulous attraction. One of the more terrifying displays is the band of singing chipmunks, whose nutcracker-like jaw movements and sharp head turns will haunt you.
Lyndon B. Johnson at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum
WHERE: Austin, Texas
Originally dressed more casually in ranch clothes at the Neiman Marcus flagship store in Dallas, Texas, this generally realistic, if not a tad creepy, animatronic LBJ was later moved to the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, and, more fittingly, dressed in a suit and tie. In the exhibit, called, LBJ Humor, the robot tells jokes to visitors, with satirical political cartoons on display behind him.
Dr. Ralph Bingenpurge at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum
WHERE: Detroit, Michigan
We’re not entirely sure where to start with this one; there are so many moving oddities at this museum that it’s hard to say which is the most unsettling. Wait, it’s definitely Dr. Ralph Bingenpurge, the food county inspector that vomits when you put coins in him. Lucky for you, this museum is open 365 days a year, free of charge.
The Almost-Believable Animals of the Rainforest Cafe
WHERE: California, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Tokyo, London, Paris, Dubai
Some call it hokey, others call it an institution. Regardless, it’s probably the only restaurant whose dampness is not a reason to avoid it entirely, and theme-wise, it’s one-of-a-kind (RIP Kahunaville). It’s also hard to argue that the animatronics aren’t kinda cool; if you don’t look too closely, those giant elephants and that boa constrictor are very intimidating. They don’t try all that hard with the food—it’s pretty standard chain food fare, but c’mon, that is so not the point.
The Terrifying Creatures of Berlin’s Das Monsterkabinett
WHERE: Berlin, Germany
In a dungeon in Berlin live these creatures with too many eyes and too many feet, flapping wings and teeth and maws at anyone who dares to enter. They are mostly made out of found and recycled materials, so be careful about what you throw away—it might just come back to haunt you. Unfortunately, they also dance and make music of some kind…maybe the soundtrack to hell?