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'Muppet Mobile Lab' show wows Epcot crowds

Orlando Sentinel

Original Article »

August 21, 2007

As crowds gathered around the little puppet-show-on-wheels roaming Epcot today, realization dawned on some: No strings. No hands in the puppets. No one hidden inside. No one in sight with microphones or remote controls.

All the crowd saw were robotic Muppets Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his able assistant Beaker riding their two-wheeled rocket-ship lab around the theme park's sidewalks, teasing or talking with visitors, gesturing and moving, and putting on their best Muppet schtick.

Emily Evans, 23, a human resources recruiter from Chicago, and her brother Nathan Evans, 29, a graduate student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, admitted big fans of both Disney and the Muppets, approached with delight, then found themselves swept into a show, arguing with Bunsen about Emily's parasol.

The "Muppet Mobile Lab" show is part of a play test that Walt Disney Imagineering is running at Epcot for the next few weeks, giving the research and development staff a chance to try out more advanced robotic, interactive and transportation technologies, mixed with human comedy talent. With remote control and two-way communication technology, Disney operators are running the lab out and around Epcot's Future World periodically, seeing how they and crowds can interact.

For Emily and Nathan Evans and several dozen other people who watched this morning, the reaction appeared entirely positive.

"I wish they would do more of it with various characters," said Emily Evans. "I would say keep going with the technology. It's amazing, and obviously it's a crowd pleaser as well."

There is no certainty right now whether the Muppet Mobile Lab will become a permanent feature. Disney Imagineering officials are as interested in testing the various components as the entire package. The ideas could be transferred to a variety of other characters and locations, said Christopher Holm, director of the principal technical staff.

"It's really interaction in a whole new way for Disney characters, and our guests, because it's up close, it's personal. And it's in real time," Holm said. "That's a very, very different show presence than any of our previous living characters."

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