Since Joe Rhode Has Retired: Will The Yeti Ever Get Fixed?

It’s an issue Disney fans have had for years. When will the Yeti finally move again at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? He’s been broken for well over a decade and with Joe Rhode’s retirement, it seems all hope is lost. TPU reader James sends the following email:

With Joe Rohde now gone from Imagineering is there literally any hope left that the infamous Everest Yeti will ever be restored to its full glory? Or should we park fans just accept the Disco Yeti is here to stay for as long as Everest itself stands? Whether tackle this question or not, also want to say big fan and love the site! It’s genuinely nice to have a source that tends to post actually accurate rumors, and just deep dives into the industry in general.

Thanks for the kudos on Theme Park University, James! While I don’t have a definitive answer on if the yeti will ever be fixed, the answer is (and has always been): highly unlikely. This has nothing to do with Joe Rhode leaving Imagineering at all.

At the time it was built, the Yeti was Disney’s largest animatronic ever built. Considering his size, the range of motion was impressive, even though it was only for a few seconds at the end of the ride. Which is actually part of the problem.

You’re talking about an effect that happens for literal seconds at the end of a roller coaster. Sure, it’s the finale, but the cost to fix this particular animatronic would run in the millions of dollars. Can Disney afford it? Of course, they can. That’s not in question. But it is an appropriate way to spend money? That is a different story.

First, we actually know from Joe Rhode’s Twitter account that he is not only aware of the problem, but how complex it is to fix it. He brings up a good point that is often not considered: the Yeti being broken was not an oversight.

Rather, there is only one Expedition Everest and only one Yeti. No one had built a figure of that magnitude before. The amount of engineering to get him on a perch like that and to move so quickly… you don’t really get to that without some trial and error. They clearly made it work in a warehouse before shipping it to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

However, environments can change from test conditions to actually being out in the field. Some things you just can’t foresee with a figure that large. Here’s a true story. I was invited to tour Disney Imagineering in 1999. This was while Tokyo Disney Sea and Disney’s California Adventure were being built at their Tujunga facility where they once created a lot of animatronics and special effects.

Anywho, I got to see the Lava Monster animatronic from Journey To The Center of The Earth before he (she?) was shipped to Tokyo. While most other figures were cycling. That is basically running them for several days straight to try and simulate stress tests of operating them daily. However, the lava monster was not operating at all during my visit.

As it turns out, Imagineers originally wanted it to pop up in less than a second from his lava pit to create a jump scare for riders. Think of it like a giant jack-in-the-box. What they found out was that his pneumatics were so powerful, he ripped the bolts off the floor that secured him down in California. Thus, they scaled back the intensity in how he appears in the attraction as not to damage his (her?) lava pit home in Tokyo.

On the other hand, the Yeti was built on a giant concrete pedestal in the middle of a fake (sorry kids) mountain. Over time, unbeknownst to Imagineering and the Disney’s Animal Kingdom maintenance team, he too was slowly tearing away at his foundation with every train that passed as he swatted at passersby.

The Yeti sits atop his own foundation in the ride that isn’t connected to anything else. Not roller coaster supports or any kind of structural support that makes up the skeleton of the mountain. This was by design so the vibrations of roller coaster trains would not affect the longevity of the figure. Which is true. Yet, the Yeti actually ended up being his own worst enemy considering how intense his gigantic movements were. Which you might be asking now: how do you get to his foundation?

Well, the sure fire way to take care of the issue would be to cut into the mountain (not an easy task), remove the animatronic (still not easy), and remove the current foundation for just the yeti. Then lay a new more solid foundation that is more fortified than the previous one (which may mean a wider space that is already rather tight as it is). Then place that same figure back on the new foundation. Then build that side of the mountain back again. Then run testing with trains and show animation again… and boom… you got yourself one fixed yeti. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy?

The proposed fix I just mentioned could take up to a year to complete. Plus it would take millions. But as we all know, Disney’s got the dough, so why don’t they just fix it already? Come on, crack Everest open like a pinata and get started pronto! Or…. maybe there is another way to look at it?

Expedition Everest opened in 2006 and the figure swatted at guests for about a year before being put permanently in “B” show mode. Otherwise affectionately known as “Disco Yeti” with the current strobe lighting effects while the figure remains static. Thus, since 2007 (14 years as of the writing of this article) guests have experienced the current non-moving version in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Law of averages will tell you, the non-moving Yeti is all the majority of guests who have visited the park since the attraction opened have ever known. I’d venture to say that most of them don’t know the figure was ever even supposed to move at all. Keep in mind, the ride hasn’t dropped in popularity in the slightest either. It still packs in the crowds and remains one of the top-rated coasters at Walt Disney World.

The question remains: should Disney close the ride for roughly a year, crack open the mountain and spend millions to bring him back to life? So far, that answer is a resounding: nope. For that kind of money, you could build another small attraction or completely refresh another one. Those kinds of investments drive attendance to the parks long term. A moving Yeti would be a short lived blip of attendance, but it certainly wouldn’t be a driver (something that pushes a family to book an entire WDW vacation).

Finally, I just want to address a common misconception that I think Disney unintentionally misleads the public on. Joe Rhode is not the only caretaker of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, nor was he ever. While Joe was the head of the project when it was built (and most others after the park expanded), there were many talented folks that worked alongside him. Some are still there, most are not. Regardless, Joe isn’t the only person who cares about Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Plus, it’s been 14 years and the issue still remains for reasons I just laid out. If he (or literally anyone else) could have fixed it, they would have.

Now, this is a subject for an entirely different article, but in short: Imagineering can’t ultimately make this call anyway. WDI designs attractions for the parks. Next, Walt Disney World or Disneyland (or insert Disney park here) “purchases” them from Imagineering. In other words, WDI doesn’t create a meeting with the VP of Animal Kingdom and say “Today, we are going to show you plans of Expedition Everest and here’s where we are going to build it.”

The process is somewhat collaborative and definitely complicated. However, at the end of the day, Walt Disney World generates revenue and has to determine how much it wants to spend on future improvements. Whether that is a new attraction, gift shop or ride enhancement. Imagineering helps facilitate that by designing and overseeing the enhancement being built for the parks. Those expansions and improvements are carefully targeted to hit certain demographics, make use of intellectual properties and ultimately drive long-term business to Walt Disney World and other Disney parks.

Sadly James, it seems doubtful that the Yeti will ever be animated again based on the circumstances of this particular fix. Thanks for the question and I hope I shed some light on the topic for you.

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