How Six Flags Combined Thrills and Themed Entertainment
Tucked away in the outskirts of Atlanta, Six Flags Over Georgia opened in 1967 with its fair share of family-focused attractions and thrill rides, but the park also has an unsuspecting history of Disney-quality entertainment.
The park opened with an animatronic-filled boat dark ride called Tales of the Okefenokee, loosely following the Uncle Remus stories published by Joel Chandler Harris. Tales of the Okefenokee almost could have passed as a Disney ride; in fact, it has been said to have directly inspired Disney’s notorious Splash Mountain attraction.
Despite that immersive ride, Six Flags Over Georgia throughout the years did not continue with story-driven attractions with animatronics. With each new record-breaking coaster, it was clear Six Flags was not trying to imitate Disney.
With a lineup of intense rides, the park did have a few well-produced shows around. Eventually, in the ‘80s, Six Flags Over Georgia introduced a new animatronic attraction—this time, a show—one that would be looked over in the park’s history, remembered only as an oddity in a destination known for its roller coasters.
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A New Era in Animatronic Shows
In 1978, Alvaro Villa left his chief engineering role at The Walt Disney Company to branch out further as an engineer, forming a new business called AVG Productions based in California. The startup developed audio-animatronic figures and displays for theme parks and themed entertainment establishments.
AVG Productions in its earliest years worked with Universal Studios Hollywood, later designing animatronic shows for family restaurants such as Bullwinkle’s Family Food’n Fun.
Introducing Theatronic Shows, Bullfrog Bayou Revue
The manufacturer began developing self-contained show designs, known as theatronic shows, that could be sold as a single unit to themed restaurants and similar venues. One of the earliest theatronic projects by AVG was a small show called Bullfrog Bayou Revue. The show was produced under the creative and technical direction of Kurt Gengenbach and ex-Imagineer Larry Nikolai.
"When we design a show, we start with the basic processes, and the most important one a character—a believable character. Something people can relate to. And sometimes, that'll take 20 maybe 30 drawings before we get the one we want." — Larry Nikolai (Source)
The AVG Productions team had support from the legendary Big Al Bertino, known for his notable work at Disney on Country Bear Jamboree and America Sings. He, along with the producers, contributed to the show’s story and characters. Bullfrog Bayou Revue’s music was composed by Robert Brunner, and the cast recorded the show’s audio at A&M Studios in Hollywood, California.AVG Productions created the free-standing units once production wrapped up. Of the three units made, AVG kept one as a sales and programming tool. One was sold to an independently owned family pizza parlor in Santa Maria, California, called Charley Goodtimes’ Pizza Jamboree. The third was sold to a regional theme park outside Atlanta: Six Flags Over Georgia.
Bullfrog Bayou Revue Debuts at South's Thrill CapitalBullfrog Bayou Revue debuted at Six Flags Over Georgia in the early 1980s. The show took place on a small, swampy boat dock with a rustic rooftop, marine props, and a bayou landscape outside the window that displayed rain effects depending on the setting.
Bullfrog Bayou Revue featured three animatronic amphibian characters. Roland R. Mudthumper, better known as Uncle Rolly, was voiced by Hal Smith. He acted as the show’s host and played a homemade fiddle.
Pollywog, who went by Polly, was voiced by Tress MacNeille. She was a sweet and positive mandolin player.
The third animatronic was a character named Tadpole who went by Tad, voiced by Alan Oppenheimer. With a rambunctious attitude, Tad played a talking guitar—or rather, a “guiturtle”—named Wilbur, who was voiced by Jack Angel.
The set was designed with concealed elevators to raise and lower the characters to enter and leave the scene. Uncle Rolly was stationary but had a curtain that covered him before and after shows.
Three main show tapes were recorded for Bullfrog Bayou Revue, each featuring about 10 minutes of music, singing, and banter among the animatronics. In addition to the three main show tapes, Bullfrog Bayou Revue also had a birthday show tape.
Two of the shows were very similar, starting off with Uncle Rolly playing twangy music with the ambiance of swamp sounds adding to the atmosphere. He would be joined by either Tad and Wilbur playing loud, 1950s rock ‘n’ roll or by Polly, whose music had a dreaminess to it.
As the show continued with some solos and dialogue, the characters would blend their musical styles and sing together. Tad and Polly would lower themselves at the end of the show as Uncle Rolly wrapped up the performance with his hospitable demeanor.
A Ghostly CharacterThe third show tape was a bit different as Uncle Rolly opened with a haunting song late at night. He was joined by a new character: a ghost named Croaker, voiced by Joel Silver. While this character didn’t have an animatronic, the ghost was animated by the sound effects of ghostly swooshes and different set pieces moving. Once Tad and Polly entered, all the characters harmonized together, with Croaker the ghost drumming a beat on different props. Uncle Rolly closed out the show wishing the audience a good night.
Bullfrog Bayou Revue Goes South
The show lasted in Six Flags through the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, but in 2003, Bullfrog Bayou Revue gave its final performance. The animatronics had been wearing down, and the attraction was becoming too costly for the park to maintain. Six Flags closed Bullfrog Bayou Revue after over two decades of entertaining guests. The California-based family restaurant that had the other publically available show unit went out of business years prior. With its closure at Six Flags Over Georgia, the show was officially defunct.
After closing, Bullfrog Bayou Revue was widely forgotten about for a while. Images, videos, and other media from the show have been scarcely available online. In recent years, the show’s producers and those in the animatronic community have documented information and media from the show, preserving its legacy.
A few steps from where the show ran for years is among the most notorious and beloved animatronic-based attractions in any regional park: Monster Mansion. Flooded with upbeat music and Southern charm, the boat ride still carries the spirit of the lost Bullfrog Bayou Revue.
Big Al Bertino, who contributed creatively on Bullfrog Bayou Revue, worked on a previous iteration of Monster Mansion. It’s as if the show’s legacy is honored to this day—a legacy that hopefully won’t croak any time soon.