According to the LA Times Travel Blog:
When Disneyland decided to incorporate Ursula’s evil eels Flotsam and Jetsam from “Little Mermaid” into the updated Fantasmic show, master puppeteer Michael Curry drew inspiration from a novelty shop wooden wiggle snake.
“I wanted a sense of swimming, of serpentine motion and menace,” said Curry, a long-time Disney collaborator. “Since it’s an underwater movie, it made sense to use the water as a stage.”
Curry’s puppets have appeared in the opening ceremonies of the 1996 and 2002 Olympics, the Super Bowl XXXIV halftime show, the Broadway production of “The Lion King,” the Cirque du Soleil production of “Love” in Las Vegas, the “Aladdin” stage show at Disney’s California Adventure and countless parades at Disney theme parks.
To tackle the task of bringing Flotsam and Jetsam to life, Curry and his crew employed an eel puppet mounted on top of a nimble high-performance Jet Ski.
The 34-foot-long aluminum pontoon sub-frame — built of military-grade super-lightweight carbon fiber and a stainless steel typically used in submarines — pivots at 14 points just like the toy snake.
The ingenious invention faced one huge hurdle: “Boats tend to turn over,” Curry said.
To avoid disaster on Disneyland’s Rivers of America, test puppeteers put the “Jetsam Ski” through its paces in a river near Curry’s production facility outside Portland, Ore.
The tests immediately revealed that the friction of the water turbulence put too much drag on the lightweight fabric attached to the subframe.
The solution: a weather-resistant awning-like fabric that pulled over the sub-frame like a pillowcase.
To avoid the robotic animations of computer-programmed audio-animatronics, Curry designed the Flotsam and Jetsam eels to be brought to life by puppeteers. The Jet Skis can operate in manual or automatic mode, depending on the physical demands placed on the driver/puppeteer.
“I always try to put the human at the heart of it,” Curry said.
The updated Fantasmic show, part of Disneyland’s Summer Nightastic promotion, makes its official debut June 12 at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. “Soft opening” previews of the Anaheim theme park’s all-new Magical fireworks show are underway.