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Crazy for Mania

Preview of Toy Story Mania coming to Disneyland and Walt Disney World

By

Crazy for Mania

Mr. Potato Head is the midway barker for Toy Story Mania.

©Arthur Levine, 2008. Licensed to About.com.
Toy Story Mania is now open! When Toy Story Mania at Disney's California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios (the park formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida) opens in spring 2008, a larger-than-life Mr. Potato Head--not that the famous spud is, technically, alive--will act as a midway barker for the attractions. My guess is that his shilling will be unnecessary. Toy Story Mania appears to be so much fun, the animatronic tater will probably serve more as a diversion to the throngs that will inevitably be jamming the queues than as a barker trying to drum up some business.

In March 2008, I got to peer behind the construction walls at Disney's California Adventure and see an as-yet lifeless Mr. Potato Head during a preview of Toy Story Mania. The ride was not operating, and the walkthrough extended only as far as the load and unload area. The ride vehicles (or "trams" in Toy Story Mania parlance) featured colorful spring-loaded shooters. When the attraction opens, riders will aim the mini cannons and pull the spring-loaded actuators to launch virtual objects, such as softballs and rings, at computer-conjured targets in a series of carnival games. The darkened corridor of the ride building gave no sense of the maniacal fun within, but a trek up to Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California for a hands-on demo (or "play-test" in Imagineering parlance) offered a great peek at Toy Story Mania.

Pop Toy Story Mania's Baa Loons

Inside a nondescript "Concept Lab," the Imagineers have rigged a mockup of a Toy Story Mania ride vehicle and game booth. Since all of the game play is virtual (as compared to Disneyland's Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and other interactive park rides, which use actual, dimensional targets), the game booth consists of a giant, blank screen. Riders wear 3-D glasses, which render the computer-generated imagery projected onto the screens with a convincing sense of depth and realism. "4-D" enhancements, like blasts of air and sprinkles of water, help to reinforce the illusion.

I hopped on, pulled down the safety restraint (although the mockup, unlike the real vehicles, was stationary), donned my geeky 3-D glasses, and got ready to go head to head with fellow journalist (and, apparently, game weenie) Brady MacDonald, who does a great job covering California parks for the Los Angeles Times' Funland blog. When the smoke cleared and the 3-D glasses came off, I squashed my opponent with 114,000 points to his measly 102,000. Do you want to know how I did it?

As with the ride, the demo began with a pie-throwing practice round. The five scenes that followed included Bo Peep's Baa Loon Pop, which was a dart game, and the Green Army Men Shoot Camp, a plate-smashing game. Each scene included targets with varying degrees of difficulty and point value. The higher-value targets were mostly tucked along the outer edges of the game play area. Should players stick with the big-point targets? I don't think so. The onboard cannons have an unlimited supply of ammo, are very responsive, and are capable of launching rapid-fire volleys. The trick is to keep yanking the spring-loaded shooters as quickly as possible. Scope out and aim for some of the big targets before your seatmate has a chance to nab them, but keep tugging nonstop on the shooter and take out easier targets as well. The final game, following Woody's Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Gallery (you gotta love the names), is a challenge round. Here, the targets are large and in plain view. The goal is to simply fire at will with more gusto than your opponent.

Maniacal Riders May Become Obsessed

It's easy to track the game play since the ammo is the same color as the shooter, and the 3-D perspective allows players to follow the trajectories of their ammo (something the Buzz Lightyear ride and its ilk sorely lack). Aim high and to the right for example, and the launched objects take a predictable arc. Some of the targets include hidden bonuses; hit them once, and they morph into higher-scoring targets. Surprises like that will keep Toy Story Mania riders coming back for more.

Imagineer Chrissie Allen says that there are even some "Easter eggs" sprinkled throughout the ride that, when activated, will give players an entirely different scene filled with premium scoring opportunities. "We've designed enough challenges for the most experienced gamers," she says. "But we also have targets that a two-year-old can handle." Indeed. My conquest of Mr. MacDonald notwithstanding, I am by no means a game warrior. However, I found the controller and the game experience quite intuitive. 12-year olds and their grandparents should be able to enjoy the ride together--and both will want to get back in line for another go-around.

Because Toy Story Mania uses virtual game technology projected onto screens, it would be relatively easy to transform the ride. "If we want to do a holiday overlay, we can go in the dead of the night and change out the software," Allen says. Snowballs could be substituted for softballs, for example, and most of the work could be done offsite by tweaking the computer code. "We could modify the experience without ever having to close the attraction. We're excited about that," adds Allen.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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