Friday, March 05, 2010

Step Right Up!

For a truly all-encompassing critique of Toy Story Midway Mania it’s important to first look at the way video games and play in general were presented in the Toy Story film itself.

With Andy’s playtime at the opening of the film a villainous Mr. Potato Head threatens to flatten Bo Peepʼs sheep with an R.C. car unless the piggy bank uncorks itself. Only Sheriff Woody can save the day. Here Andyʼs playtime is creative, funny, and inclusive.

Compare that to Sid, who abuses, deconstructs, tortures, and ultimately forgets his toys. If Andyʼs room, with its cloud wallpaper, is Heaven and Sid’s room, with it's dark shadows and black light, Hell, then Pizza Planet, where Sid and Andy play together, must be a sort of purgatory. Here kids drink soda styled after xenomorph mucous, mount giant lasers to blow up planets and whack aliens sprouting from an astronautʼs torso. Every playerʼs play-time is identical to everyone else’s, and the violence inherent in these games seems to particularly suit Sidʼs mean streak.

The sceneʼs deluded antagonist, Buzz Lightyear, finds Pizza Planetʼs atmosphere astonishing, but the sceneʼs protagonist, Woody, sees it as a hive of zealotry and over- stimulation. Fortunately, Woody got over that in time to host Toy Story Midway Mania!, which may be Imagineeringʼs most meticulously-realized hive of zealotry and over- stimulation yet.

With that it mind, I invite you to step right up bravely scrutinize the fastidiously arranged chaos that is Walt Disney World’s 'Toy Story Midway Mania’.


Low capacity, frequent breakdowns, FastPass bottlenecks? In short, it’s a long wait.
Surely this was anticipated, and the queue thusly designed to soothe the testy masses.
There are countless precedents for tasteful queues in the face of grueling wait-times. Think of the ethereal queue in EPCOTʼs the Seas with Nemo and Friends, Each room taking guests deeper into the ocean; soft blue lights, rusted rails, and ambient music. Lovely, just lovely.

Meanwhile, the queue for Midway Mania is set in a toy box. The space is dominated with clutter, sharp angles, a shock of colors and human-sized product placement for classic toys. It is the visual equivalent of both a sugar rush, and a sugar crash. And at the center of it all...

Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head is a revolutionary audio-animatronic figure, capable of interacting with guests via thousands of lines of pre-recorded dialogue. Heʼs also a jerk. Rather than mining the wealth of character appropriate puns about body parts (“Lend me your ears!”), dismemberment (“Keep your parts inside the vehicle or youʼll end up like me!”), and potatoes (“Can I borrow some sunscreen? I hate when I peel!”), he instead resorts to caustic jabs and clumsy, grating songs.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four... five potato, six potato; play the game and score! Seven potato, eight potato, nine potato, ten... come on, you hockey puck, and play the game again!

When guests fail to applaud, heʼll admonish, “Folks, Iʼll give you a hint: this is the part where you clap.”

Other times, he asks, “What do I have to do to make you people happy? Pull off my ear?” and after he pulls off his ear, he says, “Ouch! There. Are you happy now? ...yeah, well, neither am I.”

Guilt trips belong at home, not while queueing at Disney World.

The interactive games in the stand-by line for EPCOTʼs Soarinʼ may be irrelevant to the rideʼs content, but at least theyʼre engaging. Considering the humor and charm apparent in other interactive attractions like the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and Turtle Talk with Crush, Mr. Potato Head could hardly be more disappointing, especially when he could be better utilized in the actual ride.

How Many in Your Party?

The Toy Story Midway Mania Load platform is situated beneath a tent, which is meant to be Andyʼs bed. The rideʼs “story” tells us that Andy is on vacation, and his toys have built him a carnival to celebrate his return.

Unfortunately, it violates the foremost rule of the films: toys must remain inert in the presence of humans. Granted, that rule gets broken, but only in the most dire situations. ‘Surprising Andy with a carnival because heʼs cool’ doesn’t quite match the urgency of ‘Buzz is strapped to an exploding rocket and Andyʼs pulling out of the driveway and moving away forever’. I concede this is a nitpick but at the same time I donʼt see why any mere fan of the film should care any more about being true to the rules of it’s world than the multi-million dollar theme park ride based on it.

The Ride

Any complaints raised about the queueʼs aesthetic pale in comparison to the frenzy that is the ride itself. Itʼs a first-person shooter, so youʼll be focusing on images projected in 3D lit by black-light while being hit in the face with water and bursts of air while seated in a spinning vehicle whose seats weren’t built for the human posterior, but rather, a small up-turned piano.
There are only two things missing: strobe lights, and an endless loop of ‘The Hamster Dance.’ But thereʼs no time for hosannahs, because the time has come for...

The Training Screen

Here youʼre encouraged to shoot the heroes from Toy Story and Toy Story 2.
Yes, that’s right. You have a gun. Buzz, Woody and the gang hold targets. Your gun shoots pies. If you miss the target then one of the heroes from Toy Story gets slimed.
I can only think of one defense for this: Hitting beloved characters is fun! Personally, I never visit the Country Bear Jamboree without lobbing a turkey leg at Liver Lips McGrowl.

I appreciate Imagineeringʼs attempt to answer the demand for interactivity, but shooting the heroes from Toy Story is unacceptable. In fact, no, I take that back. There are several characters from Toy Story that can be shot. The green army men can be shot. They get knocked over, and Sarge waddles on-screen and orders them back to their feet. Mr. Potato Head can be shot. Heʼs a slapstick character, and can give you a dirty look with features that have been blown off his face. The evil Emperor Zurg can be shot, because heʼs evil.

Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, Rex, and Hamm, however, should not be shot, because the films ask us to invest in their physical well-being. In fact, Woodyʼs physical well-being is the foundation of Toy Story 2ʼs plot: After tearing his arm, Woody confronts his own mortality and considers leaving Andy in order to become an “immortal” collectible.
Encouraging guests to shoot Woody is not only unethical, it also betrays the rideʼs source material.

After shooting the heroes of Toy Story, guests are whirled through...

A Selection of Midway Games

Just like Walt would have wanted! Didn’t he love carnival midways and wish there were more of them in the world? Isnʼt that why the first incarnation of Carousel of Progress was part Gravitron, and every guest who didnʼt throw up won a goldfish?

Disneyland was built to be a clean, safe, permanent, themed environment. Its patrons were “guests,” not “customers”. Its employees were “cast members,” not “carnies,” and they adhered to a code of excellent customer service. There was one flat entrance fee, and immersive experiences were emphasized over games of chance. These standards werenʼt set accidentally. They were built in response to--and in spite of--carnival midways.

So itʼs bad enough that Toy Story (Midway) Mania! emphasizes video games, where the player is not an equal participant, but rather, a computer variable, but the tone of these games is objectionable to the underlying concept of the Walt Disney’s theme parks.

Inevitably, however, the rideʼs apologists retreat to the exclamation...

“...But Itʼs Fun!”

And I canʼt claim I donʼt understand its draw. Especially with that cool “Sproing!” noise the gun makes. But letʼs again review the gimmicks lacquered onto this thing:

1. DisneyQuestʼs Pirates of the Caribbean, Battle for Buccaneer Gold game.
2. Played in a Mad Tea Party spinning teacup.
3. On a track.
4. Featuring a series of carnival-themed, first-person shooter video games.
5. Projected in 3D.
6. With 4D elements incorporated into the ride vehicle...
7. Based on a popular recent film series.
8. Without actually paying attention to the rules of the film’s world.
9. Or making any real effort to synergize the rideʼs concept into the films.

This ride is Imagineeringʼs “Mmmbop.” A meticulously-crafted chart-topper, whose sole aspiration is to be catchy and addictive. Toy Story Midway Mania! was built by demographics, not imagination. It is fun, in the same way that a nine hour sitcom marathon is fun. Artificial, mind-numbing, and devoid of aspiration.
When guests have finished, theyʼre shown...

The Final Score!

In Buzz Lightyearʼs Space Ranger Spin, your score corresponds with a rank in the prestigious Galactic Alliance. Guests all share an inclusive role shooting aliens and thus being promoted to ʻPlanetary Pilotʼ for fine service. Your score is a means to determine your prize, and the prize is integrated into the rideʼs plot.

In Toy Story (Midway) Mania!, your score corresponds with a CG stuffed animal. In other words, your score determines whether youʼve won a plush aardvark, deer, or polecat--which you donʼt get to take home. So itʼs safe to say that the emphasis is on the numerical score, rather than commenting on your growth since the start of the ride.
Just as the highest-scoring guests start bragging about their superior-but-ineffectual numbers, theyʼre dragged before...

Todayʼs High Score!

And the odds are, ʻTodayʼs High Scoreʼ is far better than yours. The last thing you see on the ride compares you with ʻa player whoʼs verifiably good.
“I hope you werenʼt playing for fun, or to bond with your family,” the High Score suggests, “because this is a serious game and we take it seriously.” This is just one mark of the aggressively Darwinian tone of Toy Story (Midway) Mania!

The ride vehicle holds four guests--two pairs of two, seated back-to-back. If youʼre in a group of three people, youʼll be sharing this experience through geography, alone.
Youʼre churned through a series of free-for-all landscapes where you can steal single-use targets from one another. You “win” a number score, and then get told that someone who played earlier was much better than you.
And just how does this ensure a magical experience for every guest?

In short...

Toy Story (Midway) Mania! is overwhelming, mean-spirited, thematically undercooked, philosophically offensive, over-produced, Darwinian, and encourages guests to shoot the heroes from Toy Story.

And for the record, the gun is triggered via pull-chord, and firing it requires a distinctly masturbatory gesture.

Who smuggled a Universal Studios attraction into the Disney parks?

In the words of Monsieur Potato Head, “Thatʼs rhetorical! It means you donʼt have to answer!”

Contributed by Re-Imagineering reader Ian Kay

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