On June 17, Disney’s California Adventure Park welcomed its newest attraction — Toy Story Mania! — much to the delight of children (and children at heart) everywhere.
“That was so cool!” was a phrase echoed by both Madisyn Tendler, age 13, and her mother, Viviana Tendler, after they took an exclusive sneak preview of the ride on June 16. Tendler’s 5-year-old nephew Kyle and 11-year-old daughter Paige couldn’t help but smile, too, as they exited the ride.
Such a response is music to Disney’s mouse ears. Plenty is riding on the success of Toy Story Mania! as it is phase one of a $1.1 billion, five-year investment to expand and develop the underperforming California Adventure Park.
According to the Themed Entertainment Association’s 2007 U.S. theme park attendance report, California Adventure ranked 13th in attendance with 5.7 million visitors. Disneyland Park, which is situated directly across from California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., brought in 14.9 million visitors last year, ranking 2nd behind Orlando, Fla.’s Walt Disney World.
The interactive Toy Story ride — equal parts old-fashioned arcade shootout and high-tech video game — takes guests through what Disney calls a “4-D” adventure. After donning plastic yellow 3-D glasses and strapping themselves into buggies, riders encounter five mini arcade games inspired by the popular Disney/Pixar “Toy Story” films. With just the pull of a string, they launch virtual pies, eggs, darts, plates and rings at 3-D targets, cheered on by beloved characters like Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Hamm and Bo Peep. By hitting certain targets, riders unlock added dimensions, too, from a welcome puff of air to a splash of water.
Those kinds of unexpected elements are what will have clients making a return visit, said Robert W. Deuel, public relations director for Disney Worldwide Sales and Travel Operations.
“[The ride] has a great repeatability factor,” he told TravelAge West. “Your ride experience is virtually guaranteed to be different every time you go on it. It definitely raises the bar on interactive experiences.”
Even the wait line gets interactive, too, with none other than a five-foot-tall talking Mr. Potato Head. The loveable tater entertains guests as a “Boardwalk Barker,” inviting them to come inside and experience Toy Story Mania! Yet, unlike his Pirates of the Caribbean counterparts, this audio-animatronic potato can perform hundreds of lines, belt out a few songs and even detach and reattach one of his ears. His eyes, in particular, are extremely lifelike, as are his lips. Up close, the Don Rickles-voiced character has the ability to recognize individual guests as they wait in line. In a press release, Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty explained how Mr. Potato Head can even renew a couple’s wedding vows.
“His show is designed to play off any given real-time moment with the guests, so anything goes,” said Rafferty.
The same can’t be said, however, for more concrete information regarding Disney’s California Adventure investment. Though the company is keeping mum on specific details about its revitalization plan, visitors can flesh out a few hints after taking a spin on Toy Story Mania! or playing spectator to the new Pixar Play Parade.
For one thing, Disney appears to be going back to its roots. The new Toy Story Mania! ride is located on Paradise Pier, right next to the California Screamin’ roller coaster, and evokes an old-fashioned, Victorian-era feel with bright, white-painted wood -trimmed in pastel hues. Just last month, Disney theme park fan site Blue Sky Disney (www.blueskydisney.blogspot.com) reported that California Adventure’s Orange Stinger ride will be transformed into “The Silly Symphonies Swing,” inspired by the “Silly Symphonies” cartoons that introduced audiences to Mickey Mouse in the 1920s.
At the same time, Disney is making plenty of tie-ins to its blockbuster Pixar films. California Adventure is already home to themed area “a bug’s land” and “Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!” And, judging from the park’s newest parade — Pixar Play Parade — Pixar characters will continue to play a starring role. Cars Land, a ride based on the film “Cars” is slated to open in 2012.