This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Cast Member previews of Toy Story Midaway Mania and over the course of the weekend, worked in 7 rides. There's something special about these attraction previews because there's a lot of energy in these events. Since this was a Cast Member event, there is a lot of enthusiasm associated with it because Cast Members "get it" and play into the whole role of pretending to be guests. I arrived on Friday morning in the Studios at about 10:30am and got on line for the noon time ride opening. There were about 3 or 4 people ahead of me and as we waited to be let in, there were a lot of Cast Members who were in line and genuinely excited to ride.
Before you worry, I'm not going to get into spoilers here since clearly the majority of people reading this likely haven't ridden Toy Story Midway Mania yet and I respect people who want to keep the attraction new for them while still giving them some feedback on what I felt. We were let into Pixar Place about an hour or so before noon to help with crowd control and we got our first hands on taste of what the Imagineers had been doing with the area since August 2006 and you could tell there was some real attention to detail. There's a lot to see on Pixar Place and it's very much visually stimulating. This isn't just new pavement and a sign, but rather a lot of work has gone into creating a wonderful theme of recreating Pixar's headquarters back in California along with a lot of wonderful Toy Story references there. Better yet, Imagineers aren't done yet as half of the street is still walled off as construction continues on a merchandise location as well as a counter service location that will be selling snacks.
The first thing I noticed was the name of the attraction. Since the attraction was announced, we had thought the name was Toy Story Mania but the sign outside says "Toy Story Midway Mania" and Imagineers and Cast Members insist that the name is Toy Story Midway Mania, and not Toy Story Mania. The story I heard from a Cast Member (so don't take this as gospel necessarily) is that Disney Marketing felt guests wouldn't know what a Midway is and shortened the name in hopes of getting the public relations machine going for it. At any rate, we now know the real name.
Once we actually got into the building, I was really blown away by the theme and the attention to detail in the queue. Without being specific, I can safely say that Imagineers outdid themselves in the queue with working in Toy Story and childhood toy references into the theme. This isn't a bland queue with a few signs or pictures, but rather a completely new and intricate attention to detail based queue experience in the tradition of Expedition Everest and Mission: Space. The best known part of the queue is the Mr. Potato Head animatronic that we've heard a lot about and even seen some construction and programming progress in various media outlets. First, Mr. Potato Head is another feat for Imagineering; they have truly brought him to life. That being said, Mr. Potato Head is not like Crush from Turtle Talk where a Cast Member is behind the scenes actually talking to you and can say anything the Cast Member can reasonably say. Rather, Mr. Potato Head is controlled by a Cast Member backstage but has only a set of phrases, songs, actions and movements that have been pre-programmed in. This isn't a slam on it, because Mr. Potato Head is still the highlight of the queue (and the attraction) and worth your time. So much so, Imagineers widened the queue line near Mr. Potato Head so guests could stop and see the show while other guests could keep going in the line. Speaking of the queue, there is a single rider and FASTPASS queue that is separate from the standby queue and like Expedition Everest, has a shortened queue that still has it's own unique theme to it.
Okay, onto the ride itself. As I stated before, I think I've gotten a good taste of the ride with my seven rides now under my belt and can say that this is a great ride. It's a fun experience that does exactly what Disney wanted with this ride; it gets you to want to ride it again and again. You can't really ride this once and say you've done it. Well, I suppose you could but really you don't get a good sense of how to shoot and do well until about half way through the ride and I think most guests will want to re-ride again and again to really do well. Speaking of the ride, the good news is anyone who can sit up on their own can ride. There's no height restrictions and even if you want to bring a newborn on the ride, you can bring them on with you and he/she can ride on your lap. So there's no reason for anyone to stay behind if they don't want to ride. Disney has also created special ride vehicles to allow those in wheelchairs to wheel right onto the vehicle and don't need to transfer.
The ride vehicle is also fun because it goes a lot faster than I think anyone anticipates. We are all used to the old dark rides of Fantasyland that go about 3 miles per hour. Instead, this has some kick and can zip around a little to add another dimension of enjoyment for those on the ride. Don't worry, there's nothing remotely like Expedition Everest or Space Mountain in terms of speed or extreme thrills. It's just an added bonus that is family friendly. Also, a word to the wise, since the vehicles allow for 2 people per row, if someone in your party is right handed and another one is left handed, have the right handed person sit on the right side of the car to ensure you aren't both bumping elbows during the ride. The other major aspect of the ride is the 3D effect. Each rider dons a pair of 3D glasses (looking exactly like the pair you get at Mickey's Philharmagic or Honey, I Shrunk the Audience) and the 3D effects are neat. Let's be clear, the 3D effects compliment the ride, they don't dominate it. The 3D effects are meant to enhance it and are not the focal point of the attraction like one of the 3D films in the parks. So the 3D wont blow you away but that wasn't it's intent. I think the 3D does what it's meant to do in that when things fall or fly at you, it looks like that's happening and of course, there's added depth to everything.
There has been some criticism out there already by those who have ridden, primarily that there's a noise issue in the actual ride where you can hear other games going on. Personally, I didn't hear enough of it for it to make me feel that it ruined the attraction for me. Also, I was hoping Mr. Potato Head was going to be like Crush in that he could say anything. Moreover, I think there needs to be an audio cue to put on your 3D glasses before the ride begins (as of now, there is just text on the screen in your vehicle to put them on but the first time I rode, I didn't see that cue and decided once we started moving that I should put them on). Of course, the ride isn't yet set in stone and certainly between now and the May 31st official opening things could change as Imagineers tweak the ride so there's still more to come and I'm going to withhold final judgement on the ride until the cement fully dries.
Again, I don't want to ruin the attraction with in depth details but I will say the Imagineers did a great job with this attraction. It isn't going to replace Tower of Terror or Rock 'n Roller Coaster in terms of the best attractions at the Studios but it looks like it's going to fill an important role of being an attraction that anyone can ride (especially those who don't care for Tower of Terror or Rock 'n Roller Coaster) and I suspect it will be a crowd favorite for much of the day. When you get a chance to be in the Studios, either during a soft opening sometime in the month of May or once it officially opens, I'll definitely give the thumbs up and encourage you to ride and more importantly, enjoy the visual stimulation you'll find in the area.