Every afternoon, I'll take a few minutes to visit some of my favorite Disney blogs to read interesting and engaging writing about various aspects of Walt Disney World. I ran across an old favorite, Re-Imagineering Blog, and found two scathing articles about Toy Story Midway Mania. Each examined aspects of the popular attraction and came to the same general conclusion that while popular, Toy Story Midway Mania was not a great or classic Walt Disney World attraction because it did not have a great story to it.
To be honest, I was rather surprised when I ran across the articles because nearly everything I've read about Toy Story Midway Mania has been generally positive. To understand the author's viewpoint, you have to understand that the premise of his argument is along the lines of the classic attractions we still enjoy today, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan's Flight, Haunted Mansion, etc, remain popular 50+ years after their debut because primarily they feature rich story lines and that Toy Story Midway Mania, while popular today, relies too much on the neat technology and it's lack of a storyline will lead to its ultimate demise in the coming years.
It's an interesting argument, but I think there are some flaws with the thinking. First, they postulate that Toy Story Midway Mania isn't a richly themed attraction and that is just plain false. Before you even enter the attraction, the story of Toy Story Midway Mania is being told to you. Pixar Place, the area of the park you enter, has been overrun with toys from Toy Story (being that Pixar Studios is the "home" of the film). How has this happened? Well, as you enter the attraction the story is told that Andy has left and the toys have, of course, come to life and started to play to the point that they've come out from the film and into the Pixar lot. You are shrunk to the size of the toys as you enter and start walking through the queue to enter the attraction. I'd have to say that this level of queue theme easily exceeds the level of detail of other classic Disney attractions, such as Splash Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean or even the Haunted Mansion. Each of those attractions has a low level of detail in their queue, while Toy Story Midway Mania already has a story being told before you even set foot onto a ride vehicle. If you want to count older attractions like Peter Pan or Small World, which have little to no theme at all in their queues other than the random cutout decoration to hide a boring handrail or wall, then Toy Story Midway Mania is the Avatar to their Pong.
One issue they raise is the role of the Mr. Potato Head audio-animatronic, "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." I hate to say it, but I agree with the author on this one. The idea for Mr. Potato Head sounded really cool, but it's basically a sound board with an assortment of possible things it can say chosen by an operator somewhere backstage. The reality is often Mr. Potato Head is slow between responses and really doesn't have the charm that Crush in Turtle Talk has nor is there that kind of a connection made.
As for the ride itself, there's a story being told during the ride, but it isn't the sort of story we're used to. The so-called classic attractions, mostly from Disneyland, retell the plot of the films they depict (Peter Pan, Snow White, Mr Toad, etc). Some offer little to no actual story and celebrate the topic of the ride (Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion). Toy Story Midway Mania takes the guest and puts them into the story and allows them to in essence create their own story for the ride. By allowing guests to unlock secrets in the midway games, guests create their own plots. Moreover, since the ride can be different each time they ride, there's far more compelling reasons to ride again and again because there's something new to explore and see. This was the dream back with Horizons, when at the end guests could select their destination of land, sea or space. Interaction with the ride makes for a richer experience overall.
Another issue they have with the ride is the fact you shoot at the characters in the ride,
"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....Encouraging guests to shoot Woody is not only unethical, it also betrays the rides source material."
I think we have to look at the actual "shooting". Let's remember, this is a midway carnival and the characters act as hosts for the various midway games. You aren't shooting bullets, rather darts of rings or pies. And like any good lawyer will tell you, it's all about motive. Is the intent of the ride to shoot at the characters for sake of using them as targets? No. They hold targets to help you practice and later may appear in the game. There's no harm if they are hit by an errant toss and often they are so far off the screen that shooting them is rare. Let's also remember the Toy Story films where these characters take place in Andy's imaginary games where Mr. Potato Head robs a bank or Buzz Lightyear saves the other toys from imminent doom. These toys live to entertain those who play with them and given that role, they fit perfectly for this sort of an attraction.
"This ride is Imagineering’s “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."
To say Toy Story Midway Mania is a flagrant attempt to purely capitalize on popularity and dismiss other attractions at Walt Disney World as being nobler is a just plain silly. Why did Disney add the Matterhorn, Space Mountain or Rock 'n Roller Coaster? Because they knew roller coasters was something guests wanted to experience. Rather than just throw one in for the sake of having one, Disney took the basic ride mechanism and totally added a level of theme and story that other roller coasters never had and it made for these so-called classic attractions. And like so many other attractions before it, Toy Story Midway Mania is filled with brand new ideas and innovations that completely eclipse other theme park attempts at creating the next generation of rides. This is a ride that integrates 3D, brand new graphics and interactive game play. In short, Toy Story Midway Mania was created to be the shining example of how interactive games in a theme park should be.
"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... Who smuggled a Universal Studios attraction into the Disney parks?"
When you consider the history of Disney World (and Disneyland) attractions, we see a continual development and to borrow a word from Darwin, and evolution of attractions from one generation to the next. We start with rides like Peter Pan's Flight or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and move on to the Matterhorn and Horizons and from there we get Test Track, Tower of Terror and today we're seeing the new generation of rides. You could look back a generation and then say that the next gen of rides was "overwhelming" or "lacking character" but as the years progressed; we saw these rides as quintessential Disney attractions that have become staples of the lands and parks they occupy. When someone criticizes Toy Story Midway Mania with the sort of detractions stated above, it reminds me of the film "Pleasantville", where the black and white characters fight in vain to stave off the change to color because, well, it's different. Toy Story Midway Mania is, while not perfect, a new generation of classic Disney attractions that follows the traditions of great Imagineering set forth more than 50 years before it.