Toy Story Midway Mania is a new 4-D video game opening soon at Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts. Guests ride through a series of Midway games, each with a different concept related to a Toy Story character, and use a unique ‘pull-string cannon’ to launch various projectiles at various targets and easter eggs in order to score points and be awarded a virtual prize.
What puts the Disney touch on this game is the great design of the queue and loading area and the amazing integration of 3-D and 4-D (real world) effects to raise the experience above something you could otherwise find at home in your living room. That and the addition of the characters from Pixar’s popular Toy Story series.
The theme of the attraction is fairly simple: Andy has gotten a new game “Midway Mania” and the toys have sprung to life with Andy out of the room and, once we’re shrunken down to toy size, we get to play them.
Near identical versions of TSMM are opening this spring at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and California Adventure in California (don’t get me started!). I’ve only experienced the DHS version so all my comments pertain to that. However, there is bound to be some overlap and I’ll try and point out differences when I can.
There also happens to be some confusion as to the exact name of the attraction. While the actual attraction is named “Toy Story Midway Mania,” as evidenced by the giant sign on the front of each building, the marketing arm of Disney Parks has taken to call it “Toy Story Mania.” Marketing exorcised “Midway” based on two factors, simpler is better and hardly anyone knows what a “Midway” is these days anyway. While each may be true, I think that leaving out the “Midway” will leave guest unprepared for what they’ll be experiencing inside the attraction.
The word “Mania” by itself conjures up something a little more frightening and disjointed than the attraction actually is. “Midway” makes it sound more fun and like a game, which it is. Imagineers aren’t dunces. They chose that name for a reason and for Marketing to ignore that reason appears pound foolish.
Marketing is also promoting TSMM as the first attraction to be built simultaneously at two Disney theme parks. This assumes “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? – Play It” doesn’t count. The east coast and west coaster versions opened within 5 months of each other. TSMM’s will be at least one month apart.
In my previous comments on Toy Story Midway Mania I wrote that the attraction was a lot of fun and that Disney Imagineers had done a great job achieving their goals.
Their professed main goal is to bring something new and exciting into the parks that will grab the attention of today’s increasingly media and video game savvy youth, while still entertaining other members of the typical guest family unit (youth(s), mom & dad, and potentially a grandparent or two). Although time will tell, they appear to have produced a product that satisfies this goal.
Therefore, it’s not the execution that bug’s me about TSMM, but rather I’m not even sure it’s a good goal to begin with. But even if it is, was this the proper way to meet it. I’ll get back to this later, but first more of the review.
Toy Story Midway Mania is situated on what used to be Mickey Avenue, but is now renamed “Pixar Place” on the park maps. However, the signage for when you enter the street says “Pixar Studios.” In fact the attraction exterior is designed to resemble the actual Pixar Studios located out in Emeryville, California. Imagineers worked hard to replicate the exact shade of bricks needed and the giant glass facade of the attraction echoes the home entrance of the studio that brought you Toy Story I, II, and soon, III. They’ve certainly done a good job here.
When you arrive at the attraction you will have to make a decision, do I get a fastpass or not? Actually, you should make this decision before you even arrive at the park. If you’re in California, the decision is made for you, there is no fast pass. But in Florida, it might be wise to plan your day around ample use of the fastpass system for TSMM and arrive early to the park.
[aside: Now that Disney's Hollywood Studios has one more Fastpass attraction, how will overall fastpass strategy change for the rest of the park? So far not too much. Guests who absolutely want to get in a ride on Rock'n'Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror still head to those E-Ticket rides first thing. Fast passes for both TOT and RNRC are generally available with a 2-3 hour (or less) return window anyway. TSMM fast passes are understandably hot tickets while the excitement of something new is there.
Where you might find less pressure is on the nearby Little Mermaid show where fastpasses will become less likely to sell out for each show. Ditto for the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. Neither of those attractions really needs fast pass to distribute crowds, so perhaps Disney will disable the system for one or both like they have for Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show.
Also remember the first hour the park is open, the TSMM Fast Pass machines are issuing tickets with the first return time starting 1-hour after the park opens. This is the "magic hour" where you can experience the standby queue without being delayed by those cutting in front of you via their fast pass tickets. I road twice in under 45 minutes during the magic hour on May 31st.]
My suggested strategy is that you experience the attraction at least twice, as the first trip you will miss a lot of the detail and some of the game play, and that you experience the standby queue before your first ride, so you really get sucked into the experience. Therefore I would suggest grabbing a fastpass and then joining the stand by line.
This is another case where the attraction really doesn’t need a fastpass for queue management. It’s my understanding that the Toy Story Midway Mania opening in California Adventure will not have a fastpass line. Typically fastpass is not required unless it’s an E-ticket type attraction with a relatively low capacity that will draw 60 plus minute plus waits from opening to closing on any given day.
On those rides fastpass does provide the guest an opportunity to get on the ride where a 60 minute wait in line may not otherwise be practical (such as if you only have one day at the park and want to experience more than just the E-tickets (which I recommend)). Splash Mountain fits that definition, Pirates Of The Caribbean does not as the line naturally peters out in the afternoon after those for whom it is a ‘must see’ have ridden.
My guess is that once the newness has worn off the queues will die down for Toy Story Midway Mania to those typical to a D-ticket attraction. Hopefully, they’ll remove the Fast Pass at that point. But since they do have fastpass, at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version at least, it’s best to take advantage of it.
The fastpass area has chained off queues which I predict won’t last long. If you get in line behind someone who is scanning a bunch of tickets, can’t figure out the machine, or encounters a non-functioning machine the chains make it difficult to switch to a machine that might have a shorter queue or working machine. I predict lots of confused guests and tripping related injuries as guests try to step over the chains. Already I’ve encountered non-working machines and had to transfer queue awkwardly three times (in one day mind you). Hopefully operations will do away with the chains quickly.
The main queue for Toy Story Midway Mania weaves through a maze of toys, games, and child draw art based on the Andy character’s collection from the two Toy Story movies. There is certainly a lot to see here. For older patrons its a chance to relive their youths and for the kids it’s a good chance to pester your parents about how old fashioned some of those games were.
There are also plenty of “easter eggs” hidden throughout the queue. In the standby queue look down to see the “Nemo” just before you get to the 3-D glasses area. The star of the queue is the giant Audio-Animatronic Mr. Potato Head. He sings, he tells jokes, he even interacts with the audience. He’s a nice touch, but you won’t see him if you use fastpass or single rider at DHS.
It really is a nice queue. But I don’t rank it up there with the best queues like “Indiana Jones Adventure” at Disneyland (now sadly bypassed by fastpass) or “It’s Tough to be a Bug” at Animal Kingdom.
The largest disappointment of the queue area starts once you pass the merge point of fast pass and stand by queues. At that point you’re directed up a set of about 20 stairs into a long boring hallway with no fun themeing at all, not even a poster on the wall. I realize that you have to go up to cross the track for the most efficient loading system, but did they have to make this part of the queue so incredibly dull. It also happens that the Single Rider will spend nearly the entire portion of their wait in this hallway. Boring.
As the queue ends you cross over the track and head down a stair case toward the cast member who will attempt to efficiently sort you out into rows of two.
The loading zone is essentially a big open room, but you don’t notice it because of the wonderful elements depicting Andy’s room. You’re now shrunk down to toy size and Andy’s bed looms large, board game boxes and books are stacked everywhere. And in one corner is an “Midway Game” that has been set up by the toys for their guests to play.
The loading zone is relatively small and guests are really packed into the area at the base of the stairs. But since wheelchair loading is moved to it’s own ‘off track’ area it’s mostly okay.
Speaking of wheelchair access. Imagineering has built a completely separate load and unload dock for those who need extra assistance loading into the ride vehicles or who can’t navigate stairs. Guests from both queues (fastpass and standby) are directed toward the special loading area at the merge point. Both queues are completely accessible, but only the standby queue sees the Mr. Potato Head audio-animatronic.
Toy Story Midway Mania has special vehicles that can fit a roll in wheelchair, so guests who are unable to transfer can experience the attraction. There are some size limits, however. But that’s still a very nice touch.
The accessible loading dock is completely off the regular attraction track. So ride operation does not slow down at all during the wheelchair load and unload process, which usually takes longer just due to logistics. Once the accessible vehicle is loaded it is then re-introduced to the main track with barely a hiccup.
Think twice before you decide to go the single rider route instead of fast pass. The main reason, the amount of flexibility loading 8 pairs of two at the same time gives the cast member in charge of loading. Using Single Rider while you wait for your fast pass time might make more sense.
If the cast member in that position sees a group three in the stand by queue and tries to fill that extra seat from the standby queue first then you’ll have a long wait. If they just grab a single rider anytime there is an odd numbered party, then single rider will go a bit faster. Groups of three, five, or seven are very infrequent at Disney and even then they often break themselves into smaller groups before they get to the loading station.
I need to double check on how child swap works on this attraction. Since there is no height limit on TSMM, I saw some families carry the infant or toddler all the way through the queue and then wait on the exit side when until the other party returned and then switched off. While this may be most efficient for Disney (they use a similar system at Star Tours) it is very unfair for the child who has to wait in the queue and then is unable to experience the attraction.
Be sure to check with the cast member at the entrance to TSMM to see how they’re handling child switch if you don’t think the attraction is appropriate for a child in your party.
The Game Play
Once you’re on the ride vehicle you don your 3-D glasses, pull down the lap bar, and try to figure out how to use the pull-string cannon in front of you. Be careful when you pull down the lap bar as its height determines where the cannon rests, you don’t want your arms in an awkward position.
The ride vehicle will spin slightly as you go through the room, but for the time you’re involved in the actual game play, there is no spinning. However, some of the spinning is fast and if you or your young one isn’t braced it’s very easy to bang your head against the back of the seat or side of the vehicle. Some padding would have been nice here.
The ride vehicle moves between rooms each a hallway with walls of large media screens. The 3-D effect is quite pronounced and each variety of projectile launched by your cannon acts with its own independent physics. Plus each game has hidden targets, easter eggs, and surprise rounds to add variety to the experience.
You’ll get the mechanics of the firing mechanism fairly easily, but you’ll want to ignore the accuracy part and just go for the rapid-fire action spreading your fire across as many targets as possible as fast as possible. Then as you find yourself playing again and again you’ll develop a feel for the moments when ‘touch’ is required.
Be warned, there are some “4-D” elements involved like blasts of air and sprays of water. I had to take off my glasses a couple times to dry them I got so wet in one game.
Finally, I think this game is unique in Disney theme parks in yet another way. To get the best score you actually have to cooperate with your seat mate, the person you are most directly competing against, as coordinated fire is required to enter a few of the bonus score subroutines.
Sadly there are some lost opportunities with Toy Story Midway Mania. First of all, there is no way to track your score from game to game. The technology exists to do it and with the ubuiquity of Disney’s photopass card, you have a ready mechanism for individualizing that data. There is also no internet interactivity with the game. Yes, there’s a pretty good website, with it’s own games, but I think Disney was going in the right direction with Buzz Lightyear at Disneyland where they added an internet element.
Finally, where are the ride photos? It’s the perfect souvenir for a game like this. Overlay the score and ‘prize’ for each rider and there you go. But short of that, I guess you can just whip out your cell phone or digital camera and take your own picture of the score. But still, I think Disney has missed out here.
In promoting Toy Story Midway Many some Imagineers have played up the ability to change the video elements and create a whole new experience. Perhaps something themed to the holidays. That is a terrific idea. Alas, they also admit that nothing is in the cards for least the first year.
Breaking it Down
The fact that they’ve added a single rider line to the attraction tells you that it has capacity issues. I’m hearing that 1,100 to 1,200 guests an hour if they’re operating at peak proficiency. While there is only one track entering and leaving the ‘game area’, there are two tracks inside, which must have been needed to approach even a decent capacity.
The other issue is how early in the day will the fast passes gone. While the attraction has a larger capacity than your typical dark ride, it is also slower and lower than Buzz Lightyear. This suggests a delicate balancing act between the length of the standby queue and the percentage of capacity devoted to Fast Pass. I know this is not how Disney Operations calculates it… but let’s say the target length for the standby queue is 120 minutes at 1,100 PPH. That means you could give out 550 fast passes for any 60 minute period. Or 6050 over the average the 11 hour operating day. With just 24,000 guests in park at a time, that means just over 25% of guests will get a fastpass. It’s very likely that they’ll ‘sell out’ early in the day.
The other way to look at it is this. With 60-70 percent of the attraction capacity eaten up by fast pass and 5 percent eaten up by single rider, that means guests in the standby queue could spend 3-4 times the amount of time in line than they would have if there was no fast pass. In theory it all evens out, but in practicality it will suck rotten eggs to be in the standby queue for Toy Story Midway Mania.
Another Arrow in the Quiver of Ride Design
The big question for me is, does WDI see 4-D video games, essentially another flat screen attraction, as just another type of attraction they can add to the mix? Or is this an example of how they expect most attractions to function in the future. The danger of using screens (even 3-D screens) to be the focus of your attraction is that everybody has a screen in their home. Right now they’re typically smaller than what’s available in Disney theme parks, but technology changes fast and the cost for a huge wall sized screen in your own home will rapidly approach affordable. Then guests won’t have to visit a Disney theme park to get this sort of play. They can have it at home on their Wii. The game play is already there, now it’s just a matter of technology catching up with design.
Looking at the most recent attractions added to the park a large portion of them have featured flat-screen entertainment. Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, Gran Fiesta Tour (Mexico in Epcot), Canada movie, and Spaceship Earth all use that same tool to tell the story. Imagineering is very good at telling stories, but I hope the don’t get stuck using just this one tool. In fact, I would really like for their to be a hiatus for the flat-screen attraction until balance is restored.
So returning to the question–is having a video game be your ride the best way to attract, or retain, an audience? In the short term, the answer is yes. But in the long term, you have to give guests something they can’t get at home. Toy Story Midway Mania is a great ride, but I don’t think it has the right mix for the future. Could it fit in as part of a larger mix, sure and I hope that’s the direction Disney attractions are heading in.
In the meantime, get yourself out to Disney’s Hollywood Studio or California Adventure and get in line for Toy Story Midway Mania, you’ll enjoying and probably want to get right back in line again. I certainly did.