Toy Story Midway Mania Opens at Disney's California Adventure

by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writer

Scheduled to open roughly a month behind its Florida sibling, the long-anticipated California version of Toy Story Midway Mania attraction opened at Disney's California Adventure (DCA) last week, bringing Disney and Pixar executives, Imagineers and media together for ride previews and interviews before the first park guests got to experience the ride Tuesday morning.

Monday – Preview Day

Before DCA opened Monday morning, the Paradise Pier area was already crowded with stages, photo risers, electrical runs, production lighting, radio remote tables and all the equipment needed by the hundreds of broadcast, print and online media on hand for the event. Toy Story Midway Mania was open to media and invited guests only, though most members of the media spent the early afternoon across the esplanade at Disneyland for a tour of the Innoventions Dream Home.

Pixar chief John Lasseter, who worked as a Disneyland cast member in summer 1978 as the attraction's skipper, took his habitual trip on the world famous Jungle Cruise at Disneyland Monday morning. By late afternoon, however, he had made his way to DCA, where he sat through a string of on-ride interviews with a parade of print and broadcast media.

John Lasseter, Academy Award-winning animator and the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios and Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering, poses with Mr. Potato Head. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Mr. Potato Head entertains the crowd, including (from left) Roger Gould, Kevin Rafferty, and John Lasseter. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Members of the media were each given a "Dream" pass that would allow up to four people to ride the new attraction during Monday's preview event, and encouraged to select guests from the park to take with them on the ride. Frank met Cindy and David Harper and their daughter Belle, who were ending their Disneyland Resort visit the day before Toy Story Midway Mania opened to the public, and invited them to join his own wife and daughter for a spin through the ride. Once word spread that some people were passing out tickets to ride, a small crowd of would-be riders formed near the exit, asking anyone with a media badge if they had an extra ticket.

David and Belle Harper begin their ride through Toy Story Midway Mania during the media preview. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Night falls on Paradise Bay Monday night. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

A walk through the Midway

The attraction broke down near the end of the preview, giving members of the media stuck inside the building a rare opportunity to see some of the inner workings of the attraction with the house lights on, and to snap photos as cast members walked them from the building.

The ride sets are designed to make average-height riders feel about 14-inches tall. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The ride vehicles have hidden steps built into the center platform, which cast members can deploy if needed to allow riders to step from the platform in the event of an evacuation. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The ride track is 5,026 toy soldiers long. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Andy's room is filled with well-known board games, many of which are sold in the gift shop at the attraction exit. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The ride environment includes little details like the pop-out concession stands shown on the Midway Mania "box." Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Imagineers had to wear 3-D glasses during the art direction of the black light effects. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Hamm is said to contain over $6 in change, which he spills during the prize scene. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Disney claims that riders could break over one million virtual plates each day. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Over 150 computers are used to generate the ride's real-time computer graphics. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Tuesday – Opening Day

The first hopeful riders arrived outside DCA at 6:00 Tuesday morning to start a line that would eventually grow to hold over 1,200 people by the time the ride opened to the public. Inside the park, the media and invited guests gathered in the Paradise Bay amphitheater for the grand opening ceremony. While the crowd was still filing into their seats, an airplane passed high overhead and a "green airborne squadron" jumped from the plane and began a slow spiral to the ground. Each safe landing drew gasps and applause from the crowd, especially from a group of children from a local private school who had been invited to attend the ceremony.

Paradise Bay serves as the stage for the grand opening ceremony. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Disney Parks Chief Magic Official Justin Muchoney greets young guests. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

A green army soldier makes a perfect landing in Paradise Bay. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

A green army sergeant took the stage to begin the ceremony with an official roll call of toys, but first needed to make sure all of the "toys" were out of the bay. "Come on soldier, out of the water—we already found Nemo!" he shouted to the last, then introduced Disneyland Resort President Ed Grier. Grier acknowledged the City of Anaheim officials in the audience, including Anaheim Mayor Kurt Pringle. Of the new ride, Grier said, "It's a dream come true for guests of all ages, and one we're excited to bring to life during our year of a million dreams."

Jay Rasulo recognizes the Imagineers who developed Toy Story Midway Mania. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Grier then introduced Jay Rasulo, Chairman Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Rasulo thanked the Imagineers who created what he called one of their most energetic and immersive experiences yet. Rasulo next introduced Bob Iger, President and CEO Walt Disney Company. Iger called the new attraction, "a shining example of what happens when great creativity meets technological innovation."

Iger introduced John Lasseter, who spoke for a few moments about the creation of the Toy Story film, and the development of the new attraction. "At Pixar ,we love to do things that have never been done before, and that's why collaborating with Walt Disney Imagineering has been so exciting for me, because this is group of folks who love to do what has bever been done before as well," Lasseter said. "I tell you, put Pixar and Imagineering together and you get Toy Story Mania." Lasseter also refered to the new ride as, "the start of the rebirth of Disney's California Aventure," a comment that drew a loud round of applause from the Imagineers in the audience. He mentioned the upcoming Little Mermaid attraction and Cars Land addition, then called for the Green Army sergeant to return to the stage to give a pregame mission briefing.

John Lasseter points toward the location of the new Little Mermaid attraction. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The Green Army band takes the stage. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Woody reports for character roll call. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

As the sergeant took a roll call of characters, Bo Peep, Bullseye, Jessie, and Woody reported to the stage. Buzz Lightyear, however, did not appear when called. Just as the space ranger was about to be labeled AWOL, Lasseter stepped in to remind the sergeant that Buzz was on a special mission aboard the International Space Station. Through the miracle of modern satellite technology, the audience was able to make contact with Buzz, hard at work aboard the ISS.

Former astronaut Colonel Jim "Vegas" Kelly waves to the crowd. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Buzz Lightyear reports from the International Space Station Photo by Frank Anzalone.

John Lasseter watches Buzz Lightyear demonstrate weightlessness. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Lasseter's reaction after that segment was, "Wow that is awesome! I'm sorry, to see a character that you created floating in space—that is amazing!" Lasseter introduced Dr. Joyce Winterton, NASA education assistant administrator, who spoke for a few moments about the Toys in Space program and encouraged the audience to visit the NASA Web site to download materials from the Space Ranger Education Series.

The sergeant took the stage again and announced it was time to take aim at the target covering the entrance to the attraction, but Woody observed that the army men were armed only with drumsticks, and said his six-shooter was lost somewhere in Andy's room. Jessie stepped up to display her "very own, genuine spring action shooter, just the like ones in Toy Story Mania!" Boasting that she never missed, she took aim at the target and fired a pyrotechnic-assisted salvo across the bay. The target disappeared in a burst of fireworks and confetti, revealing a huge assembly of Pixar characters gathered on the far stage.

Jessie takes aim at the target covering the new attraction. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Jessie scores a direct hit. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The target disappears to reveal a crowd of Pixar characters. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Once the ceremony ended the Disney executives and invited guests were escorted across the bridge toward the attraction, followed by the line of park visitors who had been waiting since before the park opened to ride the newest attraction. Cast members estimated the line to be approximately two to three hours long by park opening, but they didn't factor in ride malfunction that closed the attraction for about an hour shortly after it opened. Toy Story Mania broke down while the first "official" riders were on the ride, and they were given readmission passes so they could return later in the day.

The ceremony ends in a burst of confetti. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Ed Grier, Jay Rasulo, Bob Iger and John Lasseter pose with even more Pixar characters. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

A group of Imagineers poses with John Lasseter. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

By 1:00, the estimate of the line ranged wildly, with cast members quoting waits of anywhere from three to 10 hours. Riders who were exiting the line around 1:30 said they had been in line since 9:30 in the morning, but their wait was impacted by the delayed opening of the ride (the ride did not open to the public until 11) and then a nearly hour-long downtime shortly after opening.

Ed Grier greets riders at the exit of Toy Story Midway Mania. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Bob Iger stands at the exit of Toy Story Midway Mania. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The queue for the new attraction began outside A Bug's Land on opening day. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

Hopeful riders waited as long as four hours to experience the new ride. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

The wait from this point was said to be 80 minutes. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

Tuesday – Disney and NASA

After the ceremony was over, and once they got a chance to see the new ride, the schoolchildren invited to the event returned to the amphitheater where each received a Buzz Lightyear toy. Dr. Joyce Winterton, NASA Assistant Administrator for Education and astronaut James M. Kelly led the students through a brief science experiment as part of NASA's Toys in Space educational program.

Children play with their new Bizz Lightyear toys. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The Green Army sergeant shows the children how to salute. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The children participate in an experiment with a NASA astronaut. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Dr. Joyce Winterton and former astronaut Colonel Jim "Vegas" Kelly represented NASA at the ceremony. Photo by Frank Anzalone.