The case against Toy Story Midway Mania
What are the theme park rides you love or hate the most? You might have seen lists like this on your Facebook wall, where people copy and paste entries such as:
Attraction I love -
Attraction I hate -
Attraction I cherish -
Attraction I laugh all the way through -
You get the idea.
When I posted my list, my response to "Disney attraction I hate" was Toy Story Midway Mania. Friends seemed confounded that I could hate such a popular ride. What I want to know is why it is so popular? Theme park enthusiasts are so critical about the use of screens in attractions, and more specifically 3-D screens. So why are they practically giddy over Toy Story Midway Mania? I just don't get it.
Here's what I think: It's popular because it's a first-person-shooter video game. That's it. But is the opportunity to improve your score with each visit really enough for this "ride" to skate past the loathing people feel towards other rides that use screens and 3-D in much more effective ways?
Let's face it, Toy Story Midway Mania is a textbook example of what people hate most about screen rides. On top of it, this is an attraction that has absolutely no business being a ride in the first place. So why is this shooter the exception to the generally accepted hatred for screen rides? Toy Story is an extremely popular franchise so it's no surprise that Disney would want to capitalize on it. An entire section for it exists in Hong Kong and in Paris, and a land is in development in Orlando. Sadly I think Walt Disney Imagineering did some of its least successful work on Midway Mania. Is it a popular ride? Obviously. So much so a third track was recently installed in Florida. Is it a great ride? No, and I will get to that. But first, let's first talk about screen rides. Why are they are so hated, yet TSMM is so well regarded?
Full disclosure – I have nothing against screen-based attractions. I think they are the most effective way to bring theme park guests into the story of movie based IPs or when recognizable human actors are involved. As proof, I offer up The Great Movie Ride, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and The Indiana Jones Adventure. All are massive, traditional dark rides with huge practical sets and multiple Audio Animatronic figures of well-known, real life people. The sort of rides FanBoys (and Girls) long for. But do you really think the Ripley figure draws you into the story being told, or do you look at her and think, "Wow, that looks nothing like Sigourney Weaver!" This is not the case on the various Harry Potter attractions, which use screens to depict the actors who performed in the films.
The story that is being told should dictate the technology used for the attraction. If the storytellers want to place us on a mysterious island where a giant ape and dinosaurs fight to the death, the best way to transport us there is with huge 3-D screens. If the story tellers want us to have the sensation of flying on a hang glider over California (or eventually around the world) suspending us in an IMAX dome theater is the best way to do that. In other words, screens are not bad when used the right way. Are they being used too much? Not if they are the right technology for the story that is going to be presented.
So, now let's compare a few different shooter rides and evaluate what makes a shooter great. Later we'll see how Toy Story Midway Mania misses the boat on almost every single point.
Universal Studios' Men in Black: Alien Attack (2000) - The entire building tells a really rich story. It does this with humor, action, and adventure. At MIB you go through physical sets shooting at more than 125 animated figures during game play. Every aspect places you into the MIB universe and makes you a part of the experience. Not only can you work towards a higher score with each visit, but you compete against players on an opposing vehicle. Your performance along with the others on your vehicle trigger a unique ending that involves even more AA figures and a message from the film's star... but you may or may not remember all of that based on how well you did, rookie.
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (1998) - Here you are given a mission in the queue to help Buzz defeat Evil Emperor Zurg. The ride is intended for a much younger audience so the game play is not so sophisticated, but it's not meant to be. One of the best aspects of BLSRS is that you get to control the rotate of your vehicle. This allows you to shoot at the targets all around your vehicle making the ride track a full 360-degree environment. It also allows you to interact with the riders in the cars around you. As a result you get to make decisions about the ride as it goes along and you engage with other riders around you. Your score may be your own, but you are fighting as a team to defeat the evil Zurg.
Tokyo Disneyland's Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek (2009) - Breaking the mold, this is a shooter with no screens and no points awarded. When you shine your flashlight on targets, it triggers animated effects with delightful and funny results. I rode it in 2015. About a quarter of the way through I put my flashlight down. I wanted to enjoy everything unfolding in front of me. Looking for targets caused me to narrow my focus and I wanted to enjoy the entire experience. Is it a shooter? Yes and no. Does it make you want to take repeat rides based on the game play? Absolutely. There is so much to see you could never catch it all in only one ride through. There's just no score given.
There are many other shooter games out there beyond Disney and Universal. The Six Flags chain continues to add Justice League: Battle for Metropolis to additional parks. Knott's has Voyage to the Iron Reef and Legoland just opened NINJAGO The Ride, which is unique in that you use karate-style hand motions to fire at the targets. You can read reviews by other fans like you here on Theme Park Insider to see how successful they are.
So, why is Midway Mania so popular? I really can't say. What I can do is tell you where I think it misses the mark on being a great shooter ride.
- First and most frustratingly, this shouldn't be a ride. The motion of your vehicle has nothing to do with the game experience. As far as the actual game goes, what you do on TSMM is fine. The 3-D effects are good and a few air blasts are included to draw you into the action. But why bother making it a ride? For the price of the ride system Disney World could have installed several hundred comfy couches inside the abandoned sound stages with individual screens. The hourly throughput would likely have been better than what the third track provides now.
- Another sore point is how the vehicles transport players between screens to play different games. Why? Since everything is video, each of the games could be shown at the same station. Moving between screens is almost a cruel joke. First time I rode I assumed I was going to be taken somewhere that would eventually have physical sets, AA figures, anything to improve the overall experience. Sadly, no — just another screen with another game that I could have played sitting on a comfy couch.
- The time you spend moving between screens is also pointless. There is nothing of any great interest to look at and the movement is often jarring and sudden. It is such a lost opportunity. Where are the fun interstitial scenes featuring AA figures? They could have been included and would have added more real dimension and story progression to the experience.
- As discussed earlier, screens are the best storytelling device to bring us into worlds where real humans are involved. Toy Story has no real humans, just toys and cartoon versions of humans. This would have been a perfect opportunity to populate the ride track with AA figures of the movie's characters. I'm not saying the action from the games played in TSMM could have been completely replaced using AA figures, but they could have been included alongside the screens to cheer us on OR play against us. There also could have been a couple of scenes utilizing old fashioned shooting gallery style physical props.
- Nothing goes horribly wrong. It's the most popular tropes used in modern dark ride development. The Cat in the Hat creates a mess while our Mother is out. The boat goes off course while taking a cruise through Hadrosaur Cove. The police are chasing us as we try to get ET home to the Green Planet. Having something go horribly wrong gives the ride a story arc and allows the riders - either passively or actively – to feel invested in what's happening. With a great villain like Sid in the Toy Story universe, why isn't there a need at some point use our shooters (they are never called guns, are they?) to stop him from doing something Sid-like to one of the toys? Radiator Springs Racers is another ride where nothing goes horribly wrong. We are just along for a really fun high speed ride through monument valley – except we aren't! This is a race. A competition between us and against them. At the end, one car wins and one car does not. RSRs isn't a shooter, but make no mistake, there is competition happening and that's one reason it is so much fun.
- TSMM lacks the element of competition against other riders. Men in Black is great because about halfway through the ride (SPOILER ALERT) you discover the passengers on the vehicle across the track from you are, in fact, escaped space criminals that need to be recaptured. This pits you in completion against them. The creative team was very cunning in designing the game so that you shot not at other people but at the exhaust port on their vehicle. Each hit gives you points and sends the other car spinning. This is fun for the shooter and hampers the score of the other competitors. But there's no "playing defense" like this on TSMM.
- TSMM hides the element of team work. As an individual riding MIB, you are hoping to get the highest score for bragging rights, but in the end the total score of your vehicle determines if your group "gets to wear the suit." This open, common goal among the riders provides a feeling of camaraderie among the recruits on your vehicle and fosters a desire for success for all. TSMM rewards riders for cooperating on several "Easter eggs" on the ride, but only dedicated fans who read about the ride online learn about those. Most riders go through with no idea that they can work together for a higher score.
There is one element where I think TSMM uses its technology in a very successful way. During a ride stop or delay the system has the ability to extend play, without scoring benefit, for riders who are on hold. This keeps people pacified and entertained while problems are resolved. Very smart.
So with Toy Story Midway Mania, what we have is a ride that has no business being a ride. It moves you between multiple screens that could just as easily have been shown on one screen placed in front players on a super comfy sofa. There is no interaction between players. There is no feeling of team work and there is no element of competition between players other than final the score. While traveling between screens there is a nothing to look other than the occasional glimpses of other cars moving between other sets of screens in the dark. All this happens as nothing goes horribly wrong.
In short, it's a lot like what a kid in a stroller must experience while being pushed through the TV section at Best Buy.
It's fun. More fun than some others. Nonetheless, It's once and done, but many ride it over again. I prefer Buzz.
I think Midway Mania makes thematic sense only at Disney California Adventure, where it's supposed to be an extension of the carnival games on the Paradise Pier midway.
I'll be honest, I've only been on this ride once and that was enough. I get it, it's fun in its own way, kids love it but just not for me. I tend to dislike some of the "shooting ride" games like Buzz Lightyear's Ranger Spin and Men in Black Alien Attack already. This to me is just a waste and I can't believe it when I hear it has two hour wait lines. It's not to me an issue of the video screens, it's just that I enjoy an actual ride not some huge game thing so you're not alone Rob in thinking this isn't that great an experience.
Disney needed a fast answer to "The Simpsons", and, thus, TSMM was born. In Orlando, most of the tourists are on "Once in a Lifetime" trips so the popularity may not fade for a long time.
You hit the nail on the head. TTMM is alright, but that's about it. There are so many better shooter attractions out there. You score extra points for Ride and go Seek, a far superior attraction on all levels.
Above it all it's also a Wii game. The exact same thing can be experienced at home in 3D. I was hoping they at least had easter or christmas overlays but it's the same old mediocre gameplay as the thing at home.
Good article, Rob, and you make some interesting points. I think Robert also makes a good point that the ride made a bit more sense in its original location on the California "midway" than it does anywhere else.
Disneyland was not the definitive disruption of the amusement park industry, not even close. There were 2,000 amusement parks in the US in 1920, but only about 400 by 1954, so they were dying well before Disneyland came along. Radio, film and television were by far bigger disruptors not only because they competed for people's leisure time, but because they provided a more persuasive illusionary spectacle, and a more realistic and edifying window on other cultures and landmarks than the amusement parks could do in their sideshows and "cultural" exhibits.
Tony Perkins, you are correct that Disneyland did not kill amusement parks. But what you forgot is that Disneyland actually saved them. Almost every park after Disneyland copied it in some way or another. Disney didn't destroy the amusement park, he saved them from going extinct by evolving the amusement park into the theme park.
That's not true. What Disneyland did is create a new industry - theme parks, backed by media conglomerates or large corporate parents. Theme parks are and were a very different industry in many ways from the old family-owned mechanical amusement parks. A few evolved, but most amusement parks and fairy tale lands continued to die out after 1955, including one of the originals, Steeplechase at Coney Island in 1964. Urban amusement parks were hit particularly hard by the rise of car culture and white flight to the suburbs in the 50's. Theme parks grew in their place (in the suburbs and exurbs) including the big boys of the industry today: Six Flags, Legoland, Universal, Sea World, Dollywood, etc. A couple of Cedar Fair parks may be an exception, though I would argue that Knott's was already a theme park (or heritage village) in 1955, and certainly not a mechanical amusement park. In sum, Disney neither saved nor killed the amusement park industry.
"But I can play it just as well at home. There's no need for this to be taking up valuable space in a park in its current form."
It's one of my favorite rides. I only do the ride with a fast pass,though. I get what you are saying about the ride and screen rides, but as one gets older some of the other rides are just to rough on the neck and back. My husband doesn't do roller coasters or even tower of terror. So not much left in DHS that is fun or competitive. Also,I probably like it best because I have beaten my husband's score 74 out of 75 times! You can see I am addicted to Toy Story Mania(Disney World). It is just what Melanie said, It's like a simple video game where you try to constantly improve your score.
Before Toy Story Mania 3rd track/Toy Story Land was announced, I had hoped that Monsters Inc Laugh Floor would move into DHS. That would have cut down the demand for TSM, and would have provided another repeatable attraction in that area, but oh well. Instead we get a third track, a lazy clone of a flat ride, and a barely-themed coaster. Remind me why "Nobody can touch us" WDI recycles half it's ideas, again?
I suspect the reason Toy Story is so popular at DHS is that it quite literally is (and has been since opening) the only ride for kids in the park. The lines at DCA are rarely as bad
Just like what James Trexen said. I asked a cast member once back when Disney world still used paper fast passes why Toy Story's fast passes ran out so much more quickly than the other big rides at the park and he said it's because toy story midway mania is the only one of the e-ticket rides at that park that didn't have a height requirement so everyone(with and without kids) flocked there first to get a fastpass so they didn't have to wait in a 2 hour or more line.
Tony Perkins, my point was that Disneyland is what started a shift in the amusement park industry industry that was dying before Disneyland came around. Yes most theme parks are now owned by large companies. But no matter who owns them, the amusement park morphed into the theme park thanks to Disney. We basically agree, all I'm trying to say is that Disney rivived the dying amusement park industry by creating it's successor. Without Disneyland or something similar, we'd have no amusement parks owned by anybody.
Many of us are restricted to the types of rides we can go on but continue to go back to Disney for the magic and the charm. This is one that everyone can manage (dumbo and the carousel become hated after very many Disney trips). Whereas this and Buzz have a certain charm about them that keeps us coming back. If this was done on sofas as you suggest it would (for me) be a video game, not a ride and not what we go to Disney for. We go to Disney to bring out our inner child (with our kids) - this does it. The Great Movie ride absolutely does not.
I, for one, never said that I hate screen-based attractions. What I and many others have said, is that Universal has been using screens as a crutch for several years. And that's not opinion, that's fact -- most of their new attractions have been mostly screens. And I, and lots of others have stated that we want more variety from our theme park experience. That has nothing to do with TSMM. Disney does currently offer much more variety than Universal. TSMM is part of that mix, whereas with Universal, the screens are becoming "more of the same."
I always though Midway Mania was cute. Not good enough to warrant the line ups, but amusing in itself.
TSMM offers me absolutely nothing. Well except the queue...and it's a physical set. Yet honestly I am not enthralled by interactive attractions in general. When I play, it's stressful to me personally even if playing alone and not competing against family or friends. But from a technical standpoint, I agree with Rob 100%. Having only done it once in my life, we waited standby that day. So the payoff experience for me was not worth the time investment.
You know it's funny because they actually have a Nintendo Wii "Toy Story Mania Midway" game that is identical to the ride except it doesn't move.
If fans could over-think an attraction, this would be a perfect example.
I have to agree Rob, and had never considered TSMM in the lights you've shed upon it. I've always considered it a far cry from the best shooter in the world, MIB, but I think people get caught up in the rush to get on it and consider it a "must do" because of it's artificially limited capacity. The biggest problem I have with it is that because its throughput is so low, it's difficult for a typical visitor (even one why comes every year or 2) to get any good at it, because you're lucky to get more than 2 or 3 cracks at it on any trip.
I'm with you, Robert, in that I HATE the movement of the vehicles. I'm fine with screen-based rides and have the luck never to suffer from motion sickness but the horrible herky-jerky motion of the TSMM ride is very disconcerting. I feel like I always end up banging my elbow or bracing for swerves and spins in unpleasant ways. As a transition between screens, I always find it an abrupt and uncool break in what should be a more seamless experience.
It's simple. Because it's FUN! That's why it's there and has a line. Going and doing things at a theme park should be fun, and that's what this ride is, FUN!
I think the movement of the vehicles is accentuated by the seating design. The smooth, flat, bench coupled with a relatively loose lap bar, means that riders are going to move much more dramatically when the vehicles move or change directions. I think if there was a contoured (bucket) seat and more secure lap bar, riders would not feel the vehicle movement as much.
Probably mentioned above, but Toy Story Midway Mania is good for one ride if the wait is below 15 minutes (either coast). The one thing I do enjoy about the ride is the whimsical music that is sampled from the films.
What I find charming about TSMM is the set-up of the carnival games; we are transported to the world of toys and get to play games on their scale (size-wise). There is the nostalgia for the simple games like the ring toss and balloon darts. I do not have a video game unit nor a smart phone so my game time has been limited to arcades and actual mid-way games at the county fairs (they are less expensive then Theme Park games). This is a chance for my family to ride and play all together, as someone mentioned above 3 generations of family can all enjoy the ride. As far as the footprint at DCA - California Scream'n is built over the show building and the ride itself does fit the idea of the boardwalk with its carnival games. Does anyone remember that Walt Disney himself did not want any carnival games at his theme parks; DCA certainly broke that mold and TSMM fits that particular theme.
I think Russ Meyer really hit the nail on the head.(Faster, Pussycat!) DHS needed more attractions. Disney bought Pixar to put its characters to use. Unfortunately, the midway theme doesn't match up with its DHS surroundings, another example of uninspired attraction cloning/transplanting. It's important to remember that the reason The Haunted Mansion and Pirates are not walk-throughs is to keep guests from stopping and gawking and photographing and holding up the line. The attraction needed to move people along in an Imagineer-dictated manner-hence, the ride vehicles. It's fun and the responsiveness and synch of the controls and images are great, but hardly worth the wait. I much prefer MIB: AA's fantastic physical set (and lack of a pull-string). And Robert, as much as I love Spidey's balance of physical and projected environments, I'll take the awesome animatronic T-Rex and Stego (and all the other AAs you mentioned) at UNIVERSE OF ENERGY to a projected Kong any day. Physical props and sets are what I want from a great dark ride.
What I love about this article is that it made me hate a ride I didn't know I hated. :)
Great article, Rob! Please write more of these common sense critiques. Maybe someone at Disney is listening.
As a ride, Toy Story Midway Mania isn't that great. The whole experience consists of moving to a screen, stopping to do something, then moving on to the next screen. This is the problem I have with EVERY screen-based interactive dark ride (hence why Sally shooters are my favorite interactive rides). While TSMM does try to spice it up slightly with the spinning, it is still more of a traveling show than a legitimate ride.
I was greatly disappointed with the Wii game. Far too short and did not give the same experience as the attraction.
I disagree with pretty much everything you said here. The travelling between screens gives the feeling of being sugar high at a carnival, dashing from game to game. I find it strange you listed RSR as having a better competitive element than TSMM, since the competitive element of RSR is completely pointless, as you race against people you've never met, in a race you have no impact on. Another thing you've missed is TSMM's variety compared to MIB and Buzz. I think the appeal of TSMM is in it's childlike simplicity like a kid playing with toys, all your additions would overcomplicate it. As for the lack of cooperation with others, I don't play any shooter like that, but fair enough TSMM doesn't allow for much cooperation. Finally, you didn't mention the one thing that I DO think is a legit problem with TSMM: The guns are a pain, especially for disabled guests.
Buzz Lightyear ride is by far better with the same principle mainly because instead of screens the targets are practical sets.
KittyKatta, your comment made me laugh out loud.
I've only been able to ride this twice in years, due to the long wait. I'd rather go wait in the short Single Rider line for one of my DCA faves - GRR or RSR. I think the draw of TSMM is that it is the only Toy Story ride. Toy Story has a loyal following. That aside, they need to refurbish the screens, projections, whatever their technology is for this ride. It's showing it's age. My DCA faves that I love: GRR, RSR....I hate Space Mountain - the queue looks like an abandoned mall from the 1970's. And it reminds me that Disney is still cheap when it comes to truly refurbishing and updating rides.
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