Themed Entertainment Association today honored Walt Disney World's Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway in the latest Thea Awards Digital Case Studies. These sessions allow industry professional to learn from the creators behind this year's Thea Award winners, with Charita Carter and Kevin Rafferty talking today about the making of the popular dark ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Located in the park's iconic Chinese Theater, the ride depicts a Mickey Mouse short film, "Perfect Picnic," come to life.
"Creating Mickey and Minnie's first ride attraction was a little bit daunting and it was exciting at the same time," Rafferty said. "It truly was a labor of love, and it was really all about Walt Disney's loves. Walt loved trains. He loved Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse, as you know, was born on a train and so we really celebrate that in the attraction."
Following a pre-show introduction in which guests watch the beginning of "Perfect Picnic," a surprise leads them into a trackless dark ride experience that takes guests through a variety of epic scenes from an action-packed Mickey Mouse cartoon adventure.
"We did not limit ourselves in terms of pulling things out of our toolbox," Carter said. "We use paint. In some cases, we use blacklight. We use print. We use projection. And of course it was very important to have as as much dimensionality in the sets, so that we can really deliver on putting our guests in an immersive environment."
But multiple tools can work to cross purposes if not managed. Rafferty talked about the challenges of making everything in the ride appear like a hand-drawn cartoon, which meant selecting paint that would work under a variety of lighting.
"We had to make the cartoon world believable," he said. "Some of our scenes are white light, some of them are UV blacklight and the locomotive had to work in both applications."
Runaway Railway also uses trackless ride vehicles, a selection that was key in helping to sell the concept.
"We treated [the ride vehicle] like a character," Carter said. "Instead of having a ride programmer program the vehicle, we actually had an animator program the vehicle because this vehicle does all kinds of things, [including to] give our guests an opportunity to actually dance with Daisy."
To reinforce the visual and visceral effects in the ride, the team at Walt Disney Imagineering turned to composer Christopher Willis, who scored the recent Mickey Mouse shorts and jumped at the opportunity to do the same for the attraction.
"Chris Willis is really kind of a master of genres," Rafferty said. "We have a carnival scene, an underwater scene, a big Western scene, and our direction to Chris was to capture [the feeling of] a movie score, like for a big John Ford western, and he really, really did that."
The team also planned smaller audio touches to help enrich the experience.
"The locomotive whistle is the actual tritone whistle that was used in 'Steamboat Willie' in 1928 - the actual whistle," Rafferty said. "There are a lot of little nods back to the heritage of the company, to Walt Disney and of course to Mickey, so you'll have to go through the attraction many times to pick out these little, subtle nods to the love that we have for the beginnings of the company and everybody that helped get it started."
For more on Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, which also is coming to Disneyland's Toontown in 2023, please read my review from its March 2020 opening in Florida: Disney gives Mickey Mouse a wild ride with 'Runaway Railway'.
And here is our full on-ride POV:
I also spoke with Kevin Rafferty about the attraction before it opened:
And with Charita Carter, after getting to ride for the first time:
Also honored today were Les Quais de Lutèce at France's Parc Astérix, the winner of the Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Themed Hotel, and Amazing Pollinators, winner of the Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Touring Exhibition, Limited Budget.
You can buy tickets via the TEA's website to watch the complete session on demand, as well as past and future sessions in the Thea Awards Digital Case Studies series.
Previous Thea Award 2021 Digital Case Studies:
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