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Orlando theme-park goers preview Toy Story Mania
Mr. Potato Head nailed it.
"It's a ride; it's game. It's a game; it's a ride," the 5-foot animatronic tater barked at guests waiting to board Toy Story Mania, a coming attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.
Thousands of riders -- all Walt Disney World annual pass holders -- lined up Saturday for a special preview of the 3-D attraction, some of them waiting hours to play virtual midway games. Disney says the official opening will be May 31, but the pass holder-only preview continues today and Monday.
When we arrived at 9 a.m. Saturday, the line snaked from outside the new ride through the Animation Courtyard arch and back toward the park's iconic sorcerer hat.
"Is this the line for Little Mermaid?" we joked. No such luck. Disney fans line up early to be the first on their block to lock in bragging rights to a new ride. They'll sweat it out whatever the temperature.
Once inside, a four-person car zipped us through five games of skill featuring characters such as Woody, Bo Peep and Ham from the Toy Story movies. Don't worry if you have problems with motion sickness -- the car doesn't move very fast or spin too much.
The first stop was just for practice, giving riders a chance to learn to fire a "spring-action shooter" shaped like a miniature cannon. Within seconds we were caught up in the world of virtual reality, almost believing that we were firing actual pies at the bull's-eye targets.
The realistic, three-dimensional launch effects give Toy Story Mania an edge over other point-and-shoot attractions, including another Toy Story-based ride, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin at the Magic Kingdom. My misfires along the edge of the screen showed up as comic duds.
After supposedly learning how to hit the target, we progressed to eggs, darts, baseballs and rings. It's fun to launch things, but don't stop to admire your handiwork. Keep firing. High scores come from shooting rapidly. The launchers can fire six objects per second. My thumb grew numb.
Like a shooting gallery, different targets have different values and effects. If you hit a water balloon you get sprayed with mist. You can also take aim at ducks, trees, plates and little green aliens. I picked off high-point objects lurking at the bottom of the screen.
At one point I felt as though I was suffering from sensory overload. There were objects shattering, oversized toys looming nearby, variations on the movie's signature song, "You've Got a Friend in Me," filling the air.
But my inner game-boy was challenged and competition with seatmates added fun and intensity to the experience.
Although nobody will need special skills or training, I found the ring-toss game to be the most challenging, requiring the most patience, accuracy and finesse.
Disney purists who think each attraction should carry a strong storyline might be disappointed with Mania. The interaction with the Toy Story characters is peripheral to the game-playing. We were told that the action takes place under a bed, amid other toys, and that the scale of the ride is intended to make you feel toy-sized. But once the game is on, size doesn't matter.
Cutting down to toy size
To set the mood for riders, the toys are out in force before you even enter the attraction, which took over the old Who Wants to Be a Millionaire -- Play It space.
Oversized green army men, Tinkertoys, used crayons and citizens of the Barrel of Monkeys dominate the entrance. A gigantic night light and the cloud motif from Andy's room in the movies greets you in the entry hall. The next room features jumbo-sized Candyland on the wall, Chutes and Ladders on the ceiling, king-sized Disneyland View-Master wheels alongside large checkers, dominoes and Old Maid cards. Guests grab 3-D glasses from a hutch constructed of Lincoln Logs. Parents grow nostalgic.
And just as we were about to overdose on the larger-than-life theme, we ran into Mr. Potato Head. The spud -- voiced by Don Rickles -- makes wisecracks. Some of his barbs are blatantly generic ("Hey, you in the Mickey Mouse shirt"), some of the jokes are groaners, and his computerized pacing could use tweaking. But Mr. Potato Head's moving parts -- lips, mustache, eyebrows, glowing eyes -- are spectacular.
And he responded to our pleas to pull out his right ear, a trademark stunt. That was a definite crowd pleaser.
Next, we entered a stairwell that built anticipation before the loading area. More toys and board games awaited us. Five short minutes later it was all over, and we were heading to the back of the line -- ready to play again.
Dewayne Bevil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5477. Read his Theme Park Rangers blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/tpr