1,200 Critics Sing Praises of Disneyland's New Toon : Amusement parks: Free sneak peek puts the attraction to the test, and a tough crowd of kids says it passed with flying colors.


Chip 'n Dale weren't home. Musta gone Christmas shopping. But Raelene Casias and her cohorts couldn't resist the chipmunks' acorn pit.

She took a flying leap and sank to her 3-year-old neck in a sea of brown and yellow pods. Squealing in delight, the toddler from Anaheim flung an armful into the air, sending giant plastic acorns cascading onto the heads of her equally ecstatic pals.

Welcome to Mickey's Toontown, that imaginary land come to life where Mickey Mouse, his love, Minnie, and a host of familiar Disney cartoon characters hang their hats in Disneyland's North Forty. This pastel world of rolling trolley cars, blaring music and puffed-up houses that seem ready to dance away has been off-limits to "non-Toons" all these years. But Disneyland cognoscenti say the "Toons" recently decided to let in the rest of the world.

On Tuesday, Raelene and 1,199 other youngsters from barrio recreation centers, children's clubs and churches across Orange County got a free sneak peak at Disneyland's eighth and newest attraction, which will open officially Jan. 26.

"These kids, a lot of 'em, live right behind Disneyland, but they never get to come here," said Raelene's dad, Joe Casias, who was helping to chaperon his own daughter and son and dozens of other children from the Jeffrey-Lynne barrio community center.

"Their parents don't have much money, so they don't have much to look forward to at Christmas," explained Casias, a maintenance mechanic recuperating from back surgery who otherwise couldn't afford the $100 or so it costs to take a family of four to Disneyland these days. "This is an extra special Christmas present for them."

Aside from it being a good deed, Disneyland President Jack Lindquist said, the free invitation to the youthful hordes was a chance to work out any "bugs" before Toontown's grand opening.

"We've got 1,200 real tough critics out here," Lindquist said, beaming at the kids whizzing past his ankles. "From what I'm hearing, it sounds like we've got a hit on our hands."

Between interviews with a gaggle of TV, newspaper and radio reporters invited along to record the event, Lindquist said one young visitor buttonholed him to announce what he liked best about this new haven behind Fantasyland.

"He said, 'I like it because there's no signs that say Don't Touch or Don't Walk Here.' "

The idea behind Toontown was to take children of all ages into the realm of cartoon characters, to make it "a living, breathing, three-dimensional cartoon environment," according to Dave Burkhart, senior show producer for Walt Disney Imagineering. "Everything is exaggerated . . . to convey the cartoonish elements. . . . There are no straight lines or conventional architecture here."

No kidding.

Toontown City Hall looks like a Victorian-era clapboard ready to burst out laughing. Above the post office, Miss Clara Cluck, that "coloratura par eggcellance," can be heard trilling from the pumpkin-shaped turret room of her second-floor singing studio.

Goofy Gas, the town petrol depot, has fish swimming in its gas pumps and a sign that reads: "If we can't fix it, we won't."

Across the way, Goofy has parked his green roadster at the curb in front of his house. Well, on the curb, to be exact. With front grill smashed into the post of his chock-full mailbox.

From inside come peals of laughter and a strange squishing sound multiplied 20-fold. Peek through the twine window screens of Goofy's Bounce House and you see a roomful of children bouncing off overstuffed Naugahyde chairs and walls. And no matter how many times a ride attendant patiently tells visitors to stay off the stuffed black fireplace, there is always one or two in each group who insist on climbing aboard for a belly flop into the forgiving floor.

One such swan diver just missed 4-year-old Shatawnee Robinson from the Friendship Baptist Church of Yorba Linda. Shatawnee was oblivious, though, her cornrow braids flapping in the air as she bounced ever higher. Finally, her little legs seemed to give out and she collapsed in a ball of giggles with her friend, Lashara Biaylock, also 4.

"I think this was goofy," Shatawnee squealed, flashing a gap-toothed smile as she put on her shoes and prepared to sprint toward the "Miss Daisy," Donald Duck's floating abode, which rides high in the shallow water of Toon Lake.

Across the boulevard and inside Mickey's House, an oversize yellow telephone rang and rang. Eleven-year-old Jason Villarreal from the La Habra Boys and Girls Club fairly slid across the floor to answer it. But the receiver wouldn't come off. Instead, a giant mouse-eared answering machine switched on and Mickey's voice told the caller he was "in his movie studio" behind the house.

"I like this place!" said the fifth-grader from La Habra's Walnut Elementary School.

Next door, in Minnie Mouse's lavender-roofed cottage, Eddie (Chacho) Molina clambered atop a kiddie-size kitchen table and tried to grab one of the luscious-looking chocolate chip cookies piled high on a plate.

"Hey! You can't get these cookies!" the 5-year-old shouted, frowning darkly. He reached again for a cookie, then peered inside the table to figure out why he couldn't seem to grab one.

The boy from the Santa Ana Girls and Boys Club had never seen a hologram, a three-dimensional image produced by lasers conveniently tucked inside the table, but he soon seemed to resign himself to the fact that his sweet tooth would go unsated here. Instead, he began turning dials on the stove. The oven light came on. Inside, a three-layer cake complete with candle rose up, warming to a purple and pink frosted glow.

Eddie laughed and clapped. Suddenly, the cake collapsed back into its pan, a fallen angel and one more sweet to slip through his fingers. Eddie sprang up to turn still another dial. Soon the stove began to shake and the percolator began bubbling over and whistling, while pots, pans and spoons overhead rattled and hummed.

Wide-eyed, as though fearing the whole kitchen might explode, Eddie darted outside and over to Mickey's barn, the famous mouse's converted movie studio. There, on the set, was Mickey, beckoning little Eddie to join him.

"You've got a lot of potential kid!" shouted Drew, the ride attendant-turned director of Mickey's latest cinematic escapade.

"I'm gonna tell my agent, and we'll set you up with a good picture deal, kid," brayed the director, as a smiling Eddie hugged Mickey tightly.

Ask any kid at Toontown on Tuesday, and hands down, the favorite attraction was Gadget's Go-Coaster, a furious, rip-roaring 30-second roller-coaster ride.

Lillie Sprecher, 7, and Jennifer Werner, 6, mates from the Garden Grove Kids Club, were practically speechless as they stepped from Go-Coaster's millipede-like cars.

"It was fun," gasped Lillie, as she and her friend prepared to line up again for yet a third turn in the fast seat.

Beside the town square's fountain, Jonathan Foertsch was taking a breather.

"Toontown is really pretty good, even though I'm 11 years old," said the sixth-grader from Enders School who was one of the Garden Grove Kids Club contingent.

"This is more for little kids, but I'm still having a whole bunch of fun," said Jonathan. "I really would like to thank the guys who made this happen."

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