‘TOON IN, TURN ON, SPIN OUT : Kids Groove to Disney’s Newest Thrill, a Silly Wabbit Wide

<i> Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

Urban blight has hit Mickey’s Toontown.

When Disneyland’s eighth and newest land opened last year, it was a bright and colorful place with nary a shadow of threat or danger. That has changed with the opening of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, which with its grimy back alleys and nefariously plotting weasels gives Toontown a dark edge closer to its novel and movie roots.

The ride has been open and advertised for several weeks, although park officials have scheduled the official opening for next week. On a recent weekday, the attraction drew a steady stream of visitors despite a small park crowd; all who were interviewed professed to enjoy the ride.

A few of the very youngest park guests came out with tear-stained faces or hands over ears, frightened by the noise of the effects-laden ride. Others, though, came through bravely.


“I drove a funny car . . . I drove silly,” said 2-year-old Stephanie Gulaga of Edmonton, Canada, speaking through an interpreter (her father, Kelly). Dominic Izzo, 3 1/2, of Los Angeles, said it was fun, although “bumpy” and “scary” in parts. “It’s a Small World” still rates as her favorite ride.

Older kids enjoyed the new ride, too. “I liked it. I thought it was great,” said Ashleigh Palinkas, 7, of Manhattan Beach. Eight-year-old Matthew Trevino of Saugus said his favorite part of the ride was “when Roger Rabbit got smashed by the refrigerator.” Shawn Grady of San Pedro, another 8-year-old, admitted a preference for roller-coaster-type rides but was ready to rate the Car Toon Spin among his Top Three Disneyland attractions (along with Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railway).

Parents all said they enjoyed the attraction; even those hard-to-please teens seemed to get a kick out of it. Leon Hill, a gregarious 17-year-old from Brisbane, Australia (wearing a Napalm Death T-shirt), gave the ride a thumbs-up and pronounced it “pretty cool, pretty funky. . . . It’s an odyssey.”

One aspect of the ride was almost universally praised among those interviewed. “I love how the cars spin around,” said Kellie West, 10, from the Central California town of Hume. The sentiment was echoed by Neal Reiter, 12, of Los Altos: “It’s really fun. I like that you can drive the cars.”


In the attraction, visitors ride through an explosively vivid cartoon world aboard anthropomorphic Toontown taxis like those in the 1989 movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” The two- person taxis move through the ride on a track, but passengers can also make them spin independently, something like the Tea Cups in Fantasyland.

The ride itself is close in spirit to older Fantasyland attractions such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Alice in Wonderland, although the technology in Car Toon Spin is more sophisticated (and, at about seven minutes, the ride is longer than any of the other so-called “dark” rides).

Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin was actually completed in August, but the opening was held off because the still-new Toontown was already drawing capacity crowds (holding off also gives a park a new ride to promote for 1994).

Those who saw “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” may recall that Toontown is a noir-ish, ‘40s urban neighborhood, where cartoon characters reside when they are not at the studio performing. There are dark alleys, barrooms and bad guys, most notably the weasels, who plot to “rub out” such ‘toon stars as Roger and his voluptuous wife, Jessica, with a toxic substance called Dip.


Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin is built around elements of that story, but mostly the ride designers took it as an opportunity to make guests feel as if they are in the middle of a classic Warner Bros.-style cartoon. With some three-dimensional elements, but mostly through brightly painted backdrops (lit by black light) and lots of crashing through walls, the ride puts guests through some time-honored cartoon gags: an electrifying spin through the Toontown Power House, a crash through a china shop, an explosion (and the resulting head-spinning, birds-chirping world of cartoon unconsciousness) and a long fall from the top of a skyscraper.

And, lurking around every corner, those darned weasels.


A ride attraction was part of the original plan for Toontown, said Joe Lanzisero, senior concept designer with Walt Disney Imagineering, but it took awhile to come up with the right idea. Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid rides were among those considered, but “none of them really had the right temperament,” Lanzisero said.


He credits the Roger Rabbit idea to Disney president Michael Eisner (“and I’m not kissing up,” he joked). Up to the opening of the new Car Toon Spin, Mickey’s Toontown has been “very kiddie-oriented,” Lanzisero said. The new ride has “a little harder edge to it. . . . It’s going to appeal to a much broader range of people.”

Allowing ride passengers to spin their vehicles is an idea that’s been kicking around Imagineering for years, waiting for the right ride, he said. The concept signals a new age in ride design, he said. “This is the interactive age we live in,” Lanzisero said. “The days of sitting in a ride vehicle and passively experiencing” an attraction are over, he said.

The design did pose some challenges in the storytelling process, because what the visitors see depends on what way they are facing during the ride. “By letting our guests spin,” Lanzisero said, “we never knew if people were going to see Jessica in the trunk with the weasels, for instance.”

That wasn’t a big obstacle, however. “We can’t really tell full stories in these rides anyway,” he said. “We create moods and feelings.”


Helping to set the mood is one of the most elaborate queue systems anywhere in the park (“That queue is worth standing in itself,” said one park spokesman). The line winds inside the building, an elaborate maze of mock backstage corridors, Toontown back alleys (past bubbling vats of Dip) and finally the cab company’s dispatch area, where guests board the ride.

“We wanted to create a queue line experience that gave kids something to do,” Lanzisero said. “It is a place where you start to set up the story ideas for the ride.”

In a nutshell, “the basic story is, Roger is in trouble,” he said. More importantly, however, “it gives us an excuse to do these big cartoon cliches.”

The next big Disneyland attraction, due to open in 1995 in Adventureland, is also based on a film. The Indiana Jones Adventure is a joint venture between Disney and George Lucas, producer of the Indiana Jones films, which featured Harrison Ford as a swashbuckling, Nazi-battling archeologist.


What: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin.

When: Open now at Disneyland, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.

Where: 1313 Harbor Blvd., Anaheim.

Whereabouts: From Interstate 5, exit at Harbor Boulevard and go south. Follow signs to park.


Wherewithal: $24 to $30 (reduced admission of $22 for residents of ZIP codes 90000 through 93599, with valid I.D.).

Where to call: (714) 999-4565.