Disney offers sneak peek at Toy Story Mania ride

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Disney Imagineers allowed me to “play test” the new Toy Story Mania dark ride coming to California Adventure in June. From the preview I got, it’s clear the theme park giant has raised the bar again with this latest interactive attraction. (Play the online version of the game.)

Inside an unmarked, low-slung brick warehouse in Glendale dubbed the Walt Disney Imagineering Concept Lab, I climbed aboard a plywood and 2-by-4 mock-up of the Toy Story Mania ride vehicle quite literally held together in some places by electrical tape.

The stripped-down surroundings and slap-dash ride vehicle belied the technological wonders I was about to behold.

While Disney struggles to call Toy Story Mania more than a ride-through 3-D video game, it is just that and then some.

Poised behind a spring-action shooter, I fired virtual ammunition at virtual targets in an immersive environment unlike any other I’ve experienced — including Disneyland’s Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, which the new ride is often compared to.

Capable of firing up to six rounds per second, the spring-action shooter is nothing more than a rope with a bob tied on the end that works like a slack pinball machine plunger. (Here’s the Wikipedia explanation of this arcane entertainment device for the Wii generation.)

The ride starts with a practice round hosted by “Toy Story” characters Woody and Jessie before moving through five scenes that become increasingly difficult. The two-stage lightning round finale, the easiest of all the games, is where players rack up a majority of their points.

To call me competitive is to call Napoleon short.

My initial strategy of focusing only on high-point targets proved only partially correct. Another key to success in the target-rich environment was continuous firing. I discovered with my unlimited ammo supply that I could rack up plenty of unintended points while moving from one bull’s-eye to the next.

I found most of the high-value targets at the top and bottom of the 10-foot-square video screen in front of me. The most difficult prizes requiring the greatest accuracy resided in the top corners. In several instances, hitting one target triggered another of higher value. In other cases, taking out a group of identical targets generated substantial bonus points. Low-value, special effects-laden spoilers served only to distract me from my mission.

On my first attempt, I finished with 102,000 points to 112,000 points by new friend (and mortal enemy) Arthur Levine, who writes the well-regarded About.com theme park guide.

In my utter humiliation, I turned to Toy Story Mania chief Imagineer Chrissie Allen for assistance in finding the much-rumored “Easter Egg” targets within the game. She refused to budge (though I am determined to break her and reveal said secrets in future posts).

Kind and wise Imagineer Estefania Pickens, holder of the current in-house high score (210,000) among Disney staffers, offered to mentor me and guide my training. Her patient tutelage soon paid off.

On my second and final attempt at the game, I scored 125,000 points, besting my Disney host (who will remain nameless to avoid bringing shame on him, his family and his future generations).

The only downside to my new favorite ride is the repetitive stress injury I’m sure to suffer from repeatedly playing the game.

Toy Story Mania seems to be just the E-ticket that Disney’s California Adventure needs to draw bigger crowds. Expect a long line.

Check out WDW News Today for MSNBC video that features the Toy Story Mania ride vehicles in motion.

— Brady MacDonald, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer