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Mything in Action: Mania Happy Returns

Mything in Action: Mania Happy Returns

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Have you seen Toy Story 3 yet? I confess I haven’t. But as I write this article, the movie’s opening date is still nearly a week away, so I’ve got a good excuse. Yet with all the excitement surrounding the movie’s debut, it felt like an appropriate time to take a spin aboard Toy Story Mania! (i.e. the version at Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

Woody, Buaa and friends take a look at Pixar's Toy Story 3 Logo
 Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Of course, since the premise of my Mything in Action column is that the mythic Hero’s Journey is “hidden in plain sight” within all the most popular movies, TV shows, and theme parks, I approached the ride determined to seek out and identify its mythic content. My darling wife Julia was skeptical. “It’s a ride through a virtual shooting gallery,” she pointed out. “Where’s the mythic content in that?”

Without realizing it (I assume), my beloved had just donned the archetypal mask of the threshold guardian, challenging my resolve as I embarked on my heroic mission to reveal the attraction’s “mythic source code.”

Disney-Pixar Toy Story Mania logo
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Okay, I confess—I did feel a twinge of trepidation as we neared the Toy Story Mania! entrance. But all traces of doubt evaporated as soon as I caught sight of the façade. At that moment, I realized that we were about to be plunged deep into mythological territory. (If the concept of the Hero’s Journey is new to you, take a few moments to look at my “Hidden in Plain Sight” introductory article and you’ll be up to speed in no time.)

The Toy Story Mania queue pays tribute to the ride it replaced, Midway Mania
 Photo by Gene Duncan. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The first giveaway: the improvised-looking entrance feature composed of super-sized Tinker Toys, letter blocks, Scrabble tiles, crayons, playing cards, and other toys and game pieces—the handiwork, evidently, of those ever-resourceful Green Army Men, some of whom are also on view. The gateway form is a classic threshold marker—the dividing line between the Ordinary World (in this case, the park’s Pixar Place section), and the Special World (the TSM queue). The Green Army Men and the oversized game pieces and toys, meanwhile, serve as heralds, alerting you to the wonders awaiting you just beyond the threshold. Score one for Mr. Myth-seeker.

Upon entering the Special World, the mythic hero typically finds that “the rules are different here.” This is emphatically the case as you begin switchbacking through “Andy’s room,” where you discover you have been reduced to the size of one of Andy’s toys. Ginormous versions of familiar childhood toys and games are scattered everywhere (apparently Andy hasn’t cleaned up his room in quite a while).

ginormous versions of familiar childhood toys and games are scattered everywhere in the Toy Story Mania ride queue
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

In mythology, it is often the herald’s job to announce the Call to Adventure. At TSM, this task has already been fulfilled by the heavily themed entry gate and marquee. Now Mr. Potato Head—a five-foot-tall Audio-Animatronic figure with the voice of Don Rickles—reinforces that Call with his own barker-style patter. He also serves the trickster function as he makes seemingly spontaneous references to (and wisecracks about) the appearance of specific guests as they pass within teasing range.

don Rickles and the AA version of Mr. Potato Head in Disney's Toy Story Mania ride
Don Rickles and the AA version of Mr. Potato Head. Photo by Paul
Hiffenmeyer. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Traversing the unfamiliar landscape of the Special World, the mythic hero is likely to encounter a mentor or other allies who may equip her with magical weapons, tools, vehicles, amulets, talismans, or other objects necessary for the quest. In the classical Greek myth, the hero Perseus receives Hades’ helmet of invisibility, Hermes’ adamantine sword, and a polished shield from Athena, so that he can defeat the monster Medusa. So what do you get? How about a pair of plastic 3-D glasses? Yet those flimsy-looking glasses serve an essential mythic function. For when you slip on these enchanted spectacles at the appropriate point in your journey, stereoscopic images that would appear meaningless (or at least annoying) to your unaided eyes will miraculously become endowed with purpose and value.

Soon, your journey delivers you to another threshold: the Approach to the Inmost Cave, where your chariot—the 8-passenger Toy Story Mania! vehicle—awaits. The vehicle is another “magical gift” from your yet-to-be-seen mentors, with each passenger seat equipped with a colorful “spring-action shooter.” As you’ll soon discover, this remarkable cannon-shaped device is capable of firing an amazing assortment of projectiles—from chicken eggs and baseballs to darts and rings. The shooter will fire as often as you can pull the string. And best of all, it never runs out of ammo. Sweet!

Each passsenger seat on the Toy Story Mania ride is equipped with a "spring-action shooter"
Photo by Sue Bryan.Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All Rights Reserved

Often in the structure of a Hero’s Journey narrative, the crossing into the Inmost Cave—the site of the Supreme Ordeal—is preceded by an interval of tests, training, and preparations, which the mythologist Joseph Campbell referred to as “the Road of Trials.” In TSM, however, the Road of Trials and the Inmost Cave are combined. Thus, moments after you are secured in your ride vehicle, you are swept under “Andy’s bed” and into the UV-illuminated 3-D environment of the Toy Story midway where you will encounter a series of heroic tests.

Tests and trials are fundamental elements of the Hero’s Journey, for it is during this stage of the adventure that the hero sharpens the skills he will need in order to complete his quest. In the Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche, for example, poor love-struck Psyche must accomplish one impossibly cruel task after another assigned to her by Cupid’s jealous and vindictive mother Venus before she can be re-united with her true love.

The Toy Story Mania vehicle
 Photo by Gene Duncan. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Fortunately, the tests awaiting you here are a lot more enjoyable. They chiefly involve using your spring-action shooter to hit an assortment of animated shooting gallery-style targets presented on a series of large 3-D video screens as you attempt to drive your personal score as high as you can. And, like winsome Psyche, you are aided by allies and mentors—at least initially. In TSM, your mentors take the form of the core characters from the Toy Story movies: Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Cowgirl Jessie. Appearing at the first game booth, they guide you through a quick “practice round,” hoisting circular target shields and shouting encouragement as you send dozens of pies flying toward them.

Rex and Trixies Dino Darts Toy Story Midway Games
 Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Rolling onward to the next booth, it’s time for the first of the “official” games: ‘Hamm & Eggs” (an egg throw game). This is followed by “Rex and Trixie’s Dino Darts” (a dart throw game, previously “Bo Peep's Baaa-loon Pop”), “Green Army Men Shoot Camp” (a baseball throw/plate breaking game), “Buzz Lightyear's Flying Tossers” (a ring toss game), and finally “Woody's Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Gallery” (a suction cup shooting game).

Is this ultimate booth the one for which the preceding booths have been preparing you? Or were all these challenges merely a warm-up for another unspecified Supreme Ordeal somewhere beyond this attraction? Does it really matter? In a word: No. For by the time you have exited your ride vehicle, Toy Story Mania! has already fulfilled its mythic function. For the next few minutes at least, you will surely feel energized and uplifted—as though you have undergone a personal transformation. And that transformation, my friends, is the essence of the Hero’s Journey.

Adam M. Berger is president and senior writer at Berger Creative Associates, Inc., an Orlando, Florida-based creative writing and consulting firm serving the themed entertainment and attraction design industry. You can read more of Adam’s thoughts on mythic storytelling in popular entertainment at his blogsite: http://themythinglink.tumblr.com/.

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