Oh hi! You’re still here? I haven’t posted anything on this blog in two years, you’re a creep. Well thank you so much for sticking around all that time.
I had the chance to visit Orlando recently and since my last visit, there has been a ton of new additions at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, so in the coming weeks I’m going to review a bunch of world class attractions… If motivation remains high and coronavirus lockdown gives me time. To kick off this series, we’ll start with the newest addition that opened just a few weeks ago. Choo choo, here is your Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway Quality Control review !
As MMRR has been open for just a couple of weeks, I should warn you that there will be major spoilers in this review. You’ve been warned.
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First, a tiny bit of context. Runaway Railway is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. It is a dark ride using trackless vehicles going through the zany universe of the new Mickey Mouse animated shorts. To the frustration of #TeamNostalgia, this new dark ride is taking over the show building of The Great Movie Ride : a mock up of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater. I personally won’t miss The Great Movie Ride. I’ve never been a fan of this old school dark ride that used to take the guests through scenes of classic Hollywood movies. It felt outdated for way too long in my opinion.
From the outside nothing has changed on the exterior of the Chinese Theater, except for the addition of a very nice animated neon sigh reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood movie theaters. Let’s enter the queue line. Certainly the most underwhelming part of the attraction. The portion of the queue line that is inside the Chinese Theater is short and looks the same as the old Great Movie Ride queue and Mickey Mouse shorts posters are displayed on a dozen of screens. That’s a bit boring but it’s nothing compared with the absolute boredom you’ll experience before, in the outside portion of the queue line, which is basically just switchbacks at the right and front of the Chinese Theater. It’s quite disappointing that there was zero budget for a little bit of theming of any sort when you see the attention Disney is putting to keep guests entertained in the queue line of all major rides and considering the immediate popularity of MMRR. Like they did not expect Runaway Railway to be a hit attraction. Huh?
Anyway, after this massive boredom here you are, in the preshow : a projection of a whole new Mickey Mouse short called Perfect Picnic. And as the film just started in this mini movie theater, an event in the animated short is causing the theater’s large screen to burst and be ripped, wide open for guests to literally walk into that gap and step inside the colorful, life-size, hand drawn world of the Mickey Mouse shorts. It’s kind of reminiscent of the famous Cinémagique effect where a performer goes through a movie screen. But this preshow effect is even more elaborate as the movie projection keeps going on while some parts of the ripped screen are torn apart and even curling. This reveal is just the first of the many wow effects that will happen in every scene of the ride.
So let’s step in Goofy’s train. It is made of five trackless vehicles. Four of them are transporting guests and the first one is the locomotive. As the train departs from the loading station, Goofy appears from a window at the back of the locomotive. If you’re in vehicle one or two, you’re in luck because it’s almost impossible to see this from vehicles three and four. The kind of issue we’ve seen previously on Mystic Manor. Then, along the path of our train appear Mickey and Minnie in their car. They are made as audio animatronics and their faces are projected from the inside, like on Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. They’re the stars of the ride but the execution of Mickey and Minnie’s faces looks kind of weird and disturbing. On the other hand I can’t think of another way to translate such a fast moving 2D animation to fully tangible animatronics.
As Mickey’s car crashes into our train track switch, Goofy’s locomotive leaves the other vehicles of the train, which are now going on on their own. The four vehicles are travelling trough multiple large scale scenes made of one simple technique : a blend of physical sets and projection mapping. What strikes me the most was how the projections seamlessly blend into intricate physical sets and props. The work on lighting, color grading and projection calibration is truly mind boggling. The ride also heavily includes other techniques to feature media, including transparent LCD screens – the rendering is so sharp I don’t believe it’s pepper ghost. Whatever technique is used, the integration of media animation, large or small scale, is seamless and once again : Oh! So! Sharp!
I don’t want to break down the whole ride scene by scene (support your favorite on-ride POV youtuber instead) but here are a few more observations, other than the name of the ride is impossible to pronounce for a French speaking ass guest like me.
In every scene there is something happening everywhere around you. You’re literally wrapped by animation, 360°. That’s great for ride re-rideability because you’re going to need multiple rides to catch everything that’s going on. As a result it encourages you to look around in every corner of every room. However there is one scene (the tropical torrent) that is not themed on a back wall leading to the single vehicle alcove underwater scene – basically what’s behind the back of the vehicles on the picture above. It’s just plain black and it’s weird because from the beginning of the ride, the ride “teaches” you to look around absolutely everywhere, even in your back and all of a sudden you’re like, whoops this portion is not supposed to be looked at.
Daisy’s dance studio is the funniest scene (OMG HER LITTLE BOOTS!), and it may not show on video but the way the vehicles are booty-shaking their way out of the studio makes it impossible not to giggle. However the art direction of this scene feels disconnected to the rest of the ride. No animation, just a lot of humans facing a large mirror… until big ass flowers made of LED lights appear behind the mirror. It suddenly looks like real life again and also kind of tacky. At least the cute Daisy animatronic (AND HER LITTLE BOOTS I’M OBSESSED!!) saves it.
Disneyland Paris’ Ratatouille attraction uses a similar system of trackless vehicles going through a blend of projection scenes and a few physical sets. Interestingly (or sadly if DLP is your home park) on Ratatouille the scene that’s the most effective compared to the rest of the ride is when each vehicle enters its own small, individual projection dome alcove. As opposed to Ratatouille, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has a similar feature and compared to the rest of the ride, it’s the most underwhelming part because suddenly it’s lacking physical sets. It’s just a movie sequence without the other half needed to create the illusion that you are in a cartoon : tangible decors. While MMRR fixes the imperfections of the Ratatouille ride, which was back in 2014 Disney’s first attempt at a large scale screen-based ride, it’s another testament on how the rat ride is deeply flawed. When Orlando locals, familiar with world class screen-based rides for 20 years, will discover Ratatouille at Epcot, it’s gonna hurt.
The grand finale is a scene that looks like a factory and in a flash transforms into the park where Mickey and Minnie were supposed to have a perfect picnic from the beginning, remember? Some previous scenes did that kind of environment shift already (tropical torrent to underwater) but never to the extent of the factory grand finale. Here the physical sets where machines, gears and hardware are projected suddenly change shape and morph to appear like trees, a carousel and other things you can find in a park. It all happens so fast and it’s truly never-seen-before as a theme park special effect, it’s the perfect way to end the ride on a surprising wow effect.
Some people describe Runaway Railway as a large scale Fantasyland dark ride. I think it’s much more than than. The elaborate preshow, the trackless vehicles, the insane sharpness and preciseness of projection mapping. And the countless wow effects. MMRR is not just action packed, it’s also packed with the most advanced tech. The amount of projectors needed to achieve this instant blockbuster attraction must be crazy. Many times it left me wondering « Wait, how did they do this? » And as an overanalysing theme park nerd who has seen it all, it’s a bold achievement.
In this era of only-major-IP-based-attractions, it’s a miracle that such an innovative dark ride is based on the new Mickey Mouse shorts. Don’t get me wrong though. I think they’re excellent and in my top 3 favorite Disney productions of the past decade but these shorts feel immensely underrated to me. For a lot of guests, Runaway Railway will be their first encounter with the Spongebob style humor and divisive ugly-funny appearance of the new Mickey Mouse shorts. While most theme park fans do not like the everything-IP trend of current Disney, choosing the Mickey Mouse shorts must be saluted.
One last thing. Last year a “Black Box” dark ride rumor was floating around and supposedly in development for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The concept : making a heavy use of projection (mapping) so theme could be easily interchangeable through times. When you think about it, with its solid projection hardware, the lighter use of physical props, and the neutral entrance and queue line, the Chinese Theater could totally be the canvas for that rumored Black Box concept, with the Mickey Mouse shorts as its first iteration. To say the least, I hope I’m wrong and it’s not going to happen.
Overall Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has been surrounded by less buzz, anticipation and marketing than Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Playland, but it’s definitely a very strong headliner attraction and the family dark ride that Disney’s Hollywood Studios needed. I understand a ride that relies so much on projection can be repulsive to some people. But believe the hype. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway masters the theme park industry’s challenge of the past twenty years : screen-based rides are no longer a dirty word.
Thank you nerds for reading my Quality Control review. Make sure to leave a comment below or discuss on Twitter! See you in less than two years, hopefully!