Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is coming to Disneyland

Part old-school theme park attraction, part love letter to animation, and part modern showcase of projection technology, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway has finally landed in Disneyland’s Toontown, its second, but most appropriate, home.

The Walt Disney World import is a nostalgic charmer, albeit one that celebrates the Walt Disney Co.’s latest animated shorts, which have starred the company’s biggest star since more or less 1928.

There are many nods to modern theme parks in the trackless attraction – characters look at us, talk to us, guide us, dance with us and create the illusion of reacting to us – but the latest addition to Toontown, which opens Friday, it’s an instant standout in Anaheim Park’s portfolio for its don’t-do-them-like-they-used-to ethos.

Aboard Disneyland's newest ride, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.

Aboard Disneyland’s newest ride, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Relatively slow-moving, family-friendly and packed with tiny black-lit details, the attraction serves as a fully realized animated short that comes to life. As screens overwhelmed the Walt Disney Imagineers, they worked to ensure this wasn’t flat, passive 2-D theater, as digitally animated water fountains sprout around us and tropical flowers seem to open and close between us.

If nostalgia is often a dominant factor at Disneyland, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway works because it goes beyond and focuses on the winsome, hyperactive cartoon style of the company’s latest “Mickey Mouse” series. And yet it manages to feel aurally more like a 1930s screwball short, with a train that springs apart and whisks riders off to tropical hideaways, waterfalls and a dance lesson with Daisy Duck. It’s not deep, but it’s silly, focusing on light-hearted themes like friendship and love, and culminating in a romantic outing between Mickey and Minnie Mouse that makes its pre-Valentine’s Day opening ideal for lovers and perhaps less so for those dealing with heartbreak have to fight.

But even the ride’s happy ending comes with a few Goofy-fueled hiccups. Walt Disney Imagineers said the ride fits into a lineage dating back to the earliest attractions in Fantasyland, where rides were themed after the films Peter Pan and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. “This particular attraction is very important to us because it holds on to that traditional storytelling while looking to the future for how we can modernize it,” says Marnie Burress, portfolio project management manager at Imagineering, the company’s division responsible for the theme park Experiences.

Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway has a theme of friendship and light romance.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has a theme of friendship and light romance.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway follows a school of theme park design in which vignettes take precedence over a definitive storyline. The ride definitely has the latter – a Mickey Mouse accident causes the train to split – but after the opening moments we’re hurled from scene to scene, one minute in a funfair and the next in a factory. It happily deviates from the more cinematic school of attraction design to focus on what theme parks do best, which is to place us in different environments that can enhance, exaggerate, or give us a strongly fantastical spin.

It also serves as an alternate history work. While the ride itself is virtually identical to its Florida counterpart, the ride’s extensive queue is quite different. Here we enter a museum housed in a theater said to have been curated by Minnie Mouse about the history of Mickey Mouse. There are references to many performances by the once-rogue rodent – “Steamboat Willie”, “Fantasia” and “Mickey and the Beanstalk” are just a few of the dozens of works mentioned.

In keeping with the Toontown setting, works like The Skeleton Dance are treated as if they were created and crafted by living toons rather than experienced animators. It’s a museum-like setting, but don’t expect an animated history lesson, as the panels are filled with eye-rolling puns rather than true facts. Still, there are plenty of clever touches, like a tiny robotic figure of a lesser-known character like Erica, a cruise director in the Mickey short “Shipped Out,” in the concession stand’s popcorn machine.

“This is a Mickey Mouse exhibit that we’re calling Through the Ears, put up by Minnie and the Hysterical Society of Toontown to commemorate the occasion,” said Imagineer Manny Chavez. “Disney history buffs will find so much in this queue” as there are references to Mickey’s disco era, “The Goofy Movie” and even “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”.

Daisy Duck is dancing with us in Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.

Daisy Duck is dancing with us in Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

There are many special effects leading up to the show, such as a spooky mirror and, broadcast from Florida, a cinema screen that is blown apart. Nationwide, the attraction is housed at the resort’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway feels like it was always meant for Toontown, where it will join the slightly underrated Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin as the country’s second flagship attraction. Both celebrate animation, but Roger Rabbit does so with physical sets, while Runaway Railway uses the art of animation itself.

When the ride debuted in Florida in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced theme parks around the world to close, the Runaway Railway there faced the unenviable task of replacing that park’s The Great Movie Ride, an audio-animatronic one Showcase that was a cheerleader for the legacy of live-action cinema. Runaway Railway further changed the theme of this park, moving it away from cinema history and filmmaking into a collection of Disney-owned properties, replacing a fan-favorite, one-of-a-kind attraction with live theater elements.

No such hurdles exist at Disneyland, where Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is a new addition that will anchor a remodeled Toontown, set to fully reopen in March. For a park largely originally designed by animators pushed into a new craft of theme park creation, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway pays honorable homage to the medium that built the Walt Disney Co.’s first 100 years.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2023-01-26/mickey-minnies-runaway-railway-uses-innovation-to-deliver-old-school-disney Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is coming to Disneyland

Sarah Ridley

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