The history of Toy Story Midway Mania began in 2005 with the beginning of the 50th Celebration event at Disneyland, where Imagineers Kevin Rafferty (Writer and Director) and Robert Coltrin (Concept Designer) were working on the Radiator Springs Racer attraction and during the the beginning of the 50th Celebration, Rafferty and Coltrin looked at the then-brand new Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters attraction. Both enjoyed the new attraction and agreed that something like Astro Blasters was needed for Disney's California Adventure as they were looking for something more to add to Radiator Springs attraction. The idea for something interactive for Radiator Springs didn't pan out, but both Kevin and Robert liked the idea of an interactive attraction and kept working on developing the idea. One day as they were walking around the Paradise Pier area of Disney's California Adventure, one of the midway games inspired the two to think of an idea for an attraction.
The basic premise was to create an attraction that was interactive and would allow guests to play a lot and so they tried to figure out how they could make this attraction idea interactive. This brought the Imagineers back to an older attraction from DisneyQuest called Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold, where guests shot toy cannons at an interactive screen, simulating a ship battle on the sea. They liked the idea of being able to shoot virtual canon balls and sink ships and the ability to see the tracing of the canon ball shots got them thinking what if they took the idea but substituted something else for canon balls. The shooting device from the Pirates attraction was an aspect that Imagineers decided to include in this new endeavour.
The final piece in constructing this new idea for an attraction was to figure out what goes really good with games. Very quickly the characters from the Toy Story films by Pixar came to mind and very quickly development of the idea began. According to Robert Coltrin, they began developing the idea in August and by September they had shown Creative Management artwork for the new attraction so progress was very quick and Disney CEO Bob Iger liked the new idea and the project was green lit. After showing Iger, Head of Pixar John Lasseter was shown the idea and he loved the new idea.
The original idea for the attraction was "Traditional midway games that you can ride through, hosted by the Toy Story characters". The attraction was comprised of a number of different midway games that featured Toy Story characters. In the original concept, there was a midway game where guests would shoot baseballs at various Mr. Potato Heads in a "knock over game". Ultimately, this idea wasn't used as Mr. Potato Head didn't look happy in the artwork and also it wasn't a good idea to throw things at the characters. A practice round was the first stop, where guests could get acclimated to the ride and then the ride would progress to the "Hamm and Eggs" scene, which was one of the first concepts that Robert and Kevin came up with and it stayed in the attraction from concept to completion. The next scene was Bo Peep's Baaaa-loon Pop", which did make the final attraction, followed by "Sarge's Shoot out the Stars Green Army Men Camp", which did not make the final cut due to some technical difficulties. The next scene was "Green Men Flying Tossers Game" and then "Slinky's Bone-Anza", where dog bones are shot out and Slinky, who is attached to a spring, tries to catch the bones guest shoot into bowls. Another idea for a game was "Rex's Dino Dash", which was based on those games where players shoot water at a target to get their character to move across a map. In the game, players would shoot lava into their designated volcano, which would move their Rex player across the map in an effort to get Rex to safety before the meteor hits. Another game was "Backyard Beachball Bash" where players launch beachlls into targets in a pool and this game gave rise to the idea of a 4D attraction where as you hit the water with your beach balls, water would splash at the player. The final scene would be "Woody's Rootin' Tootin' Shooting Gallery", which would lead you to the score tally scene and after the ride you would find an animatronic Mr. Potato Head.
The good news was executives at Disney loved the idea and now Imagineers had to figure out how to actually implament the idea. The first thing Imagineers did was go to the Los Angeles County Fair to actually play some of these midway games and see which games were still there and how they were run. For the ride vehicle, the rides vehicles from the Monsters Inc ride in Tokyo was a project that Kevin and Robert had worked on and to them it made sense to use the basic premise of those rides in the new Toy Story attraction they were developing. Initial ideas had guests lined up in their vehicles and facing one direction, but there was a need to ensure that the capacity of the attraction could meet demand and eventually designed a new ride system to allow the vehicles to rotate fully and engage in different interactive screens, which was a departure from the Astro Blasters model where players moved in one direction at the same speed. Inevitably, this lead Imagineers to design a ride vehicle that is the one we see in the attraction today.
The next question was where to place this new attraction. The initial idea was to place it near the coaster in California Adventure, but Kevin suggested they place the attraction underneath the coaster so the two would be on top of each other. Robert took the idea home and came back with an initial mockup for how it could be done, which involved removing some steel support beams, but the idea could work. The architect helped create a mockup for a turn of the century, sea side attraction that could be developed for Paradise Pier. Meanwhile, Imagineers thought so much of the idea that they wanted to bring it to also the Disney-MGM Studios, which was an unique idea considering that cloning attractions was nothing new but developing the same attraction at two locations at once was something Disney had never done before. Imagineers came up with an idea to place Pixar Studios inside the Disney's Hollywood Studios. Luckily, the attraction would fit nearly perfectly into the vacant soundstage that was available for a new attraction. Some designs were needed for the front facade and John Lasseter had the idea to make it look like the front of the Pixar Studios building and Imagineers went to the Pixar Animation Studios to get an idea of what to make.
The concept for the area surrounding the attraction was to have the Studio but still be rooted in fantasy, which was something John Lasseter was a proponent of. So the story was to let the toys spill out into the street and ideas like the the Barrel of Monkeys and the Green Army Men that we see in the park today.
Development of the attraction continued and the idea was still that guests were at a carnival and the Toy Story characters would be operating their booths. One day there was a breakthrough development because there was a story issue where in the film, when humans are around, the toys don't come to life so the idea was proposed to instead have the humans be shrunk down to the size of a toy and let guests come to the toy world. The new storyline revolved around Andy getting a new midway playset for his birthday and while Andy was downstairs eating dinner, all the toys came to life to play with this new set. A decision was also made as to when in the time line of the Toy Story films this attraction should "exist". Since the Toy Story 2 characters (Bullseye and Jessie) were wanted to be a part of the attraction, the ride takes places after the events of the first two Toy Story films.
The design of Toy Story attraction was based around the toy that Andy has recieved for his birthday, the midway mania playset. Imagineer Lori Coltrin (Senior Show Producer, Director) used the toy idea to develop the look for the trams, shooters, backdrops and other elements of the look of the attraction. Lori event went as far as to design the Toy Story characters to look like they could have been sold seperately as an addon to the playset to match the set, as seen with Mr. Potato Head (although Mr. Potato Head was the only character to get such a makeover). Along the lines of the story line, Imagineers decided that the toys would pair up with their best friend and host their favorite game, while the guests play the games in the role of the other toys. In terms of art direction, Imagineer Lori Coltrin chose to incorporate a lot of the elements from the first two Toy Story films, such as details from Andys room. In addition, they incorporated toys that were of the same era as the toys featured in the film, so this included other toys popular in the 1960's and 1970's, which is also why we don't find more contemporary games in the attraction. Imagineers also created some new artwork to help fill in the "gaps" of the various areas of the attraction. Imagineers designed some carnival or circus themed art, such as paint by numbers or pottery or puzzles to augment the existing art that came with the movie franchise.
In Hollywood Studios, to get into the world of the toys from a design and story standpoint, the marquee at the entrance to the ride is made up of toys and as you pass under the marquee, you are instantly shrunken to the size of a toy. The queue features an elaborate array of toys to completely envelop the guest as they wait in line, which features toys, art work and colors. In the Hollywood Studios version of the attraction, the load and unload section has been designed to look like Andy's bedroom and incorporated a lot of the look of Andy's room from the films.
A great deal of research and play testing was incorporated into the development of Toy Story Midway Mania. Imagineer Sue Bryan (Senior Show Producer, Director) and her group were responsible for the creation of the game and to design the gameplay, Imagineers set up across the street from the main offices of the Imagineers an area for people of all ages, "from 2 to 92" to test out this new game. Throughout the entire development of the ride, every 4-6 weeks, these testers were brought into play the game and provide feedback to Imagineers, which was then taken to improve the game. One of the first challenges was getting a game that could work for players of all heights, so Imagineers went to a hardware store, where they purchased some random pieces of hardware to design a shooter for the ride. It still created a problem with the very short not being able to reach the shooter and the very tall being cramped in. The solution was to attach the gun to the same mechanism that adjusted the height of the lap bar, so no matter how tall you were, the distance between the player and the gun, was uniform and comfortable.
Another challenge was ensuring the games that were featured were easy enough for players to pick up, given that were barely a minute for each game so complex gameplay wasn't an option. As an example, in the ring toss game, an early concept was to have a green alien involved a number of green aliens on platforms, but the aliens were quite small and a problem very quickly was it was difficult to actually get the rings to go around any of the targets, so subsequently, the targets were enlarged in size and added more targets and the second edition was created, although new problems came with it. Since there were so many targets and rings could fire at a rate of 8 rings per second, very quickly the level would be swamped with rings and it became quite confusing. Imagineers went back to the "drawing board" and came up with a third idea for the level, where there was multi-leveled targets with far fewer targets and if your ring didn't hit on a target on the first level, it would "fall" down to the next level where it might hit a target there. In addition, if you succesfully hit a target, the target would go down and the ring would go away, which solved another problem with an earlier model but then they had a new problem...the game was too easy. The next version had increased amount of targets but it proved to be too confusing in terms of where to shoot and the problem of too many rings bouncing around reared its ugly head once more. For the next version, Imagineers added some "magnetism" to the targets so when a ring got near the target, it would be attracted to the target and would assist the player. This version was close, but not quite perfect and a few more refining went into the level and eventually, the ring toss game have in the attraction today is the version Imagineers decided upon.
The look of the games was another challenge. Since the games aren't actually in any of the Toy Story films, someone had to invent how the game would look. Even though the Toy Story films came out in the 1990's, in reality, Andy's bedroom and his toys are based on the toys of the 1960's and 1970's (which was the generation for the filmakers). So Imagineers decided to make the game also look like a game, visually, from that era and one particular game was "Snoopy and the Red Baron" pop up game and they decided upon using cardboard flats with single colored plastic with some stickers and so each game in Toy Story Midway Mania, has that exact look.
Special thanks to Matt Paul of WDW News Today for graciously providing photos and video for infomration found in this article.