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A Day at the Cirque Makes Toontown Look, Well, Goofy

February 11, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

You walk down Main Street in Small Town, U.S.A., and the sidewalks are lined with people waving to you, maniacally grinning people wearing huge, four-fingered gloves. "I'm surrounded by cheerful mutants!" you think, and wave back, trying to emulate their crazed smiles so they won't suspect you're an outsider.

Meanwhile music is playing, growing ever louder, with impossibly bright lyrics along the lines of "Oh, we're going to Toontown. Happy, happy, happy Toontown. You'd really, really better love Toontown. . . ."

Toontown, as you've perhaps been made aware by the Disney publicity behemoth, is the newest little land in Disneyland. Disney's Imagineers has crafted a "hands-on" environment for kids based on the cartoon-logic fourth-dimension world of Toontown, where the cartoon characters in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" lived.

Several of us Times folk were there for a press preview recently, as journalists from all over the globe converged on The Happiest Place on Earth. There were Laps, Finns, Flems, Rangoonians and Texans all there for the purpose of telling their audiences back home just what Toontown is like.

The Toontown we saw may not quite be the place that you'll see. For starts, instead of being overrun by kids, all the down-sized slides, rope-nets and other hands-on attractions were crawling with adults bumping their heads and rubbing their sore bums. And when you go to Disneyland, chances are you won't have a cheerful mutant handing you alcoholic beverages every time you turn around.

Of course we professional journalists never let things like that sway us from our steadfast code, which is "hit the trough with your mouth open." The press descends on free food like locusts. We Times folk, I'm proud to say, were having seconds before most scribes had even caught the scent of food. Not that it was very easy to identify it as such. The tortellini, for example, was dyed a rainbow of artificial colors that could have looked appetizing only to the Trix rabbit.

Alas, neither he nor any of the non-Disney characters who helped liven up "Roger Rabbit" were to be found. And compared to Betty Boop and Warners' stable of toons, the Disney trademark characters are a bit tame. That may be the shortcoming of Toontown as a whole. For a supposedly wild world where "anything can happen," not too much does.

Unlike most parts of Disneyland, where kids are advised to "keep your hands in the car," they are allowed to "interact" with things in Toontown. There's only a limited amount of interacting a kid can do with solid concrete though. Going through Mickey or Minnie's house, you can touch phones, cupboard doors and all manner of things, but they're rooted solid and don't budge. You'd think they'd at least have an ashtray kids could steal.

There are a few select buttons and doors youngsters can push, but not many. As an adult, I can enjoy the visuals of being in a cartoonish house, but if I were 6, I imagine I'd get the stifling feeling of being in a dream I was powerless to affect, like the ones where you try to run and can't.

There is Goofy's Bounce House, a sort of padded cell where kids can hurl themselves at walls with impunity. The most fun I found, though, was in Chip and Dale's Acorn Crawl, a pit filled with big plastic acorns in which you can kick and founder to your heart's content; it's kind of like friendly quicksand. I understand they have similar attractions at most Chuck E Cheese-type emporiums. You have to remove your shoes beforehand (actually adults aren't even allowed in it typically) and while climbing out I got a metal sliver embedded in my foot. Not that I'm a litigious person, but if I get tetanus, I'll have them renaming the place Washburnland soon.

The most unsettling place was Mickey's house, which seemed more like a Mickey Mausoleum. Walking through the house you see innumerable photos and other likenesses of Mickey, trophies of his grand career, videos of him on the TV. Finally at the end you meet Mickey himself. An attendant, his personal mouse masseur or somebody, asked if we had any questions for him. I couldn't help myself: "Mickey, judging by your house, you seem obsessed with images of yourself. Without putting that behind you, without plunging into the uncontrollable world at-large, how can you ever hope to confront your existential self?"

Mickey seemed to be flooded with doubt. He didn't know what to do with his hands. He half-shrugged. He paced back and forth. Could it be I'd touched a nerve? If only I'd gotten to Elvis in time! Then, just when it seemed like realization was upon Mickey and he was about to take his first breath as a free mouse, his attendant/keeper jumped in with a glib reply: "Mickey only has those mementos out for you, his fans. He puts them all away at night. He's actually very happy." The little light in Mickey went out, and he turned away, a bitter and broken mouse.

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