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'TOON IN, TURN ON, SPIN OUT : Kids Groove to Disney's Newest Thrill, a Silly Wabbit Wide

January 21, 1994|RICK VANDERKNYFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times

ANAHEIM — Urban blight has hit Mickey's Toontown.

When Disneyland's eighth and newest land opened last year, it was a bright and colorful place with nary a shadow of threat or danger. That has changed with the opening of Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, which with its grimy back alleys and nefariously plotting weasels gives Toontown a dark edge closer to its novel and movie roots.

The ride has been open and advertised for several weeks, although park officials have scheduled the official opening for next week. On a recent weekday, the attraction drew a steady stream of visitors despite a small park crowd; those interviewed professed to enjoy the ride.

A few of the very youngest park guests came out with tear-stained faces or hands over ears, frightened by the noise of the effects-laden ride. Others, though, came through bravely.

"I drove a funny car . . . I drove silly," said 2-year-old Stephanie Gulaga of Edmonton, Canada, speaking through an interpreter (her father, Kelly). Dominic Izzo, 3 1/2, of Los Angeles, said it was fun, although "bumpy" and "scary" in parts. "It's a Small World" still rates as her favorite ride.

Older kids enjoyed the new ride, too. "I liked it. I thought it was great," said Ashleigh Palinkas, 7, of Manhattan Beach. Eight-year-old Matthew Trevino of Saugus said his favorite part of the ride was "when Roger Rabbit got smashed by the refrigerator." Shawn Grady of San Pedro, another 8-year-old, admitted a preference for roller-coaster-type rides but was ready to rate the Car Toon Spin among his Top Three Disneyland attractions (along with Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railway).

Parents all said they enjoyed the attraction; even those hard-to-please teens seemed to get a kick out of it. Leon Hill, a gregarious 17-year-old from Brisbane, Australia (wearing a Napalm Death T-shirt), gave the ride a thumbs-up and pronounced it "pretty cool, pretty funky. . . . It's an odyssey."

One aspect of the ride was almost universally praised among those interviewed. "I love how the cars spin around," said Kellie West, 10, from the Central California town of Hume. The sentiment was echoed by Neal Reiter, 12, of Los Altos: "It's really fun. I like that you can drive the cars."

In the attraction, visitors ride through an explosively vivid cartoon world aboard anthropomorphic Toontown taxis like those in the 1989 movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." The two-person taxis move through the ride on a track, but passengers can also make them spin independently, something like the Tea Cups in Fantasyland.

The ride itself is close in spirit to older Fantasyland attractions such as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or Alice in Wonderland, although the technology in Car Toon Spin is more sophisticated (and, at about seven minutes, the ride is longer than any of the other so-called "dark" rides).

Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin was actually completed in August, but the opening was held off because the still-new Toontown was already drawing capacity crowds. Holding off also gives a park a new ride to promote for 1994.

Those who saw "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" may recall that Toontown is a noir-ish, '40s urban neighborhood, where cartoon characters reside when they are not at the studio performing. There are dark alleys, barrooms and bad guys, most notably the weasels, who plot to "rub out" such 'toon stars as Roger and his voluptuous wife, Jessica, with a toxic substance called Dip.

Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin is built around elements of that story, but mostly the ride designers took it as an opportunity to make guests feel as if they are in the middle of a classic Warner Bros.-style cartoon. With some three-dimensional elements, but mostly through brightly painted backdrops (lit by black light) and lots of crashing through walls, the ride puts guests through some time-honored cartoon gags: an electrifying spin through the Toontown Power House, a crash through a china shop, an explosion (and the resulting head-spinning, birds-chirping world of cartoon unconsciousness) and a long fall from the top of a skyscraper.

And, lurking around every corner, those darned weasels.

A ride attraction was part of the original plan for Toontown, said Joe Lanzisero, senior concept designer with Walt Disney Imagineering, but it took awhile to come up with the right idea. Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid rides were among those considered, but "none of them really had the right temperament," Lanzisero said.

He credits the Roger Rabbit idea to Disney president Michael Eisner ("and I'm not kissing up," he joked). Up to the opening of the new Car Toon Spin, Mickey's Toontown has been "very kiddie-oriented," Lanzisero said. The new ride has "a little harder edge to it. . . . It's going to appeal to a much broader range of people."

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