Like Mary Poppins, Disney World is "practically perfect in every way." But what our jolly 'oliday with Mary didn't reveal were the slight imperfections alluded to by that phrase's quantifier: Practically perfect? I'll bet Ms. Poppins' small glitches were legendary when they occurred. Maybe her umbrella flights damaged the ozone layer, or her spoonfuls of sugar helped wreck Dick van Dyke's Cockney accent. I speculate about near-perfection because I've been to Walt's Orlando resort 19 times, and while most of these visits went off without a hitch, when things did go wrong, they went wrong in unforgettable, spectacular fashion.
Considering that I can't seem to have a normal experience regardless of adventure or intent, I'm surprised at the paucity of my Mickey Mishaps. My most recent glitch happened two weeks ago. This time it featured one of our beloved Far-Flung Correspondents, 2012's Polish Film Critic of the Year, Michał Oleszczyk. He mentioned it during his Sundance coverage of "Escape From Tomorrow," a film shot guerilla-style in the same park where we spent three almost perfect days. The fascination of "Escape from Tomorrow," and how it was executed under the ever-watchful eye of the Mouse House, has been the talk of Sundance. As litigious as Disney can be, you may never see the surreal "Escape from Tomorrow." As a consolation prize for those unable to attend Sundance, I submit for your approval a tale called "Escape from Toy Story."
"Toy Story," the series that spawned two great installments and one OK one (you can decide which is which), is Pixar's defining picture. It spawned their two most beloved characters, Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear, the lovable space ranger who proved my math teachers wrong by daring to inquire about numbers beyond infinity. Woody and Buzz were extremely popular the day Michał and I entered Disney Hollywood Studios. They were posing with eager, starstruck individuals every time we passed their building. Additionally, the Pixar part of the park had a ride called "Toy Story: Midway Mania!" which was the most sought after ride in the entire theme park. The Fodor's Guide informed us that it was a fairly new addition, justifying its popularity.
Michał and I obtained FastPasses for it as soon as we entered the park. A 9:30 a.m. Fastpass ticket informed us we had to return at 5:40 p.m., 80 minutes before the park closed. The FastPasses, which are placeholders that allow you to skip long lines if you come back at their scheduled times, ran out for "Toy Story: Midway Mania!" soon after. I noticed the non-Fastpass wait time was 90 minutes, the longest I'd seen during our three days in three separate Disney Parks. I thought we were lucky to snare our guaranteed ride.
Whenever I'm in Disney World or Disneyland, either by myself or with company, I like to interact with the characters. Yes, I do realize I'm a grown man, numerically farther into adulthood than I care to admit, but I'm fascinated by the concept of meeting these animated heroes. The actors and actresses portraying the Disney folks who can talk aren't allowed to break character, and while I don't try to make them, I enjoy the gift of improvisation they employ. For example, I asked Mary Poppins if she were indeed "practically perfect in every way." She replied "yes." "In EVERY way?" I asked her, arching my eyebrows in as dirty old man a fashion as they could muster. She looked me in the eye and emphatically said "yes," as if she knew what I was implying.
I also had a rather interesting conversation with Princess Aurora, star of my favorite Disney cartoon, "Sleeping Beauty." I won't tell you what I said to her, but her reaction in the picture below should give you some idea.
The lines to see these characters go on for miles, and sometimes the stars abruptly leave. Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey walked off his spot as if he were saying "Eff y'all!" to the throngs of waiting fans. Over at Pixar, Woody and Buzz's queue was deceptive: Every time Michał and I noticed a short queue, we'd discover it snaked around the insides of the building multiple times. Four times we tried to have our moment with Pixar's heroes, only to give up after a few minutes of waiting. I was adamant about getting my picture with them, if only to please my nephew, so we kept trying, with our fifth time yielding success. Unlike Princesses Aurora and Jasmine, Woody and Buzz don't talk. I discovered they DO hit, however.
But I'm getting ahead of the story here. All day, I kept referring to our location by its former name, Disney-MGM Studios, which I'm sure is responsible for our bad karmic event. As we walked through the parks, I played tour guide for Michał's first visit. At Magic Kingdom two days prior, I told him an eerily prescient tale. Twenty years prior, I tried to get my teenaged brother to pose for a picture with Mickey Mouse. My brother flatly refused, to the point where a small argument broke out between us. While I was growling at my bro, Mickey Mouse snuck me. Grabbing me by the arm, he pulled me toward his picture spot. I wound up in the photographic memento. As revenge, I punished my brother with the closest thing Disney has to a bad time, the "It's a Small World" ride. "This'll teach you!" I threatened.
Now, what happened inside that ride is unclear, but right in the middle of it, it suddenly stopped. As time went on, I started hearing murmurs from other riders. Rumor had it that a little girl had fallen off the ride, hence why it was stuck. At no time during our hour inside the ride did they stop playing "It's A Small World." At one point, I offered to change places with the supposed, fallen little girl. At another, I asked God to please strike me dead and make sure my brother got home safely without me.
I left a good chunk of my sanity inside that ride, but I now know what the layer of Hell Dante reserved for lawyers looks like.
Michał thought this was a very funny story. He'd pay for that later.
Speaking of later, 5:40 p.m. rode up on us with a quickness reserved for when you're having fun. Part of that fun included a studio tour featuring the disembodied head of director Michael Bay. I'm sure they showed the rest of him at some point amidst the explosions, but Bay's movies indicate he'd make a perfect Zardoz. My fellow FFC and I went back to Toy Story Midway Mania! and were immediately given seats on the ride. We were also given 3-D glasses. I've been half-blind since I was 15, so 3-D is as useful to me as tits on a bull. My 2009 viewing of Toy Story in 3-D, which I wrote about here, foreshadowed this moment. Making matters worse is that Toy Story: Midway Mania!'s objective is to shoot at targets comin' at ya in 3-D. Which of course, I can't perceive. Fun times ahead!
Our ride car was a four person vehicle. The two other people were behind us and facing the opposite direction. The ride spins around before placing you at your next set of targets. In front of us was a clever and unrealistic looking space gun, our weapon of mass destruction. After each game, the ride spun us wildly toward our next test of skill. During all this spinning and firing of toy guns, a few bars of an instrumental version of "You've Got a Friend In Me" played in an infinite (and beyond) loop. The arrangement was nerve-wreckingly hideous, a high pitched, sped-up series of notes representing the first few lines of the song:
Imagine Julia Child singing that, and you have some idea how this sounded. "Did Randy Newman approve this version?" I asked Michał.
The ride spun, and Michał was getting all Man With No Name on the flying targets. His score reeled wildly on the screen. Meanwhile, I was just shooting at anything, because I couldn't get a bead on the 3-D elements. My paltry score needed Viagra. When I finally calibrated my eye in a fashion it scored me some hits, the ride abruptly stopped mid-spin.
Instead of a target, I was facing two of the people in another car. They were a young couple, a girl and the boy who, judging from her reaction, dragged her on this ride. We had stopped, but Randy Newman and Julia Child had not.
"Oh no," I said. "This is like your Small World ride story," said Michał. "No, please no!" I said. "Though honestly, I'd rather listen to 'You've Got a Friend In Me" than "It's a world of hope, it's a world of--"
My comment was interrupted by a familiar voice. It was Tom Hanks! I'm not quoting directly, but as Woody, he said something like "Keep your hands, arms and legs inside the ride. We'll be moving shortly! Hey Rex, can you put some new batteries in this ride?!!!"
"They recorded a special message for this?!!" I said. "This must happen fairly often," said Michał.
Rex, the dinosaur from the Toy Story series, was pretty damn slow with those Duracells. Five minutes went by. I could see the stoppage taking its toll on the couple. The boy looked clearly irritated, and how could he not be?
"We're going to die in here," I said.
That tune went on and on and on as the minutes passed. Occasionally, Woody's "reassuring" voice would tell us to betray our survival instincts and stay in the ride while Rex searched for batteries. I growled back "take the batteries out of Randy Newman and put them in this damn ride, Rex!" I then suggested to Michał that we shoot ourselves with the space guns. Disney must've thought of this, because they made it so you couldn't turn the guns in our direction. The boy in front of us had also tried this, and upon failure turned his space toy on me, as if asking "quid pro quo?" The girl in his car was now slouching down in her seat, mad as hell.
That damn music! It was an invitation to Bellevue Hospital. More minutes passed. Woody's message mocked us in almost Lynchian fashion. It knew we were never getting off this ride. Rod Serling was on his way from the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride to inform us we were now on his show. In some form of Stockholm Syndrome, I started singing along with the music. In my brain, I was reciting the tithes and offerings part of the bargaining with God monologue Burt Reynolds does in "The End." "Ten! Ten Percent, Lord!" my brain cried out. Mr. Oleszczyk remained as cool as a cucumber while I cracked up.
SUDDENLY THE RIDE MOVED!! And continued to move until we emerged from the tunnels and into the exits. People stumbled off the ride, visibly shaking. "I never want to hear that song again!" I told Michał.
But I DID still want to see Woody and Buzz. We got on the line and decided to stay. While waiting, Michał and I discussed what just happened. I complained about it, especially about Woody's reassuring message. Woody must have heard me, because after I shook hands with him and Buzz, Woody busted me upside the head. HARD. I don't know what he hit me with, as he caught me from my blind side, but whatever it was, I saw stars. For posterity, Michał took a picture of me wobbling around post-assault.
Nevertheless, I got my Woody-Buzz picture, the last one I would take in Disney World on this visit.
I'm sure this story will keep the other Far-Flung Correspondents from going anywhere with me. At least you'd have a good story to tell if you did. As we exited the park en route to the parking lot, Michał mentioned our earlier picture with the stars of "Cars," Mater and Lightning McQueen. I responded "I'm glad I didn't say anything about how much I disliked Cars 2. Considering Woody's reaction, Owen Wilson might have run my ass over."