The new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway adds another chapter to the legacy of Disneyland dark rides that stretches from the relatively simple beginnings of the Anaheim theme park in 1955 to the latest high-tech attractions based on Star Wars and Spider-Man.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway debuts on Friday, Jan. 27 after a series of employee and media previews this week as part of a reimagined Mickey’s Toontown that returns in March.
Where does Runaway Railway fit into the pantheon of Disneyland dark rides? How does it compare to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure attractions of today and yesterday? What can riders expect when they climb aboard the first Disney ride-through attraction dedicated to the Mouse that started it all?
Disneyland’s newest addition isn’t a truly new ride. The East Coast version of Runaway Railway opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in March 2020, just a few days before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered Disney theme parks around the globe.
Runaway Railway is a throwback to classic Fantasyland dark rides with a mix of cutting-edge technology seen in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Avengers Campus.
After a series of blockbuster dark rides at the Disneyland Resort, it’s necessary to properly set the bar for what Runaway Railway is and what it is not.
The new Toontown trackless dark ride captures the chaos of the latest Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts with a topsy-turvy journey aboard a runaway train that encounters hurricanes, waterfalls and stampeding bulls.
At first glance, Runaway Railway feels like a modern tribute to the earliest days of the original Disney theme park. The Snow White, Peter Pan and Mr. Toad dark rides were the marquee attractions of Fantasyland when Disneyland opened in 1955 — and remain treasured landmarks of Disney fans to this day.
Runaway Railway recalls the early spirit of those classic Fantasyland dark rides with 2-D blacklight-painted flats throughout the attraction. The Snow White and Peter Pan rides have added projection mapping, video screens and other modern digital flourishes throughout the years that are also employed in Runaway Railway.
But this is not a leisurely cruise through wooden cutouts and simplistic dolls like It’s a Small World or an atmospheric immersion into the swashbuckling world of Pirates of the Caribbean or the ghostly realm of the Haunted Mansion.
Runaway Railway moves at a frenetic and chaotic pace just like the Mickey Mouse cartoons seen in the latest Disney Channel shorts. Disneyland’s new Mickey Mouse ride traces its lineage to the trackless Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters in Carsland — with the train cars in Runaway Railway dancing and spinning like the 1950s Italian Frizzante roadsters at Disney California Adventure.
The trackless train cars in Runaway Railway follow in a single file behind a steam engine operated by Goofy — but the cars are not connected together. This means the individual cars can and do take off on their own journey throughout the ride — much like the trackless ride vehicles in Rise of the Resistance.
There are other similarities to the groundbreaking Rise of the Resistance attraction that clocks in at an astonishing 18 minutes. The Runaway Railway ride vehicles dock into a port like the finale in the epic Star Wars attraction where riders watch scenes unfold on domed screens similar to the effects seen on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
The Mickey Mouse ride does toss riders around a bit from side to side and back and forth — but nothing like the raucous and rambling Indiana Jones Adventure. Runaway Railway is designed as a family-friendly attraction with no height requirement and only a simple lap bar restraint.
Runaway Railway is nothing like Web Slingers, Toy Story Midway Mania or Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters — there’s no gun mounted on the ride vehicle or anything to shoot at.
The closest parallel to Runaway Railway is right next door in Toontown: Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. Think of Runaway Railway as the next generation version of that cartoon-themed dark ride with spinning ride vehicles, a burst of brilliant colors and nonstop madcap humor.
The biggest surprise for some riders will be the versions of Mickey and Minnie seen throughout the new ride.
The animatronic Mickey and Minnie figures in the attraction will take some getting used to. Mickey and Minnie’s half-faces are shown in profile much like their two-dimensional cartoon characters. The twist: The three-dimensional characters’ animated faces are rear-projected onto half-domed screens sitting on their shoulders. The result: The Mickey and Minnie animatronics look off-putting — even in this off-kilter world. Disney describes the experience as 2.5D — somewhere between 2D and 3D.
So, where does Runaway Railway rank in the vast Disneyland dark ride pantheon?
Mickey and Minnie’s new ride blows away old school dark rides starring other Disney cartoon characters like Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh or Mike and Sulley from Monsters Inc.
Runaway Railway can’t compete with the thrill or complexity level of other modern rides like Rise of the Resistance, Web Slingers or Radiator Springs Racers.
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The new Toontown ride has a chance of going down in history as one of the great Disneyland dark rides alongside Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World. After all, Runaway Railway stars the Mouse that started it all at the core of its backstory.
Ultimately, Disneylanders will decide if Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway becomes an all-time dark ride favorite or gets relegated to the dustbin of history.