Home » From Atom to Zurg: 10 Microscopic Ways Imagineers Have Made Guests SHRINK

From Atom to Zurg: 10 Microscopic Ways Imagineers Have Made Guests SHRINK


Disney Parks are big places. In the shadow of Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth, Grizzly Peak, or the Tree of Life, it’s only natural that guests might begin to feel small. But some Imagineering experiences around the globe take that to the extreme!

In fact, it may feel that a day at a Disney Park simply isn’t complete without suddenly becoming the size of a toy, rat, or ant at least once. But just how small can you get? Join us as we progressively shrink down through ten miniaturizing Disney Parks attractions that make guests smaller, and smaller, and smaller. Which of these attractions succeed most at transporting guests to an oversized world? We’ll leave that for you to decide… Just let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

SMALL: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Image: Disney / Pixar

Size: Action figure
Location: Magic Kingdom

Believe it or not, the 1998 opening of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Magic Kingdom represented one of the very first instances of Pixar properties finding their way into Disney Parks – a story we told in-depth in a special DISNEY•PIXARLAND feature. Technically based on Toy Story 2, the ride introduced the evil Emperor Zurg (the series’ Darth Vader spoof) and expanded on the mythology of Buzz Lightyear’s Star Command intergalactic police force.

Image: Disney / Pixar

Space Ranger Spin soon spread to every single Disney Resort on Earth (though today, it’s missing from one). In each Tomorrowland, the blacklight dark ride recruits guests to Star Command themselves on a mission to stop Zurg’s plans for world domination. Even if you considered that the ride may take place in Buzz’s standalone Space Ranger reality, the fact that guests are blasting toy aliens to rescue AA batteries proves that this is well within the toy-sized Toy Story universe.

While shrinking to the size of a toy may sound small to us, Disney lore has it that Buzz Lightyear is nearly 12 inches tall! That means that we’ve got a long, long way still to shrink before we see just how small Disney Parks have made guests go… 

SMALLER: Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy

Image: Disney

Size: Rat
Location: Walt Disney Studios Park

When the infamous second gate opened at Disneyland Paris in 2002, the park was bad enough to earn its own in-depth Declassified Disaster: Walt Disney Studios feature here. A gradual commitment to turning around the tired “studio” style reached a high point with the 2014 opening of the Modern Marvel: Ratatouille – L’Aventure

While waiting for the attraction atop the roofs of Paris, guests turn the corner to find they’ve suddenly shrunk to the size of a rat without much pomp or circumstance! Fittingly, the 21st century dark ride sees guests board trackless rat-shaped ride vehicles to scurry along the rooftops, ultimately scampering through the kitchens and dining rooms of Gusteau’s fine-dining restaurant.

Image: Disney / Pixar

The ride – which is on its way to Epcot’s France pavilion as Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure – will play the role of a fun family adventure at both parks (even if it’s not the technological headliner fans had hoped for). It even ends with a look into the attached Bistro Chez Remy restaurant, where still-shrunk guests sit on seats made of bottle caps beneath drink umbrellas in the warm glow of giant Christmas light chandeliers in what must be an elegant restaurant… for a rat. 

Cleverly, as guests exit, they’re restored to full size in another artfully plain way… Walking down the exit corridor of massive kitchen tiles the width of the hallway, an archway acts as the transition point where the floor pattern suddenly returning to normal size. Voila! Though a rat is smaller than an action figure, we’ll need to get even smaller to fit inside a board game… 

SMALLER STILL: Toy Story Midway Mania

Image: Disney

Size: Board game token
Location: Disney California Adventure

Toy Story Midway Mania opened in June 2008 as part of the billion dollar redesign of the Declassified Disaster: Disney’s California Adventure. Since guests criticized the park for lacking rides, characters, and things for families to do together, the interactive and competitive Toy Story dark ride was a triple threat and a major milestone in the park’s transformation. 

On board, guests in rotating game vehicles travel from screen to screen, pulling poppers to play classic boardwalk games like break-the-plate, ring-the-bottle, and pop-the-balloon… just with Toy Story characters as hosts and the midway-melody of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” on repeat. Setting Midway Mania among the real games of the park’s boardwalk was brilliant.

Image: John Watson, Flickr (license)

In one of the cuter details we’ve yet seen, guests exiting the attraction climb a set of stairs into the ballroom tower that serves as the attraction’s marquee only to find a simple seaside Victorian living room… with the Midway Mania box they just left on a woven rug on the floor. It’s a charming and thoughtful unspoken detail that adds to the ride’s whimsy.

Three Toy Story Mania attractions exist, each dressed differently. Like California Adventure’s West Coast Victorian ballroom, Tokyo DisneySea’s version is housed in an elegant East Coast electric trolley park; at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the attraction’s original “soundstage” style showbuilding got a makeover and was incorporated into the next stop on our shrinking tour…

TINY: Toy Story Land

Image: Disney

Size: A Mini Babybel cheese wheel
Location: Walt Disney Studios, Hong Kong Disneyland, Shanghai Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Though the first opened at Disneyland Paris as a quick fix for Walt Disney Studios, almost every Disney Resort is now home to a Toy Story Land. The lands are bright, kinetic, and family friendly. That said, the areas have a reputation mong Imagineering fans for being “cheap and cheerful” stopgaps meant to quickly (and inexpensively) increase a park’s ride capacity with off-the-shelf, lightly-dressed, low-cost family flat rides. It’s the reason why the pathetic Walt Disney Studios Paris technically has more rides than Animal Kingdom!

Frequent readers have heard our well-intentioned criticisms of Toy Story Land enough, so we won’t bother repeating that there are better ways to invite guests into the world of Toy Story than the flimsy premise that Andy’s things have been haphazardly scattered in a backyard. But fitting for today’s feature is the land’s inconsistent scale. Ads promise the chance to shrink to the size of a toy, and given the success of the “Wizarding World” model, you might expect to indeed live your toy-sized adventure alongside meet-and-greet Buzz and Woody. But the reality is a bit different…

Image: Disney

Upon entering the land, guests are greeted by Woody and Buzz, who tower over them. While being part of the Toy Story world would imply seeing Andy’s toys come to life, the giant action figures in Toy Story Land are frozen and posed in place, while several guests would need to lie end to end to fill the giant “shoe print” stamped on the ground. From being the same size as Buzz to being the size of a Little Green Man, our shrinking continues…

ITSY-BITSY: A Bug’s Land and “It’s Tough to be a Bug”

Image: Disney

Size: Ant
Location: Disney California Adventure and Animal Kingdom

When Disney California Adventure opened in 2001, early reception signaled that the new park lacked a few things Disneyland guests expected, like, oh, you know, Disney characters and things for kids to do. In its second year, the quick-fix Flik’s Fun Fair (a bite-sized collection of bug-dressed flat rides) opened next to the existing “It’s Tough to be a Bug” 3D film, creating the new “a bug’s land.” 

If it sounds like “a bug’s land” served the same purpose as Toy Story Land would later, that’s true. But even if Toy Story became the de facto IP for “shrinking” guests, it’s arguable that “a bug’s land” did it better. How? First, it established and stuck to a cozy, ant-sized scale (think, a tissue box restroom, a giant garden hose splash pad, oversized half-eaten food).

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

Famously, the land was loomed over by massive bamboo blades of grass, towering shrubs, and a dozen 20-foot tall clovers, creating a forested, shaded, truly isolated feel for the little land, with narrow paths that truly feel down in the grass in a way Toy Story Land doesn’t. But just as importantly, it owned up to what it was – a carnival – with rides cleverly made of “trash” collected by the inventive Flik and his friends.

Though “a bug’s land” was squashed for the Avengers Campus land, “It’s Tough to be a Bug” still has guests filing into Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life like an army of ants, donning “bug eye” glasses as they witness the wonders of the insect world. 

TEENSY-WEENSY: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure

Image: rickpilot_2000, Flickr (license)

Size: Termite
Location: Disney’s MGM Studios

Though “It’s Tough to be a Bug” makes guests about equal in size to the film’s ant protagonists, an ant served as a climbable playset at the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure.” The larger-than-life playground at Disney’s Hollywood Studios also included spider web climbing nets, tunnels made of fallen leaves, slide down a giant roll of Kodak film, and massive blades of grass reaching 30 feet high.

Similarly, the “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” 3D film at Epcot, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland shrunk the physical auditorium to the size of a suitcase, terrorizing mite-sized guests with in-theater special effects like duplicated mice, a hungry snake, and more.

TEENY TINY: Nemo & Friends SeaRider

Image: Disney / Pixar

Size: Plankton
Location: Tokyo DisneySea

When DisneySea opened in 2001, its Port Discovery (the park’s nautical steampunk Tomorrowland) offered a unique original attraction called StormRider. Borrowing the technology of the Lost Legend: Star Tours (but upping the cabin capacity from 40 to 122!), this futuristic trip sent guests from the Center for Weather Control into the heart of a storm  to test a new weather-dissipating device… until something went wrong. In 2017, the Center for Weather Control became the Marine Life Institute from Pixar’s 2016 sequel Finding Dory.

Image: Disney / Pixar

While “Nemo and Friends” are no strangers to inclusion in Disney Parks (thanks to Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage, Epcot’s Seas pavilion, and Turtle Talks with Crush), only in Tokyo DisneySea do we get face-to-fin with the beloved Pixar characters on their scale. It’s all thanks to the Marine Life Institute’s discovery of “Chidiminium,” a shrinkable material the Institute has fashioned into a fish-shaped submersible. The “SeaRider” is also equipped with fishy artificial intelligence, allowing researchers like us to step aboard, shrink to fish-size, and interact with our aquatic friends as the sub makes decisions leading to randomized encounters!

MINIATURE: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle

Image: Disney / Marvel

Size: Spec of dust
Location: Hong Kong Disneyland

Though Disney purchased Marvel over a decade ago and kicked off a Cinematic Universe of billion-dollar films, infusing the superhero characters into the parks has been a significantly slower process. The first ever Marvel ride was Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland… step one in a long-term plan to annex part of Tomorrowland into a standalone, Marvel-themed Stark Expo land. The land took shape in 2019 with Nano Battle – ironically, a retrofit of the existing Buzz Lightyear dark ride that had been shrinking guests since the park’s 2005 opening!

Image: Disney

On board, riders are recruited by Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) when Hydra Swarmbots infiltrate the SHIELD Science and Technology Pavilion. The only way to beat them is from the inside, with guests using Pym’s miniaturizing technology to infiltrate the Swambots microscopic circuitry.

The ride’s been largely criticized by fans for taking a promising, high-energy concept and (by necessity) translating it to the slow-moving chain of Omnimover vehicles, passing through entirely static sets brought to life only through lights and projections. While the environment on board does replicate being inside a circuit board, there’s not a great sense of urgency, movement, or action. Just a sense of being small.


Image: Disney, via Yesterland.com

Size: Germ
Location: Epcot

Located in EPCOT Center’s whimsical Wonders of Life pavilion resided an attraction very different in tone to the celebratory circus of life outside. Stepping into the Lost Legend: Body Wars, guests found themselves in the offices of the Miniaturized Exploration Technologies corporation, “Pioneering the Universe Within” since 2063. Passing through “Dermatopic Purification” stations, guests would be recruited for miniaturization themselves, heading into a human to rendezvous with Dr. Cynthia Lair, who was studying a splinter from inside. 

Image: Disney

The ride itself – debuting less than two months before the technically-identical Lost Legend: STAR TOURS – placed guests aboard an “LGS 250” probe, Bravo 229. Placed before a “particle reducer,” the 26 ton vehicle would seem to emerge weighing less than a drop of water, with microscopic riders aboard no larger than a germ.

The ultra-turbulent (and inherently somewhat gross) journey violently pulsed guests through the undulating circulatory system, earning a reputation for being nauseating. Especially compared to the thrilling (but smooth) space flight alongside Star Tours’ well-known characters, Body Wars quickly faded from prominence before ultimately closing alongside the entire Life pavilion. Think you can’t get any smaller than a germ? Think again…

MOLECULAR: Adventure Thru Inner Space

Image: Disney

Size: Atom
Location: Disneyland

Finally, the ultimate shrinking adventure! Just before Walt Disney’s death, he and his team of designers were working on one of the most ambitious projects in Disneyland’s history – a New Tomorrowland! Heavily influenced by the Space Race, this gleaming, white, mid-century modern wonderland of soaring rockets, Googie architecture, and boundless optimism remains the land’s most iconic incarnation to this day.

Alongside the Lost Legends: Carousel of Progress and the Peoplemover stood the land’s most ambitious attraction, and an icon of the Atomic Age – the Lost Legend: Adventure Thru Inner Space. Sponsored by Monsanto, the attraction was the first ever to utilize Disney’s fabled Omnimover ride system, with a continuous chain of vehicles advancing through the iconic lobby and into the Mighty Monsanto Microscope (where miniaturized vehicles were seen continuing out the other end). There, the narration of Paul Frees (the Haunted Mansion’s “Ghost Host”) took over.

Image: Disney

During the almost-abstract ride, guests found themselves gradually growing smaller and smaller; to the size of a snowflake, then to a frozen water molecule, then to the size of the atom itself with the glowing nucleus within. Adventure Thru Inner Space is considered one of Disney’s most classic attractions ever; one of the final icons of a sincerely-futuristic Tomorrowland, and an inspiration for the educational dark rides of EPCOT Center that would follow.

It also gave guests the chance to shrink down to the smallest unit of matter, one ten-millionth of a millimeter! Now that’s small!