Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Video Games : Online Video Game

Disney's Toontown Online

Fall 2003 Online Video Game
Ages: 7 & Up
Manufacturer: Disney Online
Disney breaks new online gaming ground with this first-ever massively multiplayer online game for kids as young as seven. As you'd expect from the masters of animation, this gigantic and colorful cartoon environment introduces kids to a whole new toon reality where characters interact, evil Cogs robots roam and cause trouble, and puzzles and games await around every wacky corner.

The premise: Cogs are turning happy buildings into ugly buildings in ToonTown and players--playing as their own custom-created toon character--must stop them. Along the way, there are loads of reward-winning chores and favors to do and endless exploring of ToonTown while doing it (using the arrows buttons on the keyboard to navigate).

The Cogs' Achilles heel is that they can't stand gags; they explode if subjected to them. So, much of time in ToonTown is spent playing mini-games, such as PacMan-like mazes and swimming through underwater rings, to earn jellybeans that buy more gags, like squirting flowers, squirt guns, pies for throwing, to defeat the Cogs. The rest of the time is spent doing tasks for toon citizens and playing at playgrounds to replenish happy-meter points that are lost in battling the Cogs. You get the idea.

The toon characters that populate ToonTown, meanwhile, tend to be familiar faces from Disney's world, plus lots more new toony characters who are being played by other real-life kids logged on to TownTown from elsewhere.

Talking to them is done only through controlled "speed chat" conversations in which responses come from pulldown menus and appear as cartoon speech bubbles above characters' heads. This is to control the online freedom of speech from turning vulgar and to protect children at play from the Internet's otherwise inevitable negatives. But it also limits ToonTown's sounds to quacks and grunts and honks and other toony noise, stuff that gets annoying after too long.

Disney does allows non-menu conversation by keying in speech, but only in the "secret friend" mode, a level of security in which registered players exchange secret passwords by email or phone outside the game so they can converse inside the game.

ToonTown is worth trying the free trial (at for no other reason because you probably have never seen anything quite like it. While it's not an educational game--no math mazes or spelling arcades--this virtual online game world is safe and fun, and it will astound youngsters once they realize they're toon is walking around ToonTown at the same time as toons controlled by other children. And at $9.99 a month, it's not so pricey if the novelty wears thin.

Don Oldenburg   ©2003 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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