The themed 11-acre playground is Pixar Animation Studios’ next big blockbuster for Disney and comes 20 years after it first introduced cowboy Woody, space ranger Buzz Lightyear and the rest of their friends in the first “Toy Story” movie.
Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Land isn’t the first for Disney’s theme parks. It’s actually the fourth, coming after similar mini parks in Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
The concept of the themed land within an amusement park has taken off at Disney, but also neighboring Universal Studios, with Cars Land, which opened in 2012, in California; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks in Florida, California and Japan; Shanghai’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, and Orlando’s The World of Avatar since then.
“If you think back to 2006, when we birthed the idea of Cars Land, people weren’t building single-story immersive lands,” says Roger Gould, creative director of the theme parks group at Pixar Animation Studios. “Now we’re giving the guests the opportunity to step into the stories. We make these movies, but now to be able to walk into them and be inside the film, it just makes me smile.”
When Pixar and the wizards at Walt Disney Imagineering, who design Disney’s theme park attractions, were tasked with helping redevelop Hollywood Studios with a Toy Story Land, the question was where do they start?
In Orlando, they had more space to literally play with than at the other parks, giving them room to innovate.
The first challenge was grounding the story of the land. In this case, you’re entering the backyard of Andy, the human who owns all of the toys in the “Toy Story” films.
The idea is that guests are shrunk down to the size of a toy as they explore Andy’s backyard and see their favorite “Toy Story” characters larger than life.
“We always start with the story, and these films have very established themes and movements and heart,” says Ryan Wineinger, creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering. “So we in collaboration with Pixar from the very beginning, we sit around a table and we learn about what it is to celebrate from these films. And that is the joy of playtime. The spontaneity that comes with being a child, right, and that relationship between the chosen family of friends like these toys are. So when you start there, it made sense to us that when you’re in this backyard, you need to be one of the toys with all of these characters because that allows you to reinforce all of that community that we feel from the films.”
With Andy’s background in mind, designers created meandering paths that lead to the land’s attractions, retail and food outlets. There are no straight lines in Toy Story Land. Kids don’t think that way.
The whole point is Andy’s away and the toys are alive.
At the center of it all is the Slinky Dog Dash, Toy Story Land’s biggest roller coaster to date, which weaves through the park, bobbing up and down hills and through circles, passing familiar Pixar characters along the way: cowgirl Jessie, dino Rex, and penguin Wheezy, who sings “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
While there are other rides in Toy Story Land, including the Alien Swirling Saucers, starring the little green Aliens from Pizza Planet, and a new entrance for Toy Story Mania, the best Midway carnival game ever made, Slinky Dog Dash is the main attraction.
“Well, this park, you know, has this beautiful Main Street of classic Hollywood, but it was always a making of behind-the-scenes-story and that time has passed,” Gould says. “We found with Cars Land, our guests wanna go into the story. They don’t want to talk about how it was made, they wanna be in the story. Toy Story Land is really the first big step towards transforming Disney’s Hollywood Studios into an immersive storytelling park. You know, Andy has a next door neighbor, who’s kind of a rich kid and he’s spoiled and he has this deluxe ‘Star Wars’ play set that they’re setting up next to Toy Story Land. But, that’s gonna be, obviously, an extraordinary land as well.”