The world’s largest Slinky Dog, the brown dachshund’s mouth open in a permanent grin, ears flapping in the breeze, rushes past you, his coils racing to catch up behind him, when you enter Toy Story Land in Orlando.
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.
All became instant hits for their ability to bring the “Toy Story” films to life with rides and attractions, and themed food and merchandise, perfect for families with younger children.
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.
Now we're giving the guests the opportunity to step into the stories.
“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.
And it’s a perfect one that gets all of the elements right: It’s fast but not scary, surprising with its twists and turns and second hill climb in the middle, and just looks great at night, with its creative lighting effects.
Other Toy Story Lands had a version of a Slinky coaster, the Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin, but they were smaller rides that just went in circles.
“Because we had dramatically more land, we really had to start from scratch,” Gould says. “This was gonna be a different experience, so we said, ‘What if we really blew that up? What if that became a Slinky Dog roller coaster and we used that to energize the backyard from one end to the other?’ We wanted it to be kinetic, you know? We didn’t want this to be, ‘Oh, you came to this place where it’s dead.’ Because the whole point is Andy’s away and the toys are alive.”
Still for Slinky to play such a big role in the new Toy Story Land in Orlando is a bit of a surprise.
The stars of the “Toy Story” films, afterall, have been Sheriff Woody and Buzz, voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. In Orlando, the characters are almost turned into ancient Greek statues, massive 20-foot versions of the toys that tower over guests, frozen in place, providing perfect photo opportunities.
While they’re featured in Toy Story Mania, they’re absent anywhere else. That’s partly because the Magic Kingdom, also part of Walt Disney World in Orlando, has Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, in Tomorrowland.
Each Toy Story Land has its signature thrill ride, with Slinky Dog Dash being the one for the Hollywood Studios park. Toy Story Lands in France and Hong Kong have a large RC Racer half-pipe, while Shanghai has Rex’s Racer. All put guests in a car that flings them back and forth on the track.
Designers clearly had fun with Toy Story Land. It’s all in the details with 400 giant building blocks, Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs, yo-yos, dominoes, Crayola crayons, a Barrel of Monkeys, Rubik’s Cube, Scrabble tiles and countless Green Army Men filling Andy’s backyard whose border is outlined by a giant wooden fence.
Look out on the walkways for Andy’s footprint, which is about 25 feet long or the equivalent of a size 240 shoe. Retail outlets are built inside toy trucks; food outlets are inside a lunchbox; Toy Story Mania is meant to be the entrance to Andy’s bedroom.
The giant Cootie bugs outside the restroom cap off the land’s overall sense of cute humor.
Just notice that every single object is a toy. Every lamp, every bench, every garbage can.
Toys are basis for everything built in Toy Story Land, of course.
The Alien Swirling Saucers ride is designed to replicate a playset Andy won at the Pizza Planet restaurant, complete with “The Claw” that hangs overhead guets as they spin around in toy rocket ships.
“Just notice that every single object is a toy,” Gould says. “Every lamp, every bench, every garbage can. There is nothing that breaks that story. The Imagineers were devoted to it. Every single object here is a toy and you know, so, there’s a lot of fun things to discover.”
Ask any Imagineer what their favorite part of the park is and they’ll point to the drawings, toy boxes and game boards that help tell a story that the movies didn’t delve into like Rex’s box that sells him as a fierce, terrifying dino; and Andy’s detailed hand-drawn plans for Slinky Dog Dash, created with the Dash & Dodge Mega Coaster Kit.
The box for Wheezy that guests will pass in the Slinky Dog Dash queue, is a notable fave.
“My favorite thing about it is it really does give you more information about where Wheezy came from, how long Andy’s had him and it’s just a great graphic,” says Disney graphic designer Alexis Cummins.
“The graphics tell a story because they really help ground where you are,” Cummins adds. “Any visual is really going to do that for guests, especially at Toy Story Land. We’re using all of the things Andy would actually have at his disposal to make our signs and graphics.”
For food options at Woody’s Lunch Box, there’s a menu filled with sandwiches, including turkey, brisket, a Monte Cristo, and grilled cheese with tomato soup. Every sandwich can be made gluten free, with vegan options also available for order. Sides include Tater Tots or as a main dish topped with chili. For dessert there are tasty handpies filled with Nutella or raspberry made from scratch. All very kid friendly.
Toy Story Land is part of a multi-year reimagining of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the largest expansion in the theme park’s history.
Coming up next is Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, the first Mickey Mouse themed ride-through attraction in Disney’s parks. The biggest draw, however, will clearly be Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the first full “Star Wars”-themed land, modeled after Black Spire Outpost, a never-before-seen remote trading port where characters and their stories come to life.
“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.”
Other “Toy Story”-Themed Lands Around the World
• Toy Story Playland, Walt Disney Studios Paris – Aug. 17, 2010
• Toy Story Land, Hong Kong Disneyland – Nov. 17, 2011
• Toy Story Land, Shanghai Disneyland – April 26, 2018