This is the page for my written review of Toy Story Land. Find the podcast conversation here!
Toy Story Land comes with a lot of expectations. It comes one year after the much delayed Pandora: The World Of Avatar, and a year before the crown jewel of Disney’s current portfolio, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It is the first step in redefining what Hollywood Studios represents. From a more practical view, it also has to rejuvenate a park that has had as few as 3 attractions operational. To cap it all off, it has to do all of this while still living up to the level of quality Disney fans have come to expect. I was fortunate enough to visit Toy Story Land this past week, and from my two shoes, it looks as though they have struggled to meet the goals they have set for themselves.
When you enter Toy Story land you are “shrunk” to the approximate size of a green army man, and a 20 foot tall stationary Woody statue greets you as you enter the land. In a bit of an interesting decision, while he is motionless, he does talk. I’m sure kids love it, but as an adult it is a little creepy. The scale of all of the toys seems inaccurate. In reality, a green army man is 2 inches tall, and a Woody doll is 16” tall. That Woody statue should be somewhere around 40 feet tall, but it doesn’t seem like they took things that far.
A few of Woody’s static friends like Buzz, Jessie, and Rex are also scattered throughout the area, but there aren’t many. The motionless nature of the toys extends to most of the land. The only kinetic aspects of the area are the attractions themselves. Having Slinky Dog Dash weave through half the land is a great weenie to get you on the ride. Pun definitely intended. That being said, if the coaster ever goes down for technical difficulty, the entire land would feel lifeless. For a land predicated on the idea of being a toy, exploring isn’t as much fun as it should be.
Speaking of exploration, parents should keep in mind that the minimum height requirement for the rides are 32” and 38”. So if you have a little one smaller than that, you might be walking around this land looking for something to do. There will be some live entertainment, but it is quite surprising that there isn’t shade, an air conditioned gift shop, or even a kids play area.
Even though the land is static, if you take a moment to look around, you’ll notice some fun details as well. You should explore and find them for yourselves, but I’ll share a few. Do you remember those wooden toy train tracks from when you were a kid? The ones that you put together like a puzzle? Well there is a bench made out of those tracks. If that isn’t enough, one side of the bench has a piece broken off because Andy, a kid, played with it. Another clever detail that may be missed is that the restrooms are inside a box of cooties. While they don’t replace kineticism, clever details like those are sure to put a smile on your face.
There are two reimagined attractions to enjoy, and one brand new experience. Toy Story Mania is mostly unaltered but now has a new outdoor facade that appropriately fits the conceit of the attraction. Inside, it sports a redesigned queue, and the return of carnival barker Mr. Potato Head. It’s a smart move as they took a guest favorite, breathed some new life into it, and had it support the overall feel of the land itself.
Alien Swirling Saucers is another rethemed attraction, but this one comes to us from Disney’s California Adventure. If you’ve ever visited Cars Land and been on Maters Junkyard Jamboree, you’ve more or less been on Swirling Saucers. It is a deceivingly fun little ride that is perfect for families (that are at least 32” tall). I wouldn’t wait much more than 30 minutes for it, but it’s certainly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the Alien retheme isn’t all that much to phone home about. I went during it’s first few weeks of operation, and it already feels as dated as the now decades old Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.
Opening a marquee land with two existing attractions that got a new coat of paint was a concern of mine when it was announced. I was hoping the saving grace would be the main attraction, Slinky Dog Dash. Now having been on it 3 times, I can say it succeeds in a few ways, but fails in others. The thrill of the ride itself is perfectly balanced in my book. As an adult, I had a blast, but I could also see my 3 year old niece begging to ride it over and over. It’s no rock ‘n rollercoaster, but it’s also a significant jump in thrill over Seven Dwarves. Oh, and it’s smooth as hell. There’s a great little effect half way through the attraction that disguises a potentially necessary operational behavior as an in theme detail. It’s so clever, and it may be my favorite detail in the entire land.
The attraction is split up into two halves. The first has some great thrills, and fun theming elements. I’m sorry to say that the second half not only loses those theming elements, but also breaks any illusion that you’re in Andy’s backyard. Within moments you are distracted by the construction site of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but even worse, you also get a perfect view of backstage areas. This is what we expect from Universal, or dare I say it Six Flags. Not Disney. As with Pixar Pier, I don’t put the blame at the feet of Imagineers. It feels as though they had their budget cut half way through development. I’ve heard the argument that “hey it’s a toy set, it doesn’t have to be elaborate!”, and I disagree. Just because it’s a toy doesn’t mean it has to be cheap. For starters, kids toys today are anything but cheap. More importantly, this is Disney. I guarantee you there are Imagineers that have concepts that would impress all of us, but simply weren’t given the funding for them. Which is really disappointing considering the price that one pays to visit these parks.
Whether it’s through an upcharged bus service, or an expensive dessert party, Bob Chapek has been known to make the most out of Disney’s dollar. Toy Story Land feels like the first real product that has had his signature touch. I’ll give you an example. In the load area for Slinky, there is a big crayon drawing on the wall showing you how Andy wanted his new toy coaster set to be designed. He scribbled a moment when Jessie would save Rex from falling, an attack by the evil Dr. Porkchop, a jungle full of monkeys, and a Green Army base. Don’t get too excited about seeing any of that though, because only one of those scenes made it. Just shrubbery. Some might say that was just “Andy’s idea”, but it was also in the original concept art. Kathy Mangum even said these elements would be in the attraction when they announced it back in 2015.
In fact, the concept art shows a land I would have loved to visit. Take a look for yourself. It has a Woody’s Roundup welcome area, Al’s Toy Barn, an indoor restaurant, an indoor queue for Saucer Swirl, tons of show elements for Slinky, and a dugout element that follows the track of the coaster. This is another recent example of how Imagineering had their hands tied for one reason or another. I understand that Blue Sky concepts won’t always be the same as the finished product, but the key difference here is that once Disney shares them on stage in front of millions of fans, they are no longer Blue Sky Concepts, they’re products.
Disney has put themselves in a challenging dilemma when it comes to guest expectations. At the first D23 expo, they announced a ton of new parks additions as if they were a new set of iPhones. That set a precedent, and now fans come to D23 expecting new products, just like Apple announcements. The problem is Disney is now beholden to a summer announcement every other year, whether new products are ready or not. It happened last year with the announcement of a clearly half baked Epcot revamp, and it seemingly happened with Toy Story Land. Apple announces a finished product, and then releases it a week later. They don’t show us what designer sketches of what 2020s iPhones might look like in 2018. Theme parks are a completely different beast than consumer electronics, so it’s almost as though we’re going through the development process with them.
Disney is a big company, and they are juggling a lot of projects right now. It wouldn’t surprise me if they took money from this project to send it over to any number of the other construction projects across the company, such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Galaxy’s Edge casts a figurative and literal shadow across Toy Story Land. While I am looking forward to that, it may have hurt this area of the park. Ultimately this is what disappoints me about Toy Story Land, the missed potential.
With the opening of Toy Story Land, Disney has released a new vision for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. From their press release “Disney’s Hollywood Studios is transforming into a place where everyone can play together and experience their own adventures in the immersive worlds of their cinematic imagination”. If the new goal of this park is to put you into the world of your favorite movies, I can’t say that Toy Story Land brings you to Andy’s backyard the way that Cars Land brings you to Radiator Springs. There are moments that remind you how great those movies are, but I never felt that I was a toy. I’m not saying that I didn’t have fun, rather I have come to expect more out of Disney. This leaves a lot of weight of the park on the shoulders of Galaxy’s Edge. I don’t expect Disney to skimp out on one of their most lucrative franchises, but this is Bob Chapeks Walt Disney World after all.