In Praise of Toy Story Land…
Walt Disney famously watched his two daughters riding the carousel at Griffith Park and Los Angeles and thought, “I could do this better.”
While Uncle Walt obviously liked Griffith Park enough to take his family there, he felt it wasn’t clean or safe enough overall.
Disney dreamed of a consolidated place where families could have multi-generational fun in a nurturing environment. And I strongly suspect he would love Toy Story Land for that reason.
Today, I come to sing the praises of Toy Story Land, a place that gets a bad rap in some Disney circles but is genuinely terrific.
In Praise of the Theming
Circling back to the days of Uncle Walt, he believed passionately in the concept of theming. The visionary wanted everything at Disneyland to tell a story.
Over the years, Disney has perfected that idea thanks to devout Imagineers like Joe Rohde.
He believed in staging to the point that every piece guests see in an attraction should tie back to the story.
Based on this philosophy, Walt Disney would have adored Toy Story Land, a place that shrinks visitors down to the size of their toys.
While adults often grow jaded about such concepts, kids believe the impossible more readily. Once they notice the oversized Woody, they totally buy into the premise!
All the visible parts of Toy Story Land tie back to the underlying concept. You’re small, and everything around you is big!
Visuals as simple as Christmas lights look massive when you’re the size of a toy!
Disney leans into this premise hard. The E-Ticket attraction here is a glorified toy set that Andy won and has only partially constructed.
You’re living out a fever dream where the important parts of the roller coaster track haven’t been built yet!
There’s not another theme park on the planet that would demonstrate that sort of bravado with its attractions.
Imagineers have deftly integrated the magic of scale into Toy Story Land, and it’s made virtually anything here.
I mean, a Slinky toy can be the size of a roller coaster. Stop taking genius like that for granted!
In Praise of the Minor Attractions
The adage “can’t see the forest for the trees” applies far too often in theme park design.
Developers want to prove their prowess by constructing state-of-the-art attractions that will dazzle guests…and look good on their resumes.
Thankfully, Imagineers rarely fall victim to this problem. Instead, they always keep in mind their founder’s philosophy regarding theme parks.
Fun matters above all else. And the two lesser attractions at Toy Story Land demonstrate this perfectly.
Alien Swirling Saucers gets a bad rap for what it’s not, which is an E-ticket attraction. That evaluation completely misses the point, though.
When you ride Alien Swirling Saucers, you’re having a blast ramming into the person beside you.
Disney has somehow invented a new variant on bumper cars. You don’t need another car to hit! You’ve got the person riding in your own car!
This is a full-contact attraction that delights but also doesn’t try to do too much. In short, it’s perfect for parents!
You can have a playful time with your kids, and the only thing you’ll need to worry about is the occasional bruise when Junior plays too rough!
Similarly, I feel terrible describing Toy Story Mania! as a minor attraction.
At one point, it was the alpha at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the primary reason people visited!
Alas, that’s no longer the case, but this ride somehow exemplifies the greatness of Toy Story Land. That’s amazing since it pre-dates the land itself.
Years ago, Imagineers wanted to build something akin to a carnival attraction, only modern and upscale.
Their creation is a wildly engaging, highly competitive game wherein you try to break plates or pop balloons.
If Walt Disney returned to life and rode Toy Story Mania!, he would instinctively know what to do…and he would have the time of his life!
In Praise of the E-Ticket Attraction
I’ve already sung the praises of Slinky Dog Dash in this article, as I find its mere existence remarkable.
EPCOT takes a beating from social media critics due to its fixation on infotainment.
Some people feel strongly that attractions should entertain without any attempt to educate.
Disney has accepted this criticism over the years and largely moved away from infotainment…with one notable exception.
Slinky Dog Dash doubles as a physics lesson! So, we’re not even talking about minor infotainment here. This ride teaches high school-level science!
Of course, you’ll never realize this fact because you’re having too much fun.
Slinky Dog Dash keeps it simple by implementing a “fast in, fast out” strategy akin to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.
Your Slinky Dog ride cart will take you through the entire course in less than 120 seconds, and that’s counting the stop in the middle!
That ride time may sound brief, but you’ll experience a ton of ups, downs, twists, turns, and the most bunny hops in Orlando!
Plus, that stop/start in the middle of the ride elevates the thrill of it. This ride has stakes!
There’s a reason why guests frequently wait for an hour or more for a two-minute ride. Slinky Dog Dash never fails to satisfy.
In Praise of the Dining
As a rule, I don’t believe that restaurants should factor into conversations about themed lands. They’re largely their own thing.
However, I’m making an exception here because Woody’s Lunch Box serves such exquisite cuisine.
This eatery has earned a spot in the Comfort Food Hall of Fame for its remarkable takes on classic cuisine.
You may believe that you’ve eaten enough grilled cheese sandwiches, tater tots, and Pop-Tarts to feel jaded about them.
Once you sample the dishes at Woody’s Lunch Box, you’ll recognize that everything else you’ve tried was…less.
There’s a reason why you’ll find some of the biggest crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the area around this restaurant. It’s like a turf war for dining tables!