“If you yell ‘Andy’s coming!’ in front of the Toy Story characters at Disney, they will stop what they’re doing and drop.” Well, at least according to a meme that went viral in 2013. The caption, accompanying a photo of a Guest sprawled motionless on the ground next to Woody and Jessie, sparked a surge of countless others attempting to the same. Whether or not the interaction was ever a recurring habit for Toy Story characters in the parks or a one-time moment that was interpreted or spread incorrectly, for about a year, things quickly got out of hand and the interaction was strongly discouraged. You couldn’t be anywhere within the vicinity of any Toy Story character without hearing someone screaming “Andy’s coming!” and Cast Members fervently repressing the comments.
Several years later, we find ourselves in an exciting time for the Toy Story franchise, and “Andy’s coming!” is the one thing we won’t be saying. Within the new Toy Story Land, opening June 30 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Andy is away, leaving behind a heap of toys and contraptions for us to explore in his backyard. They’re larger than life and out of this world (we’re toy-sized here, after all). Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the whole Toy Story gang are here to show us around and teach us how to use Andy’s things. Why they’re so concerned with keeping their existence a secret to one little boy, but fully open to revealing themselves to thousands of other humans is beside the point (we must just look like really convincing toys), but that is irrelevant to the wonderland in which we find ourselves, an escapist Imagineering creation that’s some old, some new, some refreshed, and all fun.
The anchor of Toy Story Land is actually an existing attraction. Toy Story Midway Mania!, which first opened in 2008, is the E-Ticket headliner of the area. Originally existing in a narrow alley called Pixar Place, the ride’s entrance will flip to the other side of its show building to be part of the more vast Toy Story Land. While the ride has received various upgrades over the years, including new characters in 2010 and adding a third track to increase capacity in 2016, it will largely remain the same within the framework of Toy Story Land. Its premise involves Andy receiving a gift box of toy midway games and us joining in for some game time. A marvel of 3D and real-time game interaction technology, it’s become one of the most popular attractions in all of Walt Disney World.
The other attractions of Toy Story Land are completely new and undoubtedly enjoyable, but far less ambitious. Slinky Dog Dash will be a family roller coaster existing thanks to Andy’s creative brain merging some toy track pieces with his Slinky Dog toy. Alien Swirling Saucers is a flatride whip attraction, essentially identical to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Disney California Adventure, but with the three-eyed aliens from Pizza Planet as its subjects. Both Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers are outdoors and exposed, leaving little to the imagination, somewhat ironic considering where we are.
Character greetings have been confirmed for Toy Story Land, though specifics have not been detailed. Woody’s Lunch Box will function as a new counter-service dining location, serving specialty sandwiches, Pop-Tarts-esque snacks, and “totchos,” comprised of potato barrels, corn chips, chili, and cheese. (Because there definitely isn’t a major restaurant in Toy Story that would have been way cool for Disney to finally build right. Nevermind.)
Toy Story is undoubtedly one of the flagships of The Walt Disney Company. Since its premiere in 1995, its impact on animation, filmmaking, and popular culture at large cannot be overstated. The movie was the world’s first full-length computer-animated film and launched Pixar Animation Studios into a titanic force of creative genius that not only changed the game for everyone, but touched the lives of its audiences in a profound way. Toy Story and its succeeding sequels are films that resonate with children and adults by leveraging dynamic characters into an intriguing, likable, emotional narrative thread. Its notoriety as an undisputed classic franchise. All three of the films received Oscar nominations for Best Song, the original film received a Special Achievement Oscar, and Toy Story 3 won Best Animated Film and was even nominated for Best Picture. But more than any acclaim, it’s really that audience connection that propels Toy Story into a league of its own and makes its world something that we want to explore in real dimensions.
Toy Story is so beloved you can’t help but play with it more, pun intended. An evergreen property and a proven success time and time again, Disney hasn’t been shy in incorporating Toy Story into its parks over the last 23 years. Its primary infusion has been in the form of laser-pointer attractions inspired by Buzz Lightyear, existing in Florida, California, Paris, Shanghai, and Hong Kong (though the latter recently closed to make way for an Ant-Man attraction). In more recent memory, Disney has opened various incarnations of Toy Story Land, first in Paris, then in Shanghai, and now in Florida. Oddly, for such a powerhouse franchise, each iteration of Toy Story Land relies heavily on cookie-cutter attractions you’ve probably already ridden, in some form, at a handful of amusement parks. Sure, they’re themed to Toy Story, but they’re not entirely unique. You’ve seen them elsewhere, which is not the normal expectation for a headlining new Disney attraction.
This places Florida’s try up to bat with its own Toy Story Land in a peculiar position with perhaps an unfair expectation. Give it a few years and Toy Story Land will be one of many enticing items in a packed menu of stellar offerings at the currently-under-expansion Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The arrival of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway in 2019 will give Guests more choices and lessen the swarm toward one area. For now, though, in a park with so much in development without any other major new attractions, Toy Story Land will be hugely popular and the destination everyone will want to visit. And rightfully so. Disney’s marketing team has done an excellent job making us want to go there. But without any of the future attractions to accompany it, will it be worth the hype?
It’s hard to measure prior to opening day, but if we’re guessing, I’d lean toward no. For one, the land’s signature attraction is something we’ve already done. If you’ve visited Walt Disney World anytime within the last decade, you’ve likely ridden Toy Story Midway Mania!, immediately eliminating any “new ride” intrigue that would be present if it were just now opening for the first time. Slinky Dog Dash is sure to be fun, though somewhat straightforward and nowhere near as elaborate as the similarly scoped Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Meanwhile, Alien Swirling Saucers, again, while fun, is nothing revolutionary and definitely underwhelming by Disney standards. Furthermore, even disregarding the quality of the experience altogether, the two new rides by function will have an extremely low hourly capacity, making for agonizing wait times.
This means that Toy Story Land will open with all the fanfare, publicity, and unfathomably large crowds as Pandora – The World of Avatar had last year, but with a product that is less impressive in scope and less efficient in capacity than anything that Pandora dazzles with. Avatar Flight of Passage may command extraordinarily long lines, but there is no arguing its delivery of one of the best experiences on Disney property. No one will be saying the same for either of Toy Story Land‘s new attractions. If you haven’t ridden Toy Story Midway Mania!, it’s a different picture. If the two less-ambitious attractions had faster capacity, it’s less of a headache. If you give things four years to settle in and complete the park’s in-progress makeover, it’s a separate study altogether. It’s still an area that is built with a Disney level of detail and immersion, but the experiences are contrary to what the average Guest probably anticipates. Does every attraction have to be THE BEST thing ever? No, but these days publicity treats it like it is. Honestly, when you boil it down, Toy Story Land is a glorified refurbishment of atmosphere. I almost wish we could just embrace it as such without all the hoopla because I truly think that’s how it should be assessed and enjoyed—not as a major new addition ranked in comparison to Orlando’s nonstop string of cutting-edge innovations, but as simply new features that improve an existing area.
Granted, I could be wrong. Long lines and less-ambitious attractions might not bother families at all. They might just love being able to enter the world of Toy Story and have the time of their lives. And once the park diversifies its portfolio, this conversation will largely be irrelevant. For an opening season, however, crowds are predicted to come in droves. Park open is [8:00] AM every day in July and August with daily (!) Extra Magic Hour at [7:00] AM. Toy Story is extremely special to me personally, being the first film I ever saw in a movie theater and being among my favorite movies of all time. My decades-old Woody toy is the only remnant of my childhood that exists in my apartment. Many others feel a similar attachment to this series and to these characters. Rather than anticipating Toy Story Land as the next big thing to revolutionize the theme park standard, it should be embraced as a celebration of the world Toy Story exists within, that we now get to explore ourselves… hopefully with FastPasses on deck. Just shift that meaty expectation toward Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and get ready for some real crowds.
All images © Disney and or Disney/Pixar.
Are you excited for Toy Story Land? What do you hope to find there?
To learn more about Blake and read his recent posts for WDW Radio, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.