Skip to content

The History of Toy Story in Walt Disney World

As Toy Story 4 bows in theaters, it’s impossible not to think back on the legacy of this iconic franchise. Outside of the films themselves, Disney has never shied away from implementing the series in the theme parks. Across the last 24 years, you and your family may have some beloved vacation memories tied to Toy Story experiences at Walt Disney World. Let’s take a look at the extent that the movies have been infused into the resort, including a few that have long since kicked the bucket.

Toy Story Parade, 1995-1997
Over two decades before Toy Story Land, Andy’s toys made their Walt Disney World debut in the park that would one day become their permanent home. The first decade of operation of Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) saw an ongoing rotation of parades attached to new animated films. Toy Story was one such movie to receive its very own parade, something that seems rather impressive in today’s world of parades that spotlight many films in production. I had the privilege of seeing this parade as a preschooler, and let me tell you, I went nuts. Video footage shows four-year-old me freaking out at the sight of Buzz atop his giant spaceship-shaped toy packaging. In addition to Buzz, the parade debuted walk-around characters Woody, Bo Peep, Slinky Dog, Green Army Men, Rocky Gibraltar, and the monkeys (as in, from the barrel of monkeys), as well as animatronic versions of Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, and Rex. Toy Story Parade closed to make way for Hercules Zero to Hero Victory Parade in 1997, though as we’ll see later, Woody and Buzz were far from finished with parades at this park.

Toy Story Pizza Planet Arcade, 1996-2016
After seeing Toy Story, it was every kid’s dream to eat at Pizza Planet, and the restaurant practically screamed for an adaptation in a theme park. Disney aptly delivered… kind of. Though Disney-MGM Studios did open a new establishment called Toy Story Pizza Planet Arcade and said restaurant did serve pizza and boast a collection of arcade games, that’s where its similarities to the Pizza Planet depicted in the film end. Underwhelming when thinking about what could have been, but perhaps executed on a tight budget in an effort to simply get something open quickly after Toy Story‘s surprise megahit status, this version of Pizza Planet was pretty much a glorified cafeteria with a few arcade consoles. The space was rethemed to PizzeRizzo in 2016 to better fit thematically with the adjacent Muppet*Vision 3D.

While perhaps a bit disappointing, Toy Story Pizza Planet Arcade had its merits. In its early days, the building was adorned with large statues of Toy Story characters, and inside some of the stars would even occasionally stop by for photos (this was where I met Buzz for the first time!). Despite opening an entire land dedicated to Toy Story in 2018 (I know, I know, getting ahead of myself), the expansion still didn’t include a proper Pizza Planet. “But the premise is that you’re a toy in Andy’s backyard, so Pizza Planet wouldn’t make sense,” you say. Ok but could Andy not just have a Pizza Planet toy set? Drop the mic, thank you, let’s move on.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster, 1998-2017
The now-defunct DisneyQuest, billed as an “indoor, interactive theme park,” was a five-story facility at Disney Springs that housed games of all shapes and sizes, some physical and some virtual. Buzz Lightyear’s AstroBlaster was of the former variety, essentially being a twist on typical bumper cars by adding in the ability to shoot balls at other Guests’ cars. The experience closed when DisneyQuest shut its doors permanently to make way for the upcoming NBA facility. This attraction is not to be confused with Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, the name given to several non-Florida versions of the next item on our list.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, 1998-
The first ride to feature the Toy Story gang starred its resident Star Command Space Ranger. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin opened in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom, replacing Take Flight (which was itself a revamped version of its predecessor, Delta Dreamflight). The Omnimover laser-pointer ride was nothing to write home about in the form of technological Imagineering breakthroughs, but its story did present a unique creative foundation. While at first glance the attraction’s narrative involves Buzz’s outer-space persona, upon further inspection we’re still very much in a toy world. This means that all the characters in the attraction are in the same mode Buzz was at the beginning of Toy Story, believing their built-in space programming to be reality. This provides a fun lens from which to view the events of the attraction.

Also of note, the ride was really the first time that Disney detailed to this extent the world that Buzz thought he came from. The attraction opened in 1998. Toy Story 2, which introduced Evil Emperor Zurg and has an outer-space fantasy sequence, didn’t release until 1999. Furthermore, the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command direct-to-video film and television series didn’t debut until 2000. While elements of Star Command were mentioned briefly in the original Toy Story, they weren’t shown visually or explored with basically any detail. This means that Buzz Lightyear’s Space Spin was the first-ever appearance of Zurg, and was the first time that the public was exposed to the Star Command world, albeit a pretend, toy-view perspective of it.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was later duplicated at every Disney Resort worldwide. The only version to close has been the iteration at Hong Kong Disneyland, which made way for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle! in 2019.

Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort, 1999-
By 1999, Toy Story was an established item in the Disney library, a classic in its own right among the likes of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. It was only fitting, then, that as Disney slated to open an entire resort hotel celebrating film properties, Toy Story would be included among its represented selections alongside other movies that stood the test of time, like The Mighty Ducks. Ok, ok… so maybe the curated films brought to life at Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort may have been a bit of a product of their time and are a mixed bag as to if they’ve aged well, but there’s no arguing Toy Story was a smart choice for the time, and inarguably holds up as relevant today.

In fact, Toy Story was perhaps the most elaborate of all the wings at the hotel property, which in addition to The Mighty Ducks also hosted Fantasia, The Love Bug, and 101 Dalmatians. A giant bedroom door cracked open led the way into Andy’s bedroom, with huge (I mean HUGE) statues of Woody and Buzz anchoring either side of a courtyard that also included smaller statues of Bo Peep and Rex, as well as giant toy blocks. The hotel buildings themselves mimicked the iconic blue-sky wallpaper of Andy’s room, complete with cloud cutouts lining the outer railings made to look like film strips, in keeping with the movies theme of the resort.

Al’s Toy Barn, 1999-2008
Again, a Toy Story film provided an intriguing physical space that Imagineering adapted into a theme park locale… kind of. Ok, so building a full-scale, department-store-like toy store as it appeared in Toy Story 2 may not have made much sense in a Disney park, so Imagineering built the next-best thing: a 2D backdrop. A flat wall at Disney-MGM Studios depicted the exterior of Al’s Toy Barn, though no physical building was attached to it. Truth be told, it fooled seven-year-old me. As I saw Woody, Buzz, and Jessie go backstage via the doors on the Al’s Toy Barn wall, in my mind I pictured them going inside the store, which had to have existed behind the doors because, well, why wouldn’t it? Regardless, this exterior (nearby but not connected to Toy Story Pizza Planet Arcade) served as a photo-op background for character greetings with the Toy Story crew for almost an entire decade.

Parades, parades, parades
Would you believe that among the seven non-seasonal parades that Disney’s Hollywood Studios has hosted in its lifetime, Toy Story has been featured in FOUR of them (and basically been the star spotlight of THREE of them)? Here’s a condensed history.

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade (2001-2008) debuted as part of Walt Disney World‘s property-wide 100 Years of Magic celebration, honoring the 100th birthday of Walt Disney. As part of the festivities, every park received a new parade. Rather than huge floats, Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade featured a collection of unique car vehicles, each heavily stylized to depict a different Disney story. The car carrying Woody and Buzz was no different, being an extremely creative vehicle meant to resemble Andy’s bed!

Block Party Bash (2008-2011) placed Toy Story at the center of a connected Pixar universe alongside A Bug’s Life; Monsters, Inc.; and The Incredibles. Within the parade’s story, the Green Army Men are recruiting park Guests to have a block party within the streets of the park, utilizing actual toy blocks as floats in between other larger-than-life items from the Pixar films, like P.T.’s circus box from A Bug’s Life and C.D.A. headquarters from Monsters, Inc. Woody and Buzz served as emcees via audio for the entire production, and the Toy Story unit featured prominently as the finale, a colorful float featuring tinker toys, green aliens, and Andy’s radio/microphone toy. The parade different from most in that it focused on Guest interaction, the majority of its run time taking place when the parade stopped to have a literal party in the street that families could partake in. Block Party Bash actually first premiered at Disney California Adventure in 2005 before migrating over to Florida.

Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! Parade (2011-2013) has a title and punctuation that insinuates it was a lot more exciting than it really was. It took the floats from Block Party Bash and took away the parade’s story as well as the show stop, amounting to a very quick procession that felt jumbled and somewhat uninspired. It utilized the same music from Pixar Play Parade, a staple of Disneyland Resort that has performed on and off at both parks at that Disney property since 2008.

Toy Story Midway Mania!, 2008-
After years of appearing in Disney’s Hollywood Studios by means of temporary entertainment or quickly built experiences that could hardly qualify as full attractions, Toy Story finally received a permanent attraction at the park in the form of Toy Story Midway Mania! in a newly constructed Pixar Place area. The narrow street replaced Mickey Avenue and was meant to resemble Pixar’s Emeryville, California studio campus.

Once inside the ride’s building, however, the studio theme transitioned into the “real” world of Andy’s room, where he’s just received a new midway games playset. While Andy’s away, his toys have come out to play the games, and invite us to join them. The attraction quickly became one of the park’s headliners, and continues to be extremely popular today.

Toy Story Land, 2018-
This was it. All of the parades, all of the attempts at a full-scale environment, all of the individual attractions prior to this were merely a tease of what was to come. While varying versions of an entire area themed to Toy Story had opened throughout the years at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland, the first to come stateside would be Toy Story Land in 2018 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The land kept Toy Story Midway Mania! as its anchor, but ignored Pixar Place in favor of flipping the ride’s entrance to the other side of its show building, which would be joined by an elaborate recreation of Andy’s backyard. Here, Guests are welcomed as new toys, and invited to join in a wonderland of Andy’s creativity.

New rides included Slinky Dog Dash, an outdoor roller coaster that’s admittedly mild but does pack more thrill than meets the eye, and Alien Swirling Saucers, a flat ride involving spinning turn tables that’s undoubtedly similar to many attractions you’ve probably experienced elsewhere. (But did those rides have green aliens and a claw? I don’t think so.) The counter-service establishment Woody’s Lunch Box serves up signature tarts and a phenomenal grilled cheese, and the promise of an upcoming table-service restaurant (which still isn’t Pizza Planet… I’m not salty or anything) will mark an unexpectedly quick first expansion of Toy Story Land, considering it practically just opened.

After over two decades of fleetingly entering the imaginative world of Toy Story in various ways throughout so many different realms within Walt Disney World, it’s fulfilling to finally, actually *be* in that world, to walk around it, to explore it, to feel it. It was a long time coming, and… well, here I am getting ahead of myself again. Toy Story Land is a fascinating area to study in detail, and study it we will… in a later blog post.

In the meantime… Yikes! Andy’s coming! I gotta go, but we’ll see you next time here at WDW Radio.

What’s your favorite Toy Story experience at Walt Disney World, past or present?

Al’s Toy Barn, Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade, and Toy Story Land images belong to author’s personal collection. All others © Disney/Pixar.

To learn more about Blake and read some of his other posts on the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page.