Ever since its announcement at the 2015 D23 Expo, fans have been divided on Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I tend to side with those that are apprehensive about the new land, as I worry Disney could have done more with this project.
Much like the dedicated Toy Story environments in other Disney parks, the environment in Florida follows a similar approach of being a relatively low budget land that relies on the concept of being shrunken down to the size of a toy to justify a minimized and more cost effective land to fill space. While I’m not directly accusing Disney of cheapening out, I can’t help but wonder if the many Toy Story Lands spread across the various Disney resorts exist because Imagineering is passionate about Pixar’s debut film, or if someone at Corporate is looking for an affordable and easy way to capitalize on a beloved franchise.
Either way, Disney’s approach to Toy Story Land leaves a lot to be desired for me due to its lack of immersive theming and world building. Or rather, Toy Story Land makes the mistake of building a land based on a beloved cast of characters, and not a beloved world.
What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at previous Disney lands that are themed specifically to one intellectual property. Whether you love or hate Cars and Avatar, both Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom both prove to be stunning and fully immersive lands by taking inspiration from the world of their respective film. While I personally don’t care about Avatar, I could spend an entire vacation enjoying Pandora, because the world is just that transporting and unique. Pandora is a world I want to spend time in because there’s nothing else like it. It’s idyllic and creates stories with guests through its fully realized world.
Toy Story Land isn’t theme-less by any means, but I’m not exactly dying to experience the backyard of a typical suburban home. That’s selling Toy Story Land a little short, I know, but I can’t help but think Andy’s backyard is just code for “an outdoor environment filled with excess props from Disney’s Pop Century that fit the toy theme.” I haven’t visited Toy Story Land yet, and I’m actually quite excited to experience it for myself. However, I also wish that Hollywood Studios (a very quaint theme park to begin with) wasn’t sacrificing so much of its limited space to accommodate a land that doesn’t further the narrative of the park, or offer an experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
When it comes to Toy Story, it’s a franchise grounded in its characters more than anything. I don’t watch Toy Story 3 and think about how I’d like to visit Sunnyside Daycare. I worry about the toys remaining together and getting back to Andy. The characters are what matter here, but Toy Story Land isn’t about running around with Woody and Buzz Lightyear. It’s about traversing a backyard littered with empty toy boxes and stacked Lincoln Logs. Again, selling Toy Story Land a little short, especially for someone who hasn’t been there, but when I go to Cars Land, I really feel like I’m in Radiator Springs. This is important because Cars is a movie that makes me yearn for a place that signifies a forgotten part of America’s past. Regardless of how much you may or may not like Mater, Radiator Springs is real and alive in Cars Land. It is a place that transcends the big screen and connects with guests like myself in meaningful ways. While I would certainly love for that to also be true in Toy Story Land, the setting just doesn’t excite me.
What makes things worse is that there are places in the Toy Story universe that I would be excited to visit. Al’s Toy Barn is the highlight location in Toy Story 2 for me, and I don’t know if there’s anyone that hasn’t dreamed of visiting the real Pizza Planet (not that abandoned warehouse that is currently occupied by PizzeRizzo). Unfortunately Toy Story Land takes us to what is perhaps the last place I would like to visit from the Toy Story universe, which feels like a missed opportunity.
The single greatest aspect of any Disney park is the detailed setting. Transporting guests to places they can’t experience anywhere else has been a staple of Disney parks since 1955, and while Toy Story Land is themed, it seems to put the characters before the setting. I love the cast of characters that make up the Toy Story universe, but if I’m going to visit their world, I’m more interested in going some place that is highly themed, and I need a little more than over-sized props to make that happen. To bring this back to Cars Land and Pandora, those are lands that focus so heavily on the setting that characters seem to come second. Toy Story Land appears to let the setting take a back seat so that we can ride on Slinky Dog, or swirl around with the little green aliens. In other words, I fear that the characters have taken priority over the actual land itself.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope I eat these words and that after I visit Toy Story Land I’ll be sold, but as it stands now I just wish Toy Story Land was a little more about the land and a little less about the toys.
Heck, maybe I’m just upset because what I really wanted was a Cars Land clone in Hollywood Studios.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings regarding Toy Story Land in the comments below.