EDITORIAL: Characters vs Setting – Why Toy Story Land Doesn’t Work for Me

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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.

(Matt Stroshane, photographer)

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.

Cars Land DCA

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.

(Steven Diaz, photographer)

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.

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About the author

Jesse DeRosa

Jesse first visited Walt Disney World in 2007 and instantly developed an affinity for the immersive level of storytelling and theming that Disney is so well known for. Fast forward about a decade later and Jesse is now a soon-to-be college graduate, specializing in blowing through his hard-earned money to renew his AP rather than paying for school. If for whatever reason you feel inclined to contact this person, you may reach him by email at [email protected]

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  • I think you absolutely smashed the nail right on the head Jesse. You already touched on it and you were exactly right… Disney has always created new areas and lands that immersed you in a certain place or time.. I just really see this new land falling very short of that.

    • Having actually been to Toy Story Land, I can tell you that it is quite immersive. The theming is fantastic! The look of pure joy on people’s faces as they walked through the land was very telling. It seems a bit absurd to write an editorial on something you haven’t actually experienced. It’s like writing a restaurant review without having tasted the food.

      • Agreed the pictures and videos really don’t compare to being there. I was blown away by the giant Woody statue you see when you enter. And while slinky is supposed to be a kids coaster it packs a punch and is much more thrillingly than you’d think by just looking at videos. Give it a chance and experience it before writing such a scathing review and potentially turning people off to it.

        • As someone who has been there, still statues of characters are pretty lame and will be pretty insane once the human-size Woody, Buzz, and Jessie are walking around the land. It makes zero sense.

  • This Toy Story land makes Six Flags look like the Ritz Carlton. Disney needs to pack it up, honestly, it’s under-done, half baked area is too small, zero forethought. Can see where they just kept slashing budget. Disney has no business in theme parks anymore, they should just stick with movies/media. That’s all they seem to invest in. It’s NOT their guests at their theme parks in Florida for sure.

  • An interesting analysis – setting vs characters as the basis for a new land.

    I’m a bit confused about where you ultimately lay the blame – an inferior (ie, cheap) implementation of Toy Story by Imagineering or poor source material from the world of Toy Story (“not exactly dying to experience the backyard of a typical suburban home”).

    I’m sure criticism can be attributed to both. But what do you think is the primary contributor to a less-than-immersive experience?

    • I think the problem primarily lies in the setting, but both elements you’ve mentioned work in tandem. Imagineers can only do so much with a lackluster idea, and, at least on paper, Andy’s backyard is not a place I can easily get excited about.

      If my post seems a little ambiguous about the direct blame, it’s because I don’t fully have an answer. Being that I haven’t visited the land yet, this was merely a gut reaction to what I’ve seen.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      • Think of it this way, you’re on a kids’ movie set. This would help solve the problem of integration with the park’s original concept and the lack-luster theming elements with which you’re concerned. I was a huge fan of the “honey I shrunk the kids” playground growing up and seeing my own kids play in 2016 before it’s demise was a special memory. I’m hoping this will be in some ways similar, but as with most things, it’s all about expectations and mine aren’t high!

  • I have been to Toy Story Land and while I think that it is super cute…I couldn’t really place why I just felt meh about it. Then I remembered what it was like playing in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground as both a child and an adult. That too had a you are shrunken down in a back yard concept from a movie and yet it felt so much more immersive even in the days before they closed it. Even if they didn’t have the foot print to be able to put in a real toy barn or a pizza planet the very least they could have done is planted already tall trees in the land itself and put up some type of enclosure of sorts to make you feel like you were at the very least in a real backyard. This feels more like a patio that has a weed problem. I honestly don’t know who’s bright idea it was to build this in FL open it in the summer and have ZERO shady areas and NO WHERE that’s indoors. It just seems like they were like eh the bare minimum will do.

  • Yeesh!

    Can we get some positive editorials on this site for a change?

    Some that don’t lament the original “vision” of MGM Studios or EPCOT OR the closing of The Great Movie Ride or Ellen’s Universe of Energy OR complaining about the height of the new Guardians of the Galaxy building or the removal of its “ICONIC” mirror tiles OR how the still-in-progress remodel of the World of Disney Store has “lost the magic” OR the condemnation of a land that hasn’t even been experienced in person by the writer yet?

    We get it, no writers on this site like change and see every update or removal as a personal attack on their childhood but some of your readers are willing to believe that Disney knows what they’re doing… at least I do.

    • The author is right. Toy story “land” is a total cop out. It’s a completely sub par addition to a once great park. Not necessarily great because it was MGM, or had the backlot tour, – it WAS great. Now, they are cutting corners (they even did with TSL! Als Barn was originally part of the plan and was cut!) and creating areas that will maybe keep users interest for 15 minutes. Yet they spent billions on MDE and magic bands to push customers around to outdated rides and into giftshops.

  • You lost me at “I haven’t visited yet”.
    Maybe write an opinion piece on the new land once you have actually been there and experienced it.

  • Isn’t this what Mickey’s Toontown was, and Dumbo’s Circus is? There are parts of the park that you need to cater to a younger audience, who will identify more with characters than settings. I think we have an 18 month old that will enjoy this area for years, even if us older folks don’t attach to it as fully.
    But i agree, fir me, i can’t wait to visit Radiator Springs.

    • That’s a great point that I don’t often consider since I’ve never been to Disney with little kids. To me, Cars Land set the precedent for how franchises like Toy Story should be incorporated into their own lands, so perhaps I’m unfairly comparing the two.

      Thanks for reading!

  • I think Jesse nailed this. I wish we had some insight into how the decision to build this land was made. Was it purely budgetary? Was it scrapped together to provide some balance to the upcoming not-so-kid-friendly Star Wars Land project?

    Looking forward to checking out Slinky Dog Dash on my upcoming WDW trip but I have a feeling I will be somewhat underwhelmed.

  • Pizza planet for sure is a place I would want to visit. I can’t believe they did not build one. From what I seen so far on the toy story land I really think they could have done so much more. I still am excited to go but wish they had done more.

  • Ah, suddenly the truth comes out when you wrote:

    “Heck, maybe I’m just upset because what I really wanted was a Cars Land clone in Hollywood Studios.”

    You didn’t get what you can already get in California, so it’s Disney’s fault for creating something new that you didn’t want in the first place. I don’t think there is a “maybe” here. It’s obvious that you are upset.

    I sincerely hope you will be able to find joy and childlike wonder in other areas of WDW. I find it concerning that you are already criticizing something that you haven’t experienced first hand, so the chances of you liking this new land are already compromised.

    Maybe Disney will get it right for you one day.

  • I like Cars Land. But when I heard about Toy Story Land, I thought – another roller coaster? Well, we still have Toy Story Mania.

  • I know they’ve been marketing this as a headliner, but ultimately this will be the B attraction after Star Wars Land (Galaxy’s Edge or whatever) opens.

    But I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve actually been there. Novel idea, I know.

  • You’re judging a book by its cover.

    I did the same with Pandora, I was pleasantly surprised, but still am not as much of a fan. Primarily because of its lasting power.

    The land does it’s best to convey the backyard feel, but more fencing may have been more convincing. Other than that, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable this land still can be.

    Just please promise to write an update article when you do visit and if you are wrong and change your opinions, please be willing to admit that you judged before you tried it. By doing so, you are also contributing to a negative outlook that influences others who simply would have enjoyed it for what it is.

  • You’re entitled to your opinion, but you lost me when you said you hadn’t actually visited it yet. Writing an editorial bashing the place when you haven’t seen it in person doesn’t make much sense.

  • Regardless , Seems the further we move away from Walt’s original dream , then down the rabbit hole we go ✨

  • Interesting perspective. First negative article on TSL that I’ve read and while some interesting points are made I find I have to take them with a grain of salt. Not only has the author not actually visited the land yet he also admits to not ever visiting the park with small kids, which is the target audience for this land. Hollywood studios has a serious lack of rides in general, but rides for kids in particular. I think this land fills that need. As an adult I agree TSL is not jumping out at me like star wars land, but as a dad I know my young daughter will be just the opposite. Thank you for the article as it gave me a new perspective in which to view this new land.

  • Small-lands-made-big are almost impossible to make work. I’ve only seen lands on a human-scale really connect on an emotional level with guests. Being “shrunk” is a device that can be effective in a ride or a movie, but in a land I think it disrupts our willful sense of disbelief too much. It’s not ultimately satisfying. Of course, nobody really thinks about this consciously but instead, it’s a subtle subconscious jolt– are we smaller? Or did all these toys get bigger? The theming can be cool to see for sure, but most of us never really feel “comfortable” there. We don’t feel the urge to hang out and relax in a space like this, because it always feels manufactured. It’s not the easy sense of wonderment you get in a land people could very easily inhabit (Frontierland, World Showcase, Harambe, etc.). It doesn’t feel homey and as a result we never really want to hang out there after we’ve seen them. It doesn’t feel like we were transported to a place (as is the case in other lands) but it feels like we are being “transformed” into a place and it just doesn’t connect. Oddly enough, I think places like the All Star resorts in a way do it better because in those places we are called to notice that the big set pieces are just that: Big. Purposefully large and to be enjoyed as such in comparison to me the viewer. We are not encouraged to think that we shrunk down, or an entire world has been enlarged before us. Not to say All Stars is better than this. It probably isn’t. But I have a feeling the land won’t stand the test of time because we expect so much more of it.

  • Problem is now that Hollywood Studios doesn’t exactly have a theming anymore. It’s no longer about making movies, it needs a name change.

  • Pandora isn’t much better. The environment is hardly interactive like they promised. The ground has cheap UV paint splashed around (who cares). It was a big disappointment to be honest.

  • You write: “I’m not exactly dying to experience the backyard of a typical suburban home.”

    I Respond: Why do you feel that you are so uniquely insightful that people should care about what you are “dying to experience”?

  • I agree. It seemed short sighted. Pixar land would have left room for expansion. Toy story is good but land worthy? We will see

  • How can you trash something you haven’t even seen. You sound like the ridiculous Star Wars fanboys. Toy Story Land is fun and well done.

  • But how can you comment on the land if you haven’t been there? It’s one thing to actually have gone to the land and say you didn’t like it, but you need to have gone to actually give it a proper critique.

    Look, I agree with you. Disney has been taking shortcuts and lacking in most of their new lands. Avatar, for all of its beauty is FAR from fully immersive. The CMs don’t act like people from the future who are working in that land. They act like CMs. There are no Navi walking around, no Pandora creatures lurking in the bushes. And I don’t feel like I’m on another planet especially since I look up and see the earth sky. If Disney really wanted to innovate they could have found a way to project on a giant transparent screen by the distant horizon and show planets in the alien sky.

    New Fantasyland was the first that was truly lacking for me. That is perhaps the laziest park ever made. A story time with Belle, A quick service (Gaston’s), A table service (Be Our Guest), one dark ride, and a baby coaster. If they really wanted to innovate they could have at least made a large entry hall of Beast’s castle and had animatronic furniture and items. You could have been greeted by Lumiere and called for dinner by Cogsworth. They did NONE of that. New Fantasyland is very lazy.

    Toy Story land may be lazy. I have not been there yet and won’t be for quite some time. I do see the Slinky Dog Dash….a low speed baby coaster, and the Alien ride which looks like a real baby baby ride. They don’t blow my skirt up, but I will reserve my judgement for when I actually see the park.

    I actually wish you had done the same. It lends more credibility to your article.

    • Toontown had something to it. IDK what the replacement is. Barnstormer is still cool. After that, I go to the best place to get pictures of the WDWRR.

  • I agree with Jesse. I don’t think the point of the article is lessened by not yet experiencing the land. I am a big fan of the Toy Story movies and I don’t know how Andy’s back yard is appealing. As far as it being clearly aimed at children one of the complaints of the land are the height requirements. Slinky has the same requirements as 7DMT and Alien Saucers also has a height requirement as well. And also, don’t forget that the first movie came out in 1995 so some with the fondest memories of Toy Story are young adults. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I believe Pandora has a lot to do with Disney’s decisions. I think Avatar is the best ride at WDW, but other than the ride the land is lackluster and there is no attachment emotional or otherwise to the characters or stories of Avatar.

  • Disney Theme Parks had been phoning it in since the Eisner days. The famed Disney Experience is gone. Maintenance issues. Dirtier. Guest service is a fraction of what is once was. Once world class restaurants have turned into very overpriced typical amusement park quality food. But, they keep raising process, and the Disney cultists keep paying it. And excusing the declines.

  • Toy Story Land is actually adorable. It’s bright and fun and full of energy. There are so many details to see. We went opening weekend just to walk around and take a look – there are so many clever details I can’t wait to go back. We didn’t ride the rides yet but we will when we score fast passes.

  • hang in there jesse. experience toy story then come back and tell us what you think . will be interesting too hear your thoughts.

    • I would also like to see a follow up article after Jesse visits Toy Story land.
      I myself, never saw Avatar and have no desire to so Pandora doesn’t really interest me either but I do plan to check it out this September and hope my opinion changes.

  • I was at toy story land on opening day.
    The themeing isn’t great. It feels like someone stood in line for toy story mania one day and said “let’s just make this bigger and outdoors” and that’s how they came up with the entire land.

    Alien swirling saucers is just a re-skin of tow maters junkyard jamboree – which in Disneyland, breaks down all the time.

    Slinky dog is a great family friendly coaster but not worth the 3+ hr wait times it currently has. Especially since most of the cue is outdoors and isn’t very entertaining.

    On both attractions they missed opportunities to have interactive cues similar to 7 Dwarves mine train which is a real shame. It’s themed after toys and there’s nothing to play with.

    All in all I was underwhelmed and thought it missed the mark.

    My biggest gripe though….. all you can see from Andy’s backyard is Star Wars Galaxies Edge. They’ve made no attempt to hide the construction with trees, fencing or anything else, and it really distracts from the immersion.

  • Jesse,

    I spent a couple of days in Toy Story Land last week. I came away blown away. No, it’s not Pandora. No, it’s not Cars Land. It is a unique, fun area that brings whimsy, story, characters we know and love, and nostalgia to mind every step you take.

    Not everything in life can be E-Ticket rides. Sometimes you need some good, relaxing, turn off the brain and enjoy entertainment. I think Toy Story Land delivers on that.

    Everywhere you turn there’s something that will remind adults of their childhood. Kids get in the act too with the Toy Story references all over. And if your looking for immersion, wait until you get enlisted by the Green Army Men to play some of their games.

    Yes, Toy Story Land could use a couple more rides, but Disney seems to think that Walt Disney World has to have less rides than Disneyland for some reason.

    I think, if you go with an open mind and no preconceived notions about how “cheap” Disney was in the construction, or a pining for something that didn’t happen, you’ll find Toy Story Land is flat fun.

    I sure did.

  • I think with ALL the themed lands in all the Disney parks around the world, Imagineering can only do so much, your own imagination needs to kick in and help too.
    You pretend you’re actually sitting in Gaston’s tavern, walking on Pandora, wandering the streets of Morocco or even meeting your favorite cartoon character in person.
    To me, Toy Story land isn’t just a suburban back yard, it’s a world created by a very imaginative boy with his toys. It also brings back memories of when I was a kid and built up worlds with my own toys and that’s the same thing the Toy Story movies did for me too and that’s the very reason I go to the Disney parks, to be a kid again.

  • “sacrificing so much of its limited space to accommodate a land that doesn’t further the narrative of the park”

    With the loss of the Great Movie Ride and the Backlot Tour, many fans feel that the park no longer has a narrative. It’s just a random dumping of stuff they’ll hope will remain popular enough to draw crowds for many years. The park no longer has a theme beyond “movies and other stuff.”

    Universal Orlando used to be a charming series of “lands” that related to the attractions. A seaside town featuring the Jaws ride. City streets featuring the Blues Brothers show and Kongfrontation. Now they are breaking down into more random areas as well (“Men in Black” off to the side, “ET” in a random warehouse in an unthemed area.”) Islands of Adventure is more themed, but we’ll have to see if more IPs come in to replace areas such as Lost Continent (what Potter hasn’t already claimed).

    As you say, it’s a loss because of wonderfully themed areas like the African and Asian sections of Animal Kingdom, Cars Land, and the better bits of the Magic Kingdom.

  • i’m 18 and my sister and I were just talking about this, we haven’t been to experience toy story land yet either but feel the same way. I really think it is going to be a better experience for younger children than ourselves. thank you for this article.

  • They under sold and under delivered on this one unfortunately.

    I felt really bad for the families in the Swirling Saucers queue in the blaring sun and no shade. It’s like they didn’t know they were building these rides in Florida.

    • Don’t feel too bad. Last time I checked the wait was only 35 minutes. Slinky dog has less of a wait then 7DMT and Pandora. Not good for those who thought the new land might lessen wait times elsewhere especially in Pandora.

  • To me, Toy Story Land is just a waste of space and resources. I feel the same way about Dinorama and Storybook Circus. Then again, I’m not 6 years old. That said, I guess I look at areas like these as an area of the park that young kids will get really excited over, and will therefore take them and their families out of the areas of the parks that I happen to enjoy…so I guess it isn’t completely useless. Other than that, I have no interest in these poorly themed areas, and think they are somewhat of an embarrassment to the Disney Parks quality standards.

  • I know that by coming to this site, I’m in for commentary that is usually less-than-fawning about WDW, because things have dared to change since (insert year of author’s first magical visit here). But you haven’t even visited the land yet! Also, Pizza Planet was based on Chuck E Cheese. If Disney put an actual crappy pizza place in a park and required people to put money on cards to play games, WDW fandom would melt down.

  • I love the defense in these comments that we should “use our imagination” to enjoy things like Toy Story Land. Disney apologists, gotta love them.

  • How can you credibly criticize a setting saying, it doesn’t work for you, when you haven’t even been there?

  • “” I haven’t visited Toy Story Land yet.”
    And with those 7 words, your review has zero credibility.

  • Personally, I have visited the land 3 times now and i love it, and even more so at night. I don’t expect every single new area of the parks to be Pandora, which i honestly think is overly hyped. This is meant to cater to the kids and it does. My 7 year old is in love with the idea that once he walks in hes a toy, everything is even larger for him than it is for me and he feels totally immersed as do i when i look around. The new attractions are wonderful, the food is great and to be honest its 11 acres pandora is 12 so the size is not much different i actually feel like TSL feels bigger walking around. Of course it may not feel AS immersive but im not supposed to be on another planet in TSL i’m supposed to be in Andy’s back yard. and again i like that theme, it feels comfortable, it would not make sense to have pizza planet or Al’s that are made for normal size people and then have attractions made for toys. If i am becoming a toy from Toy Story Andy’s back yard is exactly where i would want to be.

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