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.

About the author

Jesse DeRosa

Lover of Disney Parks, hater of ketchup. For questions or comments please contact [email protected]

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Mike H
Guest
Mike H

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.

Kate
Guest
Kate

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.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

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.

Tom Corless
Admin
Tom Corless

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.

Al
Guest
Al

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.

Edmund
Guest
Edmund

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?

Pam W
Guest
Pam W

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… Read more »

Uncle Bob
Guest
Uncle Bob

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… Read more »

SubPar
Guest
SubPar

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.

Timothy Fodor
Guest
Timothy Fodor

Well said

Shiloh
Guest
Shiloh

You could always go read the Disney Parks Blog…

Justmythoughts
Guest
Justmythoughts

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.

Rod Thorell
Guest
Rod Thorell

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.

Russell Barber
Guest
Russell Barber

Radiator racers has it all over test track. Too bad it couldn’t be added to WDW.

Tom C
Guest
Tom C

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.

Regina
Guest
Regina

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.

Jeff M
Guest
Jeff M

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… Read more »

Jayne Townsley
Guest
Jayne Townsley

Baffling how one can criticize something they’ve never experienced.

Doug
Guest
Doug

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

Psac
Guest
Psac

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.

Greg
Guest
Greg

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… Read more »

Johnny
Guest
Johnny

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.

Frank Conti
Guest
Frank Conti

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

Jeff D
Guest
Jeff D

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… Read more »

wdwfan
Guest
wdwfan

I can not really believe in a review when the author has not been to the place he is writing about .

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Exactly what I was thinking.
This article should have run a couple weeks ago.

Matt
Guest
Matt

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… Read more »

Sando
Guest
Sando

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.