You only have to go a few steps into Toy Story Land to sense that big thinkers have made huge efforts to make you feel small. The pieces used to assemble this toy-dimensional universe are agreeably supersized, from the Tinker Toy fences the size of satellite dishes and water mains to the life-size (because they're alive) green army men marching to and fro in this 11-acre Pixarian play yard.
Specifically, it's a backyard. In Walt Disney World's newest major addition, which opened in late June at Disney's Hollywood Studios park in the Florida resort, the Imagineers are trying to place you between the very blades (in this case, soaring shoots of bamboo) of a grassy lot filled with the daily detritus of a child at play.
Andy is the child, of course, and the playthings are the Toy Story trilogy's familiar plastic cast (who happen to be cast in plastic). Toy Story Land is a diverting, if diminutive, homage to the playthings that populated both the animated movies and our actual childhoods.
A two-story Sheriff Woody hat tips and howdy-howdy's at the entrance. Beyond him, Cowgirl Jessie balances atop a precarious stack of colored blocks, calling "Tarnation!" and lassoing Rex, the neurot-o-saurus who teeters on an adjacent Jenga tower. Half the fun — and maybe more — of an adult's walk through this addition is playing spot the trademark: the Lincoln Log benches and Lego trash cans (or rather, Lego-like; looks like no licensing deal was struck there); Scrabble tile signage, an overhead expanse of K'Nex towers and bent drinking straws all strung together with outsize Christmas tree lights.
Just the sort of ad hoc assemblage, in other words, that an imaginative lad like Andy might piece together out back on a warm summer day in whatever ideal American suburb he and his talking toys inhabit. Make that a blisteringly hot summer day, as Orlando in June made it feel as if things were set in a suburb of Death Valley.
Oversized play pieces
"They need some shade," panted Jonathan Singh, visiting with his family from New York and just 40 minutes into an advertised 200-minute wait for the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster, much of it in the full Central Florida sun, 88 degrees and counting.
Unlike other meticulously art-directed queues at Disney, notably the hourslong wait at the remarkable Flight of Passage ride at Animal Kingdom's year-old Pandora section, this one is austere to the point of plainness. Outside of watching the coaster loop through, the main diversions are a series of charming crayon drawings suggesting how Andy pieced the coaster together with parts from Mega Coaster Play Kit he won at Pizza Planet. In Toy Story Land, story is everything.
At the head of the line, a Candyland play piece measures the height of would-be riders. (Minimum: 38 inches. Know before you wait!) Pieces and parts of Yahtzee, Operation, Life and Monopoly litter the scene. The walk-up food station serving brisket melt sandwiches ($12.99) and toaster tarts ($3.29) is Andy's lunchbox propped open by Andy's thermos. My favorite: a Fisher Price Little People pop-up camper doing duty as a souvenir stand that is identical in all but size to the one archived in one of my family's attic toyboxes. (No, Al's Toy Barn, it's not for sale.)
This Florida version of the concept joins Toy Story Lands already in action at Disney parks in France, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Like the film franchise that debuted in 1995, the real-word setting is an exercise in scale shifting, split-level toggling both dimensional and emotional. Normally little things are big here. A No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil achieves icon status when it's the size of a telephone pole (as Claes Oldenburg and other pop art legends well know). And while younger visitors can just dig the kiddy-cool vibe of rides and roller coasters and "real life" interjections by their favorite characters — including the regular appearance of the green army men to delightful effect, with little flaps of injection-molded plastic slag and all — grown-ups can wallow in the nostalgia of game closets gone by.
"I had all of this stuff," said Margaret Mayes, 56, a Georgia teacher here on an epically crowded opening day with her two grandchildren. She rattled off Etch-a-Sketch, Barrel of Monkeys and Twister as some of the girlhood favorites that make cameo appearances throughout Toy Story Land. "They just care about Woody and Buzz," she nods down to her two preschool-age companions, "but I'm seeing things everywhere that I remember."
A family-friendly land
The to-do list at Toy Story Land is short and all geared to families. (A slight departure for the Hollywood Studios, where the Tower of Terror and other attractions skew to a teenage-and-older demo.) The land features two new attractions, the Slinky Dog coaster and Alien Swirling Saucers, a mild spinning ride for kids, and an updated iteration of an old favorite, Toy Story Mania, a midway-themed 3-D shooting game.
By design, the coaster won't make any top-10 lists on the thrill factor alone. The engineers here, in keeping with the all-ages appeal of the setting, sought a sweet spot between frightening and flat that would satisfy just about any rider (at least those of 38 inches and taller). It's unusually smooth and quiet, rolling without clatter on rubber wheels, but with plenty of G-force pressing you into both seat and safety bar over a series of joyous swoops. At a second launch point the car stops, backs into windup and leaps off again. The kids in my car were delighted and so were a couple of hardened hands-in-the air types of coaster-testers.
Alien Swirling Saucers, the second new attraction, skews even younger (31 inches tall to ride) although, again, older companions will have enough to look at in the Pizza Planet setting to hold their attention for a ride. (And enough to listen to; the soundtrack is a space-age rich remix of "You've Got a Friend in Me" and other Toy Story tunage.) The ride is a re-themed version of the whip-and-spin Mater's Junkyard Jamboree at Disney's California Adventure park, the same grand meshing of rotating vehicles, in this case rocket ships piloted by the squishy three-eyed aliens of "The Claw!" fame (a giant version of which hangs over the ride).
The final big thing in Toy Story Land is already familiar to, and hugely popular with, Disney visitors. Toy Story Midway Mania, an addictive shooting game of skill in a fast-moving and immersive Pixar environment, has been remade here with a new entrance and game-filled indoor queue. (There's shade!) Otherwise, it is the same ride that has been packing them in for a decade here and at Disney properties in California and Tokyo. Posted wait times on opening morning topped two hours.
For all the excitement among those who showed up to see Buzz and the gang on their Florida debut, there were a lot of visitors who seemed just as eager to peer over the construction fence at the new land under construction next door, the alien geography taking shape as Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. It's easy to imagine that expansion, which Disney designers have promised will be one of their most detailed and immersive ever, overwhelming the smaller Toy Story Land, which will go from being its own cul-de-sac destination within the park to a pass-through on the way to a that galaxy far, far on the other side of the park. It's hard to be as otherworldly as an actual other world.
But for fans of a certain ageless attitude, Woody's appeal will never wane. And those folks will always have a friend in this little corner of the Kingdom.