Entering the brand new Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World, guests might start to feel like they're getting... smaller.
Walt Disney Imagineering, the brains and science behind Disney theme park concepts worldwide, encountered a challenge with its new Pixar themed-land: making vacationers feel like they’re the size of a toy without the enlarged surroundings feeling ominous.
Not only did all three attractions at the just-opened Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios need to reinforce the oversized credo of the land, but every detail, from directional signs to decorative benches, had to follow suit.
Given that fans of Pixar’s award-winning trilogy have experienced Woody and the gang from the perspective of both humans and toys, it’s here in Andy’s backyard — the locale in which Toy Story Land is set — that guests are permanently set in the latter, finding themselves transformed into “honorary toys” upon entering.
With straws used as a lamp posts and half a waxy Babybel cheese positioned as a chair, you’re a plaything but a somewhat smaller one, on par with the green army soldiers who play drums and entertain guests at the park. It’s a tricky balance that is executed seamlessly (as long as you disregard the ideal photo opportunity of a nearly 20-foot-tall Woody standing at Toy Story Land’s entrance).
Upon entering, the aesthetic is as colorful as it is casual, designed as though Andy was playing with his toys and say, got called away for dinner, leaving them strewn around spontaneously. There is not one toy in one area, but many scattered throughout; dice mixed in with Cootie pieces and checkers intermingling with large pieces of chalk are intended to mimic the way that children actually play.
It’s why nothing you’ll find in Toy Story Land is “perfect.” Each Jenga block on the tower Rex teeters atop of was added at a different angle, piles of toy blocks always form curved lines and cardboard packaging is often tipped open and tossed aside. All signs and structures are a bit askew, perfectly mimicking the haphazardry of childhood.
One of the best effects of this comes in the Slinky Dog Dash queue, with a gum-specked clipboard holding a doodle design of the ride surrounded by larger than life crayons and a pencil. Any kid will recognize a similar scene within their knapsack back at the hotel, while organized adults will relate to having a version in their own younger days.
Some of the most impressive design choices in Toy Story Land come not from that intended imperfection but creative problem-solving. A theme park land hosting vacationers has certain requirements, like restrooms and seating, but Disney did its best to masquerade them within the theming, scrawling directional signs on torn-off corners of notebook paper and fashioning a pile of dominoes with a lettered wooden block into a water fountain. Benches are created out of popsicle sticks and rogue dominoes and even the food-service counter is made from a tipped-over lunch box, filled with carrot sticks and sandwich creme cookies and a menu printed on, what else, a juice box’s nutritional label. (Eagle-eyed film fans will notice there are even a handful of animal crackers shaped like Jessie’s critters from the “Woody’s Roundup” show seen in “Toy Story 2.”)
Certain safety and efficiency conceits also needed to be made, but Toy Story Land effortlessly pulls them off. Instructional ride boarding videos — starring Fisher Price-inspired wooden toys in lieu of humans — are played on loop within an oversized plastic toy camera, sticking to its top-level concept.
Even attraction marquees and ride lines reinforce the idea of guests being toys themselves. Toy Story Mania’s queue, filled with big Viewfinder slides and playing cards, is rivaled only by Slinky Dog Dash’s decor, which highlights Andy’s own scribbles in plotting his attempt to combine his beloved stretchy friend on top of a roller coaster playset.
Still, it’s the delicate touch of Disney’s Imagineers that elevates Toy Story Land from a cartoonish concept to a whimsical escape, as nearly every random-seeming object ties back to informing one another. A restroom sign is spelled out in Scrabble letters, while its game box can be found across the park in Slinky Dog Dash’s queue. Massive K’NEX pieces keep the lights on, literally — they hold festoon lighting above the pathways, which illuminate at night — while their packaging is seen along the Toy Story Mania exit.
The land’s design gives Andy’s backyard and the cinematic characters their integrity, but the thoughtful touches throughout every part of Toy Story Land are truly what make it all feel so real.