For more than six decades Walt Disney's Imagineers have been creating some of the world's most enduring and engaging theme park attractions. But in telling all those stories about pirates, and ghosts, and explorers, and space adventures, the Imagineers haven't really told a story about themselves — the lifelong tech geeks who just want to build an amusement park.
Behold, Walt Disney World's Toy Story Land. Allow me and Pam from Walt Disney Imagineering to explain:
That's right, who knew that Toy Story's Andy was actually an aspiring Imagineer? But there are hundreds of people working at WDI, and Universal Creative, and Thinkwell, and Mycotoo, and BRC Imagination Arts, and The Hettema Group, and dozens of other themed entertainment firms around the world, who first expressed their passion by hacking their toys together into a bedroom or backyard "amusement park." Just like Andy.
And just like Andy, they refused to use the things they had been given to play with for their intended purposes. Storytelling is just one of many creative arts. The ability to see how theater props, military engineering, and household chemicals can be repurposed to help tell those stories is another. Toys, being many children's first beloved possessions, were just the first thing to hack.
Of course, the Imagineers cast themselves here as Andy, the noble creator of fun and wonderful things, and not as Sid, the awful backyard Dr. Moreau. But if Disney ever wanted to cash in a few extra bucks next fall by blanketing Toy Story Land with a Halloween overlay, I know which character I am putting in charge of that. Sorry Andy. Take the month off.
But while Andy's story might be familiar to hundreds of Imagineers, it won't sit well with the millions of Walt Disney World visitors that the company is paying to attract unless something within it resonates with them, as well. Maybe there are some other adults out there who hacked their playsets but never made that into a career. This land isn't for them, though.
No, Disney's Toy Story Land is a play place for today's children, not yesterday's. With two new rides restricted by height requirements that will exclude toddlers, this is a land for early elementary children who are beginning to awaken to the world of theme parks... to Andy's world of backyard imagination. The Imagineers keep talking here about visitors being "shrunk to the size of a toy," but what I really see here is a land that is shrunk to comfort a child.
Scale is out of whack here, putting the even the adults in their kids' place, always looking up at bigger things. The rides are intimate. The restaurant is a lunch box. Heck, in the bathroom, every urinal is sitting at the lower, kid's level.
Where have I seen this before? Children's playthings, scaled to larger-than-life? A park with limited capacity, engineered to appeal to the imagination of early elementary kids? Wait a minute... all these primary colors, too. It's coming to me.
Toy Story Land isn't just an homage to Imagineering. It's Disney's Legoland.
Now Legoland built its parks in places such as Carlsbad and Winter Haven — and not Anaheim and Orlando — because they aren't designed to put through the 10 million-plus visitors a year that will come through Disney's Hollywood Studios. By the end of next year, when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is open and pulling ninety-some percent of the park's visitors into a galaxy far, far away, Toy Story Land will do well for much smaller fraction of families with four-to-nine-year-olds who will find refuge here.
But this summer? Ew, boy, look out. I fear that some visitors will want to go Full Sid on Andy's creation after enduring what promises to be hours-long wait times for Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers over the next many months. Designing for high capacity is an advanced themed entertainment skill, and not one that most kids Andy's age learned with their backyard parks.
That tempts me to yell "Stay away!," while whispering to parents of elementary-aged kids, "Ignore that. This is land is just fine for you. You actually don’t want to miss it.”
...If only I had the power to control crowds the way I did with my bedroom amusement park, way back when.
Update: Tim Allen (the voice of Buzz Lightyear) appeared to help Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek and the gang dedicate Toy Story Land on Friday morning.Tweet
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