Hollywood Studios is a Disney park you used to be able to knock out in half a day. If you are a thrill seeker, you might have done the Aerosmith Rock’n’Roller Coaster (soon to be rebranded as something more relevant), and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the one guaranteed to feed your nightmares about elevators for months. I am not that person.
If you’re a movie buff, Hollywood Studios is Disney’s attempt to compete with Universal’s backlot. Its main street, Sunset Boulevard, is meant to look like a Hollywood movie set. And if it wasn’t for the throngs of tourists and the dozens of balloon vendors, and that pesky elevator that drops you to your (near) death, it would. Fittingly, it has the Muppets (in 3D!) and Indiana Jones (live in person, and fleeing that damn boulder). Other than that, it was a bit of a dud. But no more!
About six months ago, they opened a brand new “wing” of Hollywood Studios, called Toy Story Land, and you’re not going to guess what’s there! Okay, you totally guessed, didn’t you? It’s part of the Pixar rebrand. Already there: Pixar Place, where you can dance with the Incredibles in Municiberg, and meet Edna Mode at her gallery, and see Sully and Mike Wazowski on the scare floor. If your little ones are more into Frozen, Elsa and Anna are there to lead a sing-a-long celebration, and Olaf is greeting guests at Echo Lake.
But Toy Story Land is where it’s at for Pixar fans. A giant Woody greets guests as they pass his threshold – literally. Many of the figures speak – Woody, Jessie, Rex, Slinky Dog, and Buzz even goes into Spanish mode occasionally. There are three Toy Story rides in this part of the park, but the whole thing is themed out the wazoo to make it feel like you’ve entered Andy’s backyard. Therefore, the toys are huge, and we humans are tiny. Benches are made out of popsicle sticks. Lightbulbs are hung from pencils. Tinker toys hold bits and bobs together. It’s a riot of primary colours, with Easter eggs galore. I never once tired of being there, crowded as it was, because there’s just so much to do and see. Souvenirs are sold out of a Fisher-Price camper van. Mr. Potato Head entertains youngins who are (im)patiently waiting in line. Green army men go marching by, practicing drills, and occasionally forming a drum line.
Toy Story Mania! was actually there last time, and it was an immediate favourite. You sit in a cart which shoots you around to different screened arcade games. You point and shoot, shoot, shoot. I am not bad at shooting but terrible at aiming so I am no good at these games but they are still terribly fun and exciting. Sitting beside Sean, I had less than a tenth of his score. Beside Brady, my 7 year old nephew, well, let’s just say I pulled back just enough to make sure that he won. He’s still boasting. The ride’s queue spits you out in Andy’s bedroom, with his door towering over you, a nearby dresser quite imposing, and even the socket of a plug is impressively large. The imagineers (what Disney calls their ride creators) have done it again: every detail immerses you in something that’s just a little more than a ride.
Alien Swirling Saucers was Jack’s favourite. He was days shy of 5 at Disney World, and he talked this ride up BIG time. Toy Story’s little three-eyed green aliens become chauffeurs in this one; their cart tenuously joined to ours as it whips us around at high speed while The Claw dangles threateningly between us all. Jack squealed in delight as his tiny body smashed around between the hard wall of the ride and the soft wall of his aunt.
Slinky Dog Dash is a roller coaster that talks to you as you ride. It’s a custom thing, meant to look like Andy might have built it himself in his backyard, though with higher safety standards of course. The little guys weren’t keen on riding this one so we let their dad and Sean ride it while we did another round of Mania! and Swirling Saucers (!). Sean is pretty sure we missed out, with theming even more impressive than the Everest roller coaster at Animal Kingdom, where the mountain does look like its namesake, and a giant Yeti takes determined swipes at you. In this case, Jessie, Rex, and even Wheezy get in on the action, and some of it is as much fun for those watching on the ground as for those flying by within Slink’s coils.
Sean and I managed to grab a quick lunch at Woody’s Lunch Box and hustled over to meet the rest of our crew to see the Beauty and the Beast spectacle. The little boys are way too young to know who in the heck Belle and the Beast are, but we were going to eat dinner at the Beast’s castle later in the week, and this was a great way to prepare them for it. It’s a condensed musical, with just the highlights of the story woven in (Belle’s father Maurice gets written out), and the boys sat stock still, enjoying every minute. Afterward, Jack worried that perhaps the Beast would not take kindly to dinner guests. “What if he scares us away?” he asked. “I think he’s a lot nicer now that he’s a married man,” I told him, but having not seen the sequels, I can’t guarantee this is true.
Hollywood Studios is vastly improved by the addition of Toy Story Land, but wait, there’s more. Coming March 31, 2019, is Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. The boys love love LOVE Cars. It’s their movie(s). So it’s tragic that we missed this new attraction by a matter of 6 piddly weeks. Disney Land, in California, does a better job of paying tribute to this popular movie, but there are no other traces of it in Florida, alas.
Also coming later this year: Star Wars. Goddammit. We really didn’t time this well, did we? Opening this fall: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Like Pandora in Animal Kingdom, it’s going to be a whole themed land, modeled on the planet Batuu. We could see some of the construction and it looks vast and really cool. You’ll be able to visit the Black Spire Outpost, pilot the Millennium Falcon, and get thrown into a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. Unlike Cars, though, Disney seems to know that people simply cannot wait, so there’s just enough to entertain you while leaving you wanting more. Nearly every half hour, there’s a show in the center of the park, either March of the First Order, or a Galactic Spectacular. There’s a Jedi training academy for little kids to wield their light sabers, and a ride called Star Tours: The Adventure Continues that’s a pretty intense jaunt with C3-PO through space, at hyper speed, of course. And then there are characters at the Launch Bay – we saw Chewie, BB-8, and potentially got drafted into the First Order by Kylo Ren, who was quite standoffish in the photos, as you’ll see.