With little kids of their own now, millennial parents visiting the new Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios can step back into their childhood. And they can suck on a vodka-laced lemonade from Woody’s Lunch Box on a bench made of Lincoln Logs.
In 1995, Toy Story was the inaugural film from Pixar, the animators who rocked the movie world with the first fully computer-animated film. It also had a heck of a heart-tugging story.
The three Toy Story movies have a particularly strong connection to millennials. Andy, the boy with the anthropomorphic toys, is a millennial himself, generally considered a generation ranging from 22 to 38 in 2018. Andy had his 8th birthday party at Pizza Planet when Toy Story, came out. He’d be 31 this year.
The park is banking on Toy Story Land, which opens Saturday, as source of untapped nostalgia that translates into big business.
"It’s been three years of construction projects at Walt Disney World’s least-visited park," said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, an industry blog. "Disney is hoping that Toy Story Land will help re-establish Hollywood Studios as a reason to come to Disney World, rather than just one more thing to do while you are here."
Orlando mom Emille Crawford, 38, took her two kids, 10 and 4, to preview Toy Story Land.
"I remember having that movie on a tape as a kid and playing it over and over in my mom’s minivan and jamming to it with my little brother," said Crawford, who works for a nonprofit. "These characters have been our friends for so long. I really can’t wipe the smile off my face."
She and her brother, now 32, are planning their own getaway to Toy Story Land together. That’s just how Disney "Imagineers" — the wizards responsible for the creation and design of Disney attractions — had planned it from the start.
Pam Rawlins, an Imagineer who has been working on Toy Story Land since the beginning of concept design four years ago, said they huddled with Pixar animators to create the physical environment from the movies. You’ll find Yahtzee, Jenga, Scrabble, Tinkertoys, checkers, jacks, Uno cards and game pieces from Chutes and Ladders.
When you arrive at the entrance to the Slinky Dog Dash coaster, the gingerbread man from Candyland shows the 38-inch height requirement. Look closely at the estimated wait time sign. It’s a retro digital watch, the kind with a tiny button on the side to display the time or date. These sly Easter eggs are meant to remind parents of toys of their youth.
"I can imagine a family walking up to the Slinky Dog Dash and seeing that first digital watch and saying, ‘See kids? We didn’t have Apple watches, we had those digital readout watches,’" Rawlins said.
The end result is an 11-acre play land designed to make visitors feel they’ve been shrunken to the size of toys, set loose in Andy’s backyard. A 20-foot Woody stands at the entrance, strains of You’ve Got a Friend in Me playing in the background. Green Army Men (and Green Army Women) march in the streets.
Preview of Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
A restaurant called Woody’s Lunch Box looks like a kid’s lunch box propped open with a thermos. It has sandwiches and desserts. It also has beer, hard cider and a cocktail called Grown-Ups Lemonade ($9.25).
The centerpiece is the Slinky Dog Dash coaster, a speedy, smooth ride. Weezy the squeeze-toy penguin serenades riders as they leave. The Alien Swirling Saucers spin ride stars the little green aliens known for cooing in unison, "Oooooooooh, the Claw."
"Everybody likes to relive childhood through their kids," said Duncan Dickson, a former Disney executive who now teaches at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality. "We always wish for those wonderful years when we could play with our toys and people wouldn’t make fun of us. This is all about remembering and reminiscing, but the kids are going to have fun too."
Disney has always been aimed at adults as much as children.
The origins are steeped in childhood memories, sThe legend goes that Walt Disney came up with the idea when his daughters were young. He talked of sitting on a park bench eating peanuts while they rode the merry-go-round. "And sitting there, alone," he told a biographer, "I felt there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together."
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Many new parents grew up alongside Woody and Buzz Lightyear, toys who came to life when Andy left the room.
The maturity culminates in Toy Story 3. Andy packs up his room and decides which toys to throw away or store. He initially decides to take Woody, his favorite toy, to college. Ultimately, Andy gives all his toys to a neighborhood girl. When he reaches Woody, grab some hankies.
"For those around my age, Toy Story 3 is the Pixar-equivalent of our ambivalence about growing up projected on the big screen," Chicago writer Katie Hoffman wrote, in what she called the "Toy Story Complex" on her generation’s reluctance to grow up. "What people don’t talk about enough is that Toy Story, the third movie especially, perfectly captures the essence of growing up."
Woody is more than just a cowboy with a string of one liners ("There’s a snake in my boot"). He represents afternoons making up stories of daring and adventure, with toys spread across the bedroom floor. Andy ultimately realizes it’s time for the days of playtime to come to an end.
When Crawford stepped into Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios, she was hit with a wave of nostalgia.
"I remember crying in Toy Story 3 when Andy is passing the toys down and giving them to the little girl and takes one last time to play with them all," she said. "It feels like that’s what this land is like for us as grown-ups. We get to hand these toys and characters we loved down to our kids, and we get to see our kids play with them."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.