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The 20-foot-tall Woody at the entrance to Toy Story Land. Credit: Jordan Zakarin/SYFY WIRE.

Inside Toy Story Land: How Disney World created new toys and stories for the Pixar classic [Ep #39]

Jun 29, 2018, 10:00 AM EDT

At the largest expansion ever built at Disney's Hollywood Studios, it's all about the little details.

With fully immersive entertainment the prevailing trend in theme park design, the 11-acre addition to the Walt Disney World park is an entirely closed-off province, designed to thrust the visitor into a giant version of the miniature world that is Pixar's flagship franchise. The scale is apparent right from the start, with a 20-foot-tall statue of Woody greeting guests near the entrance and massive footprints all along the main walking path. They're supposed to belong to Andy, the kid whose imagination and affection power the trilogy; that they're 25 feet long — or the equivalent of a size 240 shoe — makes it abundantly clear that stepping into Toy Story Land is meant to be a transformative experience.

While the Toy Story movies always start in Andy's childhood bedroom, the outdoor setting and ambition of the park, which took four years to conceptualize and build, led the company's Imagineers to make Andy's backyard the setting for Toy Story Land. That, in turn, led them — with help from Pixar's creative team — to devise a new story for the park along with new toys and games.

"We're walking into a place that doesn't exist in any of the movies," Ryan Wineinger, an Imagineer who served as one of the creative directors on the park, told SYFY WIRE. "We're creating an idealized Toy Story environment as if Andy had played with tons of toys in his backyard, just recently left, and now we, as honorary toys, get to partake in having a play moment outside with all of our Toy Story characters."

Along with the giant statues of beloved characters — Buzz Lightyear stands 14 feet tall, while Rex and Jesse reach similar heights — the park offers new wrinkles on old favorites. On the queue for the roller coaster Slinky Dog Dash, eagle-eyed fans will notice that Wheezy the Penguin was a cheaply made toy at Al's Toy Barn, the toy store at the center of Toy Story 2, while Rex was also purchased at the emporium owned by the dastardly poultry-man that was originally voiced by Wayne Knight. Many of the classic toys have boxes that hadn't been seen before.

Those are new story details added to Toy Story lore.

"In order to believe that this backyard is real, you have to pay attention to packaging, instructions, especially if we're introducing a toy that doesn't exist in the real world," Wineinger said. "If we're introducing a new toy or a toy that we know Andy has in his own hometown, like Rex. Of course it could've come from Al's Toy Barn.

"And Poor Wheezy, his squeaker doesn't last very long, 'cause we all know that Al is looking to save a buck, buck, buck, right?" Wineinger added, laughing. "So his toys come out maybe a little shoddy. Pixar becomes an active part of that process in inventing these histories for them."

Given the sheer size of the park, and the combination of Disney's usual attention to detail and the demands of creating an outsized world of miniatures, new items and characters were also required. They took a hybrid approach, adding new spins to classic characters and creating things from whole cloth.

"We've introduced all of the other toys that we learn that Andy has come upon in his childhood in tertiary ways, like a Pricklepants songbook, for example, that could've been on Andy's shelf," Wineinger explained. "We've invented toys and brought in imaginary toys, all to emphasize and create the perfect setting."

The Aliens Rolling Saucers, a child-friendly spinning ride, is an entirely imagined addition. "It's a brand-new toy that doesn't exist, but we're saying is one of the coolest toys at Pizza Planet that Andy saved up all his tickets to win," Wineinger offered.

Meanwhile, the Slinky Dog Dash employed both approaches, literally stretching a classic toy on a new one. The Imagineers invented a new roller coaster toy, the Mega Coaster Play Kit, then imagined that Andy placed the Slinky Dog atop it, creating a DIY alteration. As riders board, they're greeted by the "hand-drawn" schematics for the ride.

"Andy could come back and totally change everything that we see in this backyard," Wineinger said. "So you want to get that sense that Andy could at any moment add new toys, take away toys, and feel that he has a presence in this place."

Toy Story Land Slinky Map

The map inside Slinky Dog Dash (Credit: Jordan Zakarin/SYFY WIRE)

Pixar's three Toy Story movies — as well as related TV specials, books, and video games — have always excelled at repurposing everyday items in clever ways. The classic Barrel-of-Monkeys toys become a team that helps toys scale (modest) heights. The Etch-a-Sketch became a quasi-camera. The cassette player and microphone is Woody's PA system. In the same way, at the park, there are tiny flourishes everywhere, from the K'Nex and ABC blocks that provide imagined infrastructure to the Babybel cheese (a sponsor of the park) that serve as tables and chairs outside the Woody's Lunchbox restaurant.

All these little details, new and newly reimagined, will be open to the public on Saturday, June 30. Check out our gallery below!