The long-awaited Toy Story Playland area finally opened at Walt Disney Studios in August 2010, adding three new rides to the line-up at the Disneyland Paris Resort's second theme park. With the new land having been panned by critics as unambitious even prior to its opening, does it fail to live up to its €70 million price tag? Or have Disney's Imagineers pulled off another masterstroke?
Based on Pixar's hugely popular animated movie trilogy, Toy Story Playland is designed to boost capacity at Walt Disney Studios. The park has suffered from a relatively sparse attraction line-up since opening in 2002, although the addition of the Toon Studio land and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in 2007 has helped to expand its offerings. Tucked away at the back of the park, the Toy Story area is actually a new sub-land within Toon Studio.
Featured within Toy Story Playland are three all-new attractions - RC Racer, Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop and Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin. Each is themed around a character from the movies, although at their core all three rides are versions of existing "off-the-shelf" rides seen at other theme parks around the world. No dining locations are present in the new land, although there is a small retail outlet selling Toy Story merchandise.
So does the limited scope and size of the new land restrict its appeal to visitors, or does the use of classic Disney theming and the popular Toy Story characters mean the area adds up to more than the sum of its parts? Let's take a look.
Shrinking down to toy size
Guests are welcomed into Toy Story Playland by a towering model of Buzz Lightyear, marking the point at which they are "shrunk" down to the size of a toy. Everything else in the land maintains the same scale, from oversized toy planes and building blocks to the model of the Rex the dinosaur that guards the exit. You can see a full walkthrough of Toy Story Playland (partially covered in snow from December's blizzards) in the video below:
As always, Disney's Imagineers have paid careful attention to detail in Toy Story Playland. The fences and and pathways in the rides' queue lines look as though as they were constructed using elements from a toy box, and even the rides themselves look like oversized playthings. The overall effect is very impressive - even if the small size of the area means that guests can never be fully "immersed".
The most intense of Toy Story Playland's attractions is RC Racer, inspired by the speedy remote-controlled car that plays a key role at several junctures in the Toy Story movies. The ride is a half-pipe rollercoaster, manufactured by Intamin and themed to resemble the Hot Wheels track that RC rides in the Toy Story movies. In a neat touch, even the footpath in the queueline is designed to look like an extended racetrack.
Although it looks like a rollercoaster, the actual experience of riding RC Racer is very similar to riding the "swinging boat" rides which are present at amusement parks all over the world. However, whereas climbing into one of those boats is relatively fast and efficient, the loading time of RC Racer is painfully slow. Riders must wear full over-the-shoulder restraints (as for a major coaster), as well as buckling a seatbelt. Given that all riders must disembark before the next group can board, the result is long waits for much of the day.
To compensate for the low capacity, Walt Disney Studios has reduced the actual ride time on RC Racer to the bare minimum. Whereas swinging boat rides might hit their maximum height several times during each cycle, RC Racer reaches the top of the half-pipe just once on either side before slowing down. Anyone who has waited for half an hour or longer (which will be just about everyone who rides outside of the first hour the park opens) is likely to feel a little cheated.
On the plus side, RC Racer does genuinely fit its theme perfectly. Particularly for younger kids, it offers a convincing recreation of what it would be like to ride on a real Hot Wheels track - and there's a genuinely thrilling moment when the car reaches its peak height and appears to be about to fly right off the end of the track. If you rush straight to it after the park opens to avoid the queues, RC Racer is well worth experiencing - but we wouldn't recommend joining the massed crowds during the rest of the day.Rating:
Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop
Standing at some 25 metres tall, Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop is the most visually imposing attraction in Toy Story Playland. However, despite fears that it would become a blight on the Walt Studios skyline, it barely registers next to the striking Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Although guests in Disneyland Park's Frontierland will be able to spot it if they look hard enough, the ride's height doesn't cause any real visual issues.
Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop is inspired by the tiny "green army men" figures that feature in all three Toy Story movies, and are seen parachuting on several occasions. Manufactured by Intamin, the ride is a customised version of the parachute drop attractions that are seen at several other parks around the world (including Jumpin' Jellyfish at Disney California Adventure).
Unfortunately, Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop shares the same weaknesses as RC Racer. While the ride features a neatly-themed queue, guests are likely to spend far too much time in it due to the painfully slow loading process. At least while we were in the queue, Cast Members compounded the fundamental issues of running a cycle ride by taking an age over checking restraints and dispatching the ride - seemingly more interested in having snowball fights with each other than reducing guests' wait times. Just twenty minutes after the park opened, wait times had already hit half an hour or longer.
Despite the low-tech origins of the ride (parachute drop rides have been in operation for decades), Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop does at least provide great views of the rest of the Disneyland Paris Resort. Most kids seemed to love the attraction, and it makes for an entertaining visual spectacle to watch from the ground as well. Despite this, it is less thrilling than RC Racer and suffers from even more acute capacity problems - if you want to ride it, make it your first stop after Crush's Coaster.Rating:
Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin
At its core, Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin is almost identical to the original "caterpillar" ride that debuted at New York Coney Island's in 1925. Although the popularity of these rides has waned significantly in the past few decades, Disney has sought to revive it by turning the caterpillar into a recreation of the popular Slinky Dog character. Riders sit inside the "springs" of Slinky Dog's body as he chases his tail around in circles.
Although the cute visual appearance and audio soundtrack differentiate Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin slightly from similar rides, the basic experience is identical. Particularly for younger kids (who will need to be seated on the inside of the ride), there is a minor thrill to be had from crushing their parents in the outside seats as Slinky Dog picks up speed. Unfortunately, this is short-lived due to a total ride time that runs for just over over a minute.
We hate to sound like a broken record, but Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin shares exactly the same major problem as RC Racer and Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. Guests will spend longer sitting in their cars waiting for the ride to set off than they will in motion, resulting in a pathetically low capacity and - again - long queues. Unless you have kids who are desperate to ride, this is the most expendable of Toy Story Playland's attractions and we suggest skipping it altogether.Rating:
Despite the woefully inadequare dining options at Walt Disney Studios, Toy Story Playland does not feature any new restaurants. This feels like a missed opportunity given the rich theming opportunities, even if the Pizza Planet concept from the first movie is already in use at neighbouring Disneyland Park.
Disneyland Paris has at least seen fit to capitalise on the obvious merchandising potential of the Toy Story brand, installing a retail outlet at the back of the new land. Barrel of Monkeys features the expected range of toys and clothing, and parents should expect to part with the contents of their wallets as soon as their kids enter the store.
There's a lot to like about Toy Story Playland, with Disney's Imagineers having created a charming little space that is a pleasure to walk around. However, it proves to be a triumph of style over substance when it comes to the attractions themselves. While it's impossible to argue that Walt Disney Studios wasn't badly in need of new rides, the decision by Disneyland Paris management to take the low-cost route by installing off-the-shelf cycle rides has badly misfired.
We can just just about live with the lack of originality of RC Racer, Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop and Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin (Dumbo The Flying Elephant was hardly groundbreaking, after all). However, the long queues caused by their low throughput are just unforgivable - it simply isn't worth enduring the wait times to ride on what are basically early-20th century midway attractions. The only way to avoid this to rush straight to Toy Story Playland as soon as the park opens, and many will opt to head to Crush's Coaster instead.
Speaking of Crush's Coaster, it's hard to believe that Disneyland Paris hasn't learnt from the capacity problems from which that ride suffers. It is common to see two hour queues for the coaster within half an hour of Walt Disney Studios opening, and unfortunately the issue will be repeated on a smaller scale for each of Toy Story Playland's attractions. We can't help feeling that the €70 million investment would have been better spent if it had contributed to building a new themed dark ride, with Disney having already perfected the high-capacity OmniMover system that is used in Disneyland Park's Phantom Manor.
European Disney fans will cast jealous glances over the Atlantic, where the interactive Toy Story Mania attraction continues to draw rave reviews at Disney California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios. As much as we'd love to see it make its way to the Disneyland Paris Resort, it's another ride which simply can't handle large crowds efficiently. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed that rumours of a 2012 opening for a $150 million dark ride based on Pixar's Paris-set animated movie Ratatouille prove to be accurate.
In the end, Toy Story Playland should be judged for what it is - a minor addition to Walt Disney Studios that is largely aimed at a younger audience. On that level, it just about succeeds - but we hope Disneyland Paris takes note of the lengthy queues and learns the lessons this time.