CHILD’S PLAY

A TRIP TO TOY STORY LAND SENDS A FIVE-YEAR-OLD’S IMAG­I­NA­TION TO IN­FIN­ITY AND BE­YOND.

Air Canada enRoute - - FLORIDA FOUR WAYS/ LA FLORIDE EN QUATRE TEMPS - BY / PAR JA­SON MCBRIDE

MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD SON, JACK, DOESN’T CARE FOR AMUSE­MENT park rides, even the tamest of roller coast­ers. I dis­cover this, in­con­ve­niently, in Flor­ida on a muggy day in late June. My wife, Jack and I are here for the open­ing of Walt Dis­ney World’s new Toy Story Land, a real-life in­car­na­tion of the beloved movie fran­chise about a boy and his rag­tag col­lec­tion of sen­tient toys. It’s a first visit to Or­lando for all of us, but I went to Cal­i­for­nia’s Dis­ney­land when I was not much older than Jack and I’m ex­cited to re­live the ex­pe­ri­ence through his eyes.

We’re all ex­cited, in fact. Just as I was, and just as Toy Story’s boy hero Andy is, Jack is a sen­si­tive kid with an ac­tive imag­i­na­tion. As soon as he sees the loom­ing, six-me­tre statue of Buzz Lightyear, the fran­chise’s most iconic char­ac­ter, he prac­ti­cally runs into his arms, yelling, “I love this place!” I’m not far be­hind

him. Like the rest of Walt Dis­ney World, Toy Story Land is an in­stantly cap­ti­vat­ing, candy-coloured, eye-pop­ping, pop-cul­ture utopia. While there are many lessons to be found in the Toy Story uni­verse – love trumps hate, loy­alty never dies – the most im­por­tant may be this: Imag­i­na­tion is all-pow­er­ful. It can pro­vide hope, make change pos­si­ble, con­jure whole worlds.

The re­lent­lessly imag­i­na­tive de­sign of Toy Story Land takes this lit­er­ally. The 11-acre park, the largest ex­pan­sion in the his­tory of Walt Dis­ney World’s Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios, plops you right in Andy’s back­yard. The twist? You, the vis­i­tor, feel as though you’ve been shrunk to the di­men­sions of a toy and are sur­rounded by the fa­mil­iar play­things of the movie, all su­per­sized: Sher­iff Woody and Buzz, as well as Rex the di­nosaur, Slinky Dog, Jessie, the Green Army Men and ev­ery­one’s favourite cur­mud­geonly spud, Mr. Potato Head.

The park is geared to­ward kids of all ages, though tweens will likely get the most out of it. I pro­pose to Jack that we start off gen­tly on the rides, with Toy Story Ma­nia!, long one of the park’s most pop­u­lar at­trac­tions, but he doesn’t budge. Truth­fully, the ap­ple doesn’t fall far from the tree – I haven’t been on any­thing more chal­leng­ing than a Fer­ris wheel in decades. In the spirit of jour­nal­is­tic rigour, how­ever, I brave it. And Toy Story Ma­nia!, a 4-D, ride-along car­ni­val shoot­ing game, is a charmer in­deed. Lin­ing up is a hoot – the en­trance to the ride is, of course, dec­o­rated with yet more toys, in­clud­ing a

colos­sal View-Mas­ter Pe­ter Pan reel – as is the ride it­self, even as a grown-up, even alone. It feels like a gi­ant water-gun fight on a hot sum­mer’s day. Equally en­ter­tain­ing is the Slinky Dog Dash, a fam­ily-friendly ride that, mid­way, pauses dra­mat­i­cally be­fore a “power booster” re­launches you through a bunch of rings and light­ing ef­fects.

Jack’s re­luc­tance aside, there’s plenty to amuse and de­light him. The whole park is sup­posed to have been cre­ated by Andy, and there are toys and games Franken­steined to­gether, oth­ers half-fin­ished and Andy’s ma­te­ri­als – im­mense Elmer’s glue bot­tles, Tinker­toys, re­cy­cled card­board boxes, crayons – strewn all over. The de­tail is ex­tra­or­di­nary, al­most un­canny, from the gi­ant Andy foot­prints that dot the path­ways to the enor­mous Christ­mas lights strung above our heads.

At one point, when Jack and I pause for a break, it takes us a sec­ond to re­al­ize the bench we’re sit­ting on is built of jumbo Pop­si­cle sticks, each one a dif­fer­ent colour. I re­al­ize that we haven’t just been minia­tur­ized, but this topsy-turvy take on pro­por­tions leads me to think about how the world looks from the per­spec­tive of a child.

Like other Dis­ney-Pixar films, the Toy Story movies have ex­pertly threaded the en­ter­tain­ment nee­dle, en­chant­ing both kids (who love the toys com­ing to life) and grown-ups (who can revel in the nos­tal­gia, wit and in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated an­i­ma­tion). Toy Story Land neatly trans­poses this multi­gen­er­a­tional qual­ity to the real world – adults can bask in the Gen-X-friendly de­tails of the park’s de­sign while younger vis­i­tors can get their thrills on the rides. Well, some younger vis­i­tors, any­way.

Tak­ing a kid who doesn’t like rides all the way to Walt Dis­ney World felt at first a bit like tak­ing a ve­gan to an all-you-can-eat McDonald’s. It’s not un­til our third day at the park, when I fi­nally come to terms with the fact that forced amuse­ment is no amuse­ment at all, that I ac­tu­ally start to re­lax.

Be­sides, Jack makes his own fun. He tries to climb the var­i­ous over­size ob­jects. Thrilled that ev­ery bath­room in the park has sinks that are his height, he keeps wash­ing his hands. He takes pa­per and mark­ers out of his back­pack and draws Woody and Buzz. He in­vites strangers to the ta­lent show he’s or­ga­niz­ing the next day. (There is no ta­lent show.) The spirit of Toy Story Land has clearly taken hold – his imag­i­na­tion is out of con­trol.

But Toy Story is also about putting away child­ish things – or at least about how one child­ish thing can sup­plant an­other. Just on the other side of the picket fence that de­marks Andy’s back­yard, Jack spies the half-com­pleted Star Wars: Gal­axy’s Edge, an­other ad­di­tion to Walt Dis­ney World that opens next year. His eyes light up again. “Can we come back here?” he asks.

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ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHTThe Green Army Men are still in ac­tion; the fam­i­lyfriendly Slinky Dog Dash serves up some twists and thrills. OPEN­ING PAGEToy Story Land shows there’s no need to tinker with a win­ning for­mula.

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