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Disney World, in grand fashion, opens ‘Toy Story Land’ theme park

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Actress Sherri Shepherd and son, Jeffrey, whoosh aboard Slinky Dog Dash coaster while previewing Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., June 27, 2018. In the new land, officially open on June 30, Walt Disney World Resort guests can whoosh along on the family-friendly roller coaster Slinky Dog Dash, take a spin aboard Alien Swirling Saucers and try for the high score on Toy Story Mania! (Steven Diaz, photographer)
By Kimberly C. Roberts
Special to The Birmingham Times

Actress Sherri Shepherd and her son, Jeffrey, take a spin aboard Alien Swirling Saucers while previewing Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Steven Diaz, photographer)

In dramatic Disney fashion, Walt Disney World (WDW) on June 29 unveiled Toy Story Land, in Disney’s bustling Hollywood Studios and officially dedicated the new park.

The breathtaking new attraction is based on the whimsical 1995 Pixar animated feature film “Toy Story,” starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. In the Oscar-nominated film, Woody, a cowboy doll (Tom Hanks) is profoundly threatened and jealous when Buzz Lightyear, a new spaceman action figure (Tim Allen) supplants him as top toy in a little boy named Andy’s room.

WDW states that the 11-acre Toy Story Land, which turns guests of all ages into “honorary toys,” is part of a multi-year reimagining of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the largest expansion in the theme park’s history.

“The Land,” as WDW insiders call it, is basically a massive replica of Andy’s backyard, featuring gentle “thrill rides” including the Slinky Dog Dash coaster and Alien Swirling Saucers, as well as the updated, king-sized play land, Toy Story Mania, which will offer kids of all ages hours of fun and fantasy.

My flight to Orlando was packed with families who were already flooding into the city in excited anticipation of the Toy Story Land Grand Opening, and as I began my coverage at the Media Center, I encountered Janet Ross and Felicia Wilson, two talented hair and makeup artists who were assisting with the behind-the-scenes preparations for the Toy Story Land unveiling. Ross, who is originally from the Bahamas, has been with WDW for 14 years, and was happy to explain her duties.

“Me and Felicia are taking care of all the executives and media people that come in – the journalists and the bloggers,” Ross said.

Wilson, an Oakland native who has been with the company for 10 years, added, “I’m a cosmetologist first. I went to makeup school and I came to work for Disney in the Cosmetology Department, and transferred to Disney Event Group, so we do all the media stuff. It’s a lot of fun. You meet a lot of people – it’s exciting! It’s a really wonderful place to work. I work with a lot of good people.”

Ross stated that she most enjoyed working with the “Disney Dreamers,” program, in which talented, motivated youth from across the country are invited to WDW for intensive educational workshops and of course, fun and entertainment.

The day of the Dedication Moment dawned bright and sunny, with the ceremony scheduled well ahead of the brief, but torrential “showers” that occur almost daily during the rainy season in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. As Disney’s Hollywood Studios prepared for the big event, the intimidating “Star Wars” Storm Troopers capably guarded the perimeter, occasionally stopping to take pictures with fans.

Finally inside Toy Story Land, with the stern, iconic “Green Army Men” skillfully handling security and crowd control, the Dedication Moment began with a heart-felt introduction by Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products, who was surrounded by all of the beloved “Toy Story” characters … Woody, Buzz, Jessie…the whole gang. Humor plays a major role in all the Disney-doings, and when Chapek and Sarge made a big show of pulling the lever to “turn on” Toy Story Land, guess what happened? Nothing! “Batteries not included! Batteries not included!” a mechanical voice boomed over the park.

All was not lost, however. Stepping in to save the day, along with some batteries, was Tim Allen, the voice of Buzz Lightyear. “This is amazing!” he said after giving “Buzz” a hug. “I’ve been part of this great movie for 20 years, and can’t ever have imagined that somehow you’d be able to play in Andy’s backyard! This is amazing! When you walk into this place, it’s literally is like your home…I want to thank the entire team at Walt Disney World for making this possible.” And with that, Allen, Chapek, Buzz and Woody pulled the giant lever and brought Toy Story Land to life, as Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” from the “Toy Story” soundtrack played cheerfully in the background.”

“The opening of Toy Story Land is a big step in the evolution of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as we transform it from a place that took guests behind the scenes into one that puts them at the center of the action,” Chapek said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to invite guests to visit Andy’s backyard and experience what it’s like to play right alongside their favorite “Toy Story” characters – all thanks to the amazing partnership between our Imagineers and the storytellers at Pixar.”

In its opening week, Toy Story Land is already proving to be a summertime smash, with celebrities, including Sherri Shepherd and Gloria Estefan among the first to enjoy the attraction with their families.

Kimberly C. Roberts is a Philadelphia-based entertainment writer.