The Art of Attractions - February 2019


Toy Story Land’s “Slinky Dog Dash” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios takes guests on a ride through Andy’s backyard, where many of his toys are playfully arranged. (Credit: Matt Stroshane)

Parks Made Me Lose My Marbles

By Arthur Levine

Andy and I share something in common: We both love parks.

Andy is the boy whose playthings come to life in the “Toy Story” movies. How do I know he loves parks? It dawned on me as I was walking through his oversized backyard, which is the setting for Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando.

The Pixar-lated kid is so smitten he raided his toy chest, art supplies, and anything else he could find around his house to create his own park. The delightful land includes a food stand Andy fashioned out of his lunchbox and thermos and a sign he assembled using Scrabble letters (some of which, eagle-eyed visitors will note, face the wrong way).

Like Andy, I was a budding theme park designer at his age. I didn’t create a roller coaster using my Slinky Dog as a train. But I did create miniature coasters of sorts using hand-cut cardboard chutes for tracks and marbles as ride vehicles. I never quite figured out the physics, and no matter how much I tweaked the layouts, the marbles would invariably go flying in all directions. Months after I disassembled the contraptions, my poor mother would find the glass orbs hidden all over our basement.

At the summer camp I attended, I used to commandeer a large canoe and take fellow campers on a narrated tour around the pond. My spiel was inspired both by Disney Parks’ “Jungle Cruise” river adventure and by the “Moby Dick” boat ride I used to adore at Pleasure Island, the short-lived Massachusetts theme park.

When I got older, my brother and I used to host backyard carnivals to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It was partly altruistic to help a good cause, but mostly, it was an opportunity to develop our own carnival with homemade games, tickets, prizes, food concessions, and more. The fact that the charity invited families that organized carnivals to a free thank-you party at Paragon Park (another now-shuttered Massachusetts park) only sweetened the deal.

I never did become a park designer, but I found my own way into the industry that I love. I suspect that many of the Imagineers who worked on Toy Story Land relate to Andy and are working in the industry because they developed a passion for parks as children. I also suspect that the path that led many of you into the industry began in childhood.

It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day workplace details, but never lose sight of the childhood dreams that propelled you into themed entertainment. And remember that the work you do delights wide-eyed children and will kindle a passion in some of them to pursue a similar path.

I’ll see you at the parks. I’ll be the one in search of a marble coaster.

A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at (formerly since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.