The story of this blog goes back to the late-90s, when I worked as a Show Writer at Walt Disney Imagineering. It was there I developed my passion for and understanding of the ways Disney's theme park designers tell stories through the use of detail. Later, my wife Laurel and I would often volunteer our time, conducting classes and tours of the parks for Cast Members via Disney University. As the years went on, increasing responsibilities at work and home (our twin boys were born in 2005) meant those tours happened less and less. In 2009, I made a resolution to leverage technology and emerging social media to offer virtual storytelling tours.

I put up my first post here March 9, 2009. Three years and 705 posts later, I have to admit I'm quite proud of the accomplishment and humbled by the audience it has attracted. I've heard from many of you in comments, e-mails, Tweets and in person. You've all been so gracious and provided me more motivation than you know to keep the content coming.

Alas, as they say, all good things must come to an end.
As we step into 2012, I find myself with exciting new challenges at work and an increasing desire at home to spend more of my available time with my family and capturing the memories of our twins' fleeting childhood.

The good news for fans of the blog is all the content will still be here, and much of it is evergreen. I invite you to explore the Topic links in the right side column. Go back and revisit a post or maybe even discover something you missed the first time around. I'll also still be fairly active on Twitter (@disneyshawn for me, @disneylaurel for my wonderful wife) and in Google+, so don't be a stranger!

I've dearly loved sharing my passion with you over the years, and it's my fondest hope you'll take these stories and share them with your friends and family. It's only through being told that tales aren't forgotten.

So until we meet again (in a Disney Park, no doubt)... Aloha!

Slinky Dog and Hot Wheels

Continuing our exploration of Toy Story Playland at Walt Disney Studios Park, we come across Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin, a game Andy has left set up in his backyard box and all. The queue for the attraction winds through fences of Lincoln Logs and right into the box itself. On the side of the box, you'll notice a reference to James Industries. Richard James invented Slinky as a toy back in the '40s. Of course, it's also appropriate that James Varney provided the voice of Slinky Dog in the first two Toy Story movies (he passed in 2000, prior to production of Toy Story 3).

Once inside the box, you'll find all the game pieces and instructions needed to play the Zigzag Spin game.

For the attraction, though, we're going to leave the box behind and join Slink on a mad chase after his own tail. Rows of seats are built into the coils of the Slinky, all surrounding a dog bowl filled with treats. Once everyone's in place, it's time for the spinning fun to begin - round and round, over and down, faster and faster. Next thing you know, you'll have a big grin on your face, just like Slinky Dog!

Nearby is the feature attraction of Toy Story Playland, RC Racer! While the ride features the RC character from Toy Story, the setting here is very much about Andy's Hot Wheels cars. From the carrying case marquee to the molded-plastic sections of the queue, every detail is just right.

I love that several of the "decals" on the toy set, like the ones above, are peeling off just like they often did in real life. All the details in the queue are fantastic. I love the trees pruned to resemble traffic cones and the walkway, designed to look like snap-together sections of track.

There's a gas station playset (Dinoco, of course, the brand seen in all the Pixar films), and every element looks plastic and toy like.

The toy illusion continues as you enter the load building for the ride, where parts of our RC model car are seen still attached to the plastic frames on which they came.

The car assembled and a half-pipe of Hot Wheels orange track curved and waiting, it's time to board. RC rolls back and scoots forward, then he rolls back some more and scoots even further ahead. Before long, the car is zooming up and back, nearly to the ends of the track. It's actually quite thrilling and provides a great view of the park and a fine conclusion to our day at Walt Disney Studios.

A Backyard Playland

The newest area at Walt Disney Studios Park is Toy Story Playland, a mini-land located within the Toon Studio backlot. It's as if you've stepped onto the set of Toy Story and are in Andy's backyard amid all his playthings. From the Hot Wheels track and Tinker Toys to a Barrel of Monkeys and stacks of dominoes, many of your favorite toys from childhood are here and larger than life.

An enormous Buzz Lightyear stands over the entrance to Toy Story Playland, greeting Guests in both French and English as they arrive. Once inside the land, you'll find other familiar faces and elements from the Toy Story films, including the brightly-colored ball featured in the 1986 Pixar short "Luxo, Jr." and tucked into nearly every other Pixar production since.

Looking up, you'll discover an old-fashioned string of Christmas lights is used for illumination, while on the ground clever observers may notice the sneaker tread of Andy's footprints in the dirt.

At the other end of the land, the Barrel of Monkeys is cracked open and laying on the ground - one half housing a merchandise location, the other providing a tunnel transition back into the human-size section of the park.

Here in Toy Story Playland, though, everything is toy size, from the photo op with Rex to benches made from wooden train track pieces.

At the southern edge of the area, model airplanes of the balsa wood and plastic varieties signal the entrance to the first major attraction of Toy Story Playland, the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. Look closely at the model plane which forms the marquee, and you'll even notice the rubber band inside ready to be twisted to spin the propeller.

The Toy Soldiers (as they're known here; Green Army Men in the States) are on the case, ready to train new recruits on how to parachute into enemy territory... or at least into a houseplant to spy on Christmas and birthday presents.

Every element of the attraction is authentic to the films and supports the story that we're immersed in a toy world. The 2010 copyright date on the PlaySkool walkie-talkie is a nod to when Toy Story Playland opened (August 2010), and I especially love the fences in the queue, built to look like something you'd snap together with a Green Army Man play set.

There are bits of Hidden Disney to be found in the queue here as well. Fort Emery, the name of the post where we're doing our parachute training, is a nod to Pixar Animation Studios' hometown of Emeryville, California. The ID number on the Jeep in the outdoor area of the queue, 112295, is actually the date the original Toy Story opened in theaters (Nov. 22, 1995).

Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop is essentially the same kind of shoot-up-and-gently-drift-down ride found in countless amusement parks around the world. What makes this attraction unique and so much fun is the story being told through the details. Here, the load station is a Quonset hut, the landing zones are marked with Army stars and a plastic soldier keeps an eye on us from an observation tower. Parachuting our way through boot camp has never been so much fun!

A Taste of Radiator Springs

Opened in 2007 as part of the Toon Studio expansion that added Crush's Coaster to Walt Disney Studios Park, Cars Quatre Roues Rallye (Cars Race Rally) brings to life favorite elements from the 2006 Disney-Pixar animated film. Although a relatively small attraction, Cars Race Rally packs hundreds of details into this little corner of the park. From the "Welcome" sign, featuring placards for The Knights of Combustion and the Loyal Order of the Lugnuts, to the car part-influenced architecture, the town of Radiator Springs is well represented.

In a window near the entrance are some wildly painted hoods, fine examples of Ramone's handiwork at the House of Body Art, while Flo's V-8 Cafe provides a backdrop for the ride itself, housing the loading area of the queue.

Facades along the outside of the queue building include nods to Tow Mater Towing & Salvage and Luigi's Casa Della Tires. You'll even find Luigi and Guido posing for photos alongside their legendary Tower of Tires!

A peek inside the window at Luigi's reveals he's having a sale on Fettuccini Alfredo brand whitewall tires, available in such styles as Latte or Blanco Maximo. Of course, to truly appreciate the details at Cars Race Rally, you'll need to head inside... and hope for a line so you'll have time to pause and enjoy.

The first stop in the queue is Doc Hudson's place, now the Radiator Springs Doc Hudson Museum. Look for Doc's mechanical degrees from places of higher learning like the Institute of Ignition Studies and Pnorthern Pneumatic Polytechnic. There are also copies of newspaper articles, touting the Hudson Hornet's racing wins back in the '50s, and even one of his Piston Cups on display.

All your favorite Cars characters are represented here in some fashion, from Fillmore and Sarge to Red and Sally, and one entire section of the queue is dedicated to Lizzie's Radiator Springs Curios shop.

Some of the bumper stickers on offer here advertise local businesses, like the Cozy Cone Motel or Sarge's Surplus Hut, while others feature the sort of kitschy expressions you might find on products like this from a typical roadside souvenir stand:

"I'd Rather Be Cruisin'!"
"Got My Kicks"
"Nice Butte... Radiator Springs"
"Life Begins at the Off Ramp"
"Built for Comfort, Not for Speed"
"Honk If Your Horn Works"
"You Tailgate, I Backfire"

The attraction itself, set amid the mesas of Ornament Valley, is a triple turntable ride in which cars spin riders around and around, sliding from one turntable to the next (similar to Francis' Lady Bug Boogie at Disney California Adventure).

Cars Quatre Roues Rallye is lots of madcap, zany fun in very cute, Cars-inspired vehicles. Of course, the vehicles are a bit cozy, but I especially enjoyed the graphic (above) pointing out the fact that the cars are much happier carrying a mix of adults and children, rather than four full-grown passengers.

As the Race Rally gets underway, who's there to cheer us on but Lightning McQueen himself, along with his best friend Mater.

Before taking off for other points along Route 66, look for these fun little details from the movie: drums of Rust-eze Medicated Bumper Ointment and Mater's A-113 license plate (a reference to the animation classroom at Cal Arts where John Lasseter and others learned their craft).