Pixar Putt, Reviewed: Come for the Mini Golf, Stay for the Nostalgia

The new pop-up at Penn’s Landing is a must-do for Pixar fans, but you might enjoy the photo ops more than your actual golf game.

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Toy Story aliens in a giant claw machine at Pixar Putt Philly / Photograph by Laura Swartz

As we reported last month, Pixar Putt, the touring mini-golf pop-up inspired by the Disney-owned studio’s movies — from Toy Story to Turning Red — is taking over the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing. Well, now it’s here! The 18-hole course quietly opened earlier this week but it officially opens today, July 6th.

The course traffics heavily on Pixar nostalgia, reminding you of characters and moments from beloved movies, both old and new, and playing movie soundtracks and sound effects throughout the experience. In that sense, it is very effective — my daughter and I came home, fired up Disney+ and watched two Pixar movies back-to-back immediately after playing the course. (Luca and WALL-E, if you must know.) And, as you’d expect from a Disney experience, the theming and photo ops are top-notch. There’s even a Toy Story-inspired Pizza Planet delivery golf cart you can pose inside in the middle of the course.

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Pixar Putt at Penn’s Landing / Photograph by Laura Swartz

I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a putt-putt purist, seeing as it’s already an offshoot of golf; but if you happen to be one, Pixar Putt isn’t for you. That’s both a positive and a negative.

One thing you’ll quickly notice is that some of the holes subvert the classic “place your ball on the tee platform and hit it” approach. The Coco hole, for example, has you play off the guitar strings instead of a tee. Soul starts off with positioning your ball, then hitting an oversize piano key to make your ball travel down the “steps” (more stylized piano keys), Rube-Goldberg-style, into the manhole. (“That’s how he died!” exclaimed my daughter.) The Toy Story alien claw machine, meanwhile, has you position the chute with a joystick and manually drop your ball onto the putting area (where you will ultimately use your club). It’s important to read the directions before each hole, because they’re not as straight-forward as you’d expect.

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You play off the guitar strings at the Coco-themed hole at Pixar Putt in Philly. / Photograph by Laura Swartz

The pièce de résistance: Hole 18, themed to Up, where you hit the ball into Carl’s house and an employee turns a hand-crank to make it “fly” over to Paradise Falls. (I’m told a lot of marriage proposals have happened here in other cities!) This relatively low-tech effect is charming — though may create a time-consuming bottleneck — and, like many holes, is greatly enhanced by players’ knowledge of the movies they are referencing.

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A Pixar Putt Philly employee turns a crank to make the Up house fly. / Photograph by Laura Swartz

All of this is to say: Pixar Putt often favors form over function, and celebrating its IP over playability. The course can be challenging at times, both in terms of skill and engineering. Small children with undeveloped motor skills (and their parents with a short supply of patience) will likely struggle getting their ball to land at a narrow ramp or go up a steep, wooden bridge, for example.

Because the course is created to pick up and tour other cities, it is by necessity built to withstand the elements and is put on high platforms so that it can work on any terrain. This means you’d better watch your step because tripping hazards abound. Some of the prefab materials are harder (and bumpier) than your typical Astroturf golf course, so expect the unexpected when it comes to game play. (Holes like Finding Nemo’s slippery ship deck and Coco’s wooden guitar mean the ball can often careen off the hole and down the stairs altogether.)

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Posing with the Monsters Inc. doors at Pixar Putt / Photograph courtesy of Rockefeller Sports & Events

If your main goal is just to play miniature golf, there are better — and cheaper — places to go. But that’s likely not why you are coming here. Pixar movies are best when they’re immersive and evocative, and putt-putt is a surprisingly creative medium not just to be themed by the movies, but to interpret them in a way that harkens back to what makes them special. The love between robots WALL-E and EVE, the super-creepy Benson puppet in Toy Story 4, the picturesque Portorosso and coveted Vespa in Luca. And staff tell me that sometime this summer, a new Elemental-themed hole will be joining the course, too.

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Turning Red course / Photograph by Laura Swartz

Overall, Pixar Putt is a summertime confection that enhances what’s already great at the Delaware River Waterfront, and is a must for any Pixar fans. You just might enjoy the photo ops more than your actual golf game.

Some final tips: First off, it may be a little challenging to find Pixar Putt if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Best bet if you’re coming from the RiverRink (park there if you’re looking to make your life easy) is to walk past the Seaport Museum and go up the stairs to the concrete plaza that rises to Chestnut Street. Also keep in mind that, due to that plaza being concrete, the course can get extremely hot and there isn’t much shade (save for a few scattered umbrellas) so wear lots of sunscreen and try not to go when it’s super hot out. Another reason for that? You’re not allowed any food or drinks on the course, and you will get thirsty if you’re playing for an hour in direct sunlight. Hydrate yourself in advance.

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Luca-themed hole at Pixar Putt / Photograph by Laura Swartz

Pixar Putt is open seven days a week, from noon to 10 p.m, and runs from July 1st through October 1st. And while it’s sure to draw in lots of families, they’re also planning “Pixar Putt After Dark” sessions, which will be limited to guests age 18 and older every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m.

Tickets will run you $24.75 to $26.75 for kids, and $29.75 to $31.75 for adults. There will also be discounted family four-packs (two children and two adults) for $99 to $107. Teams are limited to four people or fewer, and you should expect your session to last about two hours. Reserve your timeslot and learn more online.