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A JHM Exclusive: Your first look at Universal Orlando’s “Revenge of the Mummy” thrill ride

JHM columnist Seth Kubersky returns with a detailed description of this brand new yet-to-be-officially-opened indoor roller coaster.



The following contains spoilers. The following is based on an incomplete attraction, and should not be construed as representative of the final product. The ride is in private technical rehearsals, and is not open to the public. Do not go to the park expecting to experience the ride until the official opening date. Your mileage may vary. Discontinue use if rash develops.


Riding a new ride during “technical rehearsals” is always a dicey proposition. It’s called a rehearsal for a good reason, since major element are often incomplete, and the fine-tuning that separates a good ride from a great one is absent. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing some of Orlando’s biggest attractions weeks or even months before the general public, and it hasn’t always been as fun as you’d imagine.

Sometimes it’s an exercise in frustration; my first visit to IOA’s “Spiderman” involved three hours in the queue, climaxing in the building being evacuated when I was a dozen people from the car. Sometimes it’s terribly disillusioning; after my first trip through Animal Kingdom’s “Countdown to Extinction,” I had to ask the attendants when they were installing the dinos (sadly, it never improved much). Occasionally, the first preview is the best experience you’ll ever have on a ride; I’ll never forget how wonderfully nauseating the “Cat in the Hat”‘s spinning cars were at first.

And sometimes, a technical preview can be like a glimpse of future greatness. Like watching the “work-in-progress” version of “Beauty and the Beast.” Yes, the lines are rough, and many of the colors missing. There may even be a mild hiccup in the story (they sing “Be Our Guest” to Belle’s father?). But it’s clear that you are experiencing something magical. You know that you are watching artists at the top of their form, taking everything they’ve learned in the past to create something you and your kids will want to experience over and over. And you know that, given a little more time and polish, it just might change the world.

That’s what Universal Orlando’s “Revenge of the Mummy” is like right now. The rough draft of a masterpiece. And I have every confidence that before the first paying guest steps on it, Universal will make sure it lives up to it’s already-obvious potential.

For anyone who’s been hiding in a theme-park-news-free bunker, “Revenge of the Mummy” (ROTM) is Universal Studios Florida’s new headliner attraction, slated to open later this Spring. A sister attraction is also opening at Universal Studios Hollywood. Both are based on Universal’s “Mummy” franchise, starring Brendan Fraser and directed by Stephen Sommers. They may have the distinction of being the first theme park attractions to be significantly better than the movies they are based on. Ok, maybe second after “Waterworld”.

The Florida version is housed in the building formerly occupied by the much-beloved “Kongfrontation.” Fans of the late great ape, rest assured. Not only does ROTM not desecrate that hallowed ground, it is a more than worthy successor to old banana breath. And, rumor is, you might catch a glimpse of old monkey if you keep your eyes peeled.

Costing a reported $45 million (small change compared to recent E-tickets like “Mission: Space”), ROTM does not radically break new ground in the same way that “Spiderman” did. The basic elements, an indoor roller-coaster with magnetically launched trains, has been seen before. The special effects — ranging from air and water blasts, to flames, to video projections and sophisticated animatronics — are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But no ride has combined so many of these effects, in such complex synchronization, at such a blistering pace. Universal touts this as a “psychological thrill ride” with good reason. The dominant effect is total sensory overload, an unparalleled avalanche of astounding sights and sensations that will leave you reeling. You’ll exit the ride knowing you missed half of what’s in there, and not believing half of what you actually saw.

The experience starts before you even enter the queue, proving once again that Universal understands how important the entire package is, beyond just the ride itself. Attraction cast members performed a brief “streetmosphere”-style interaction with the waiting crowd, picking out “extras” for a “screen test”, reminiscent of the “Earthquake” preshow. Other employees scurried about with trays of coffee for the “stars”, a gag that carries through the entire attraction. I don’t know if this was solely for the benefit of the employee preview, but I hope it continues, and survives the pressures of the enormous crowds this ride will attract this summer. Bravo to the cast members, who went all out despite being attractions personnel and not actors.

You enter the attraction not through the museum façade, as with Kong, but through the Paradise Theater. This is an epic queue line in classic Universal style, and fitting replacement for Kong’s legendary queue. The initial sections, inside the building that once held the Islands of Adventure preview center, feature props and design sketches from the first two Mummy films.

Overhead video monitors present a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary about the filming of a new Mummy movie. We are introduced to “Reggie”, a bumbling production assistant, and are informed of strange happenings on the set. They also make mention of a mystical symbol that is needed to protect us against the evil Imhotep’s curse.

Unfortunately, the high ceilings, hard surfaces, and chattering guests conspire to make the preshow video almost completely unintelligible. This is a shame, since it sets up story elements that are important to the full enjoyment of the ride. As a sound engineer, I can sympathize with the designers, and I trust they’ll find a way to overcome the lousy acoustics.

After passing through a black, empty room (I assume there is work to be done here), you enter the attraction proper through the old Kong entrance. There are some cages full of props and costumes, and more video monitors. You turn a corner, and suddenly you are inside an exquisitely detailed Egyptian tomb. I was unsure at this point whether we were meant to be on the set of the new film, or if we were “transported” to an actual tomb by Imhotep’s curse. Perhaps the confusion is intentional. It’s a moot point because this section features some of the best scenic design ever seen in a queue. Though not nearly as long, it is every bit as well crafted as the queue for IOA’s “Dueling Dragons,” which is high praise indeed.

Best of all, there are a number of interactive elements to entertain you. A sarcophagus with a handprint engraved on it causes the lights to flicker when touched. A glowing jewel activates air blasts further down the queue, and an adjacent video monitor shows the humorous results (though wouldn’t it make sense for the air blasts to come first?). And, my favorite, a hologram of golden treasure blasts with air anyone foolish enough to reach for it. It’s unclear how much of the queue those using the Express Pass and Single Rider lines will experience, but this queue is well worth waiting in.

Soon, you enter a tall chamber dominated by a huge statue of Anubis. Wooden stairs spiraling up lead you to the loading platform. There is an elevator for those with disabilities, everyone else gets some exercise. At the top, there are twin loading platforms, to your left and right, each accommodating one car. The vehicles, styled like mine cars, feature four rows of four passengers each. The rear rows are slightly elevated, giving a good view to all. The lap bars are unusually tall, reaching from your waist up to your sternum, but comfortable. The headrests are tall but do not wrap around the side of your head.

And away we go! I won’t give a detailed blow-by-blow of the ride. If you want every moment spoiled for you, you can find it elsewhere online. Moreover, I couldn’t give an accurate accounting after one trip through the ride due to the sheer volume of stuff thrown at you. The first time through, even in an unfinished state, is so overwhelming that detached analysis is simply impossible. I will give an outline of the experience, and describe some of the highlights.




Still there? Ok…

We enter a tomb, with mummified corpses strewn about. From the first moment you can tell that great detail has been put into creating a complete 360º environment, with lighting and music to match. A voice (the “Reggie” animatronic is yet to arrive) warns us of Imhotep’s curse. Around the corner, Reggie is turned into a Mummy by Imhotep (another work-in-progress). You are sent into the next room, which is where things start to get really interesting.

An enormous projection of Imhotep offers you riches for your soul, and piles of treasure are illuminated to either side of you. If you refuse, he warns, you’ll die. Mummy warriors appear next to you, lunging at the car (they do not, however, jump on the car). Flames explode around you, and for an extra shock you are sprayed with water. You take a quick turn into a new room, which seems to be a dead end. The wall in front of you suddenly sprouts thousands of scarab beetles, which swarm towards your vehicle. I assume that this projection will eventually be accompanied by a tactile effect, similar to “It’s Tough to Be a Bug,” but for now there is only light and sound.

You are quickly launched backwards down a short hill, and then quickly come to a stop in a rotating room. There is some more threatening from Imhotep, as you are turned to face an enormous hill. At the top of the hill looms Imhotep’s giant head. You are launched up the hill, straight into his gaping mouth.

What follows is the coaster portion of the ride, a giddying minute or so of dips and turns. There are no inversions, and the actual scare-factor lies somewhere between “Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster” and “Space Mountain.” It does have the advantage of being an exceptionally smooth and comfortable ride, with well-engineered turns and a pleasant amount of airtime. Heightening the effect are numerous illuminated apparitions, flickering to ghostly life seeming inches from your head. They may be simple back-lit cutouts, but they are extremely effective, much more so than the tacky black light props in “Rock ‘n Roller Coaster.” Add in the music and sound effects, and this section is far more thrilling that you might imagine the fairly tame drops and banks would be. Don’t let the idea of a roller coaster scare you away from this ride – it’s much more likely to make you laugh with delight than scream in terror.

Before you know it, you are out of the coaster section and at what appears to be the unload station. To your left, you see the silhouette of a ride attendant inside her booth. I believe another animatronic attendant is yet to be installed. You come to a stop, and they thank you for riding the ride, but Imhotep arrives and vaporizes the attendants in mid-spiel. The ceiling above you ignites in a beautiful “brain-fire” effect that will be familiar to those who have ridden Busch Garden’s Escape From Pompeii. You are launched in the final brief coaster section of the ride, similar to the first.

And then… well, I’m not sure. A ride this spectacular deserves an appropriate finale, and I’m sure that by the time it opens, this one will have one. For now, I’m not really sure what I saw. I assumed I’d see some representation of Imhotep being defeated, presumably involving the symbol that was mentioned in the preshow. I don’t think I saw that. There were lights, and noise, and frankly I was a bit dazed, but I don’t think I saw a resolution to the story.

The next thing I knew, Brendan Frasier was congratulating me from a video screen, and demanding a cup of coffee. There is a goofy sight gag that again calls into question the frame of reference for the story – what is the “reality” of this attraction? And then we were on a fairly sparse unload platform, and down the old exit ramp past the cashiers that sit where the Kong photo op used to be.




Obviously, the ride still has a ways to go, which is why the public soft-opening is still expected to be several weeks away. Some of the missing effects are crucial to the story, which as any good theme park designer knows it the most important part of an attraction. The finale in particular needs more of a sense of closure. I also had trouble understanding much of the dialogue in the ride, a problem I don’t have on any other attractions. Part of this is psychological, as there is just too much happening at once to absorb it all. There is also speaker tuning that needs to be done during this test-and-adjust phase.

But even in this incomplete state, you can tell ROTM is destined for greatness. The only criticism I can levy is also the biggest compliment – it’s too short. Not in terms of time, as its 3½ minute ride time is about average. And not in terms of physical size, since it occupies one of the largest ride buildings in the world, and features sets that are epic in scope. No, you want it to be longer because there is just so much to see and experience that you wish it could just go on and on. A great showman always leaves ’em wanting more, and this ride does that in spades.

This ride will raise your expectations of what a ride can be. You may feel a little let down when you realize that eventually, it ends and you have to get off. At the moment, this feeling is intensified by the fact that the ending doesn’t generate the kind of catharsis that “Spiderman”‘s high fall or “Indiana Jones”‘s rolling boulder does. I have faith that will change, and ROTM will take its place alongside the great theme park attractions of the world.

Universal has proved once again that they are the masters of postmodern theme park design. They didn’t invent anything you’ve never seen before. They’ve taken everything you’ve seen in the past, and put it all together in a way that you’ve never imagined. My philosophical musings on the ambiguous setting of the attraction is a plus, as it indicates the kind of complexity that makes for re-rideability.

Bob Gault, Scott Trowbridge, Stephen Sommers, and everyone else involved should feel very proud of the work they’ve done. Good luck to the opening crew, and save me a seat (back row, left corner) when everything is 100%!

Seth Kubersky

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The Evolution and History of Mickey’s ToonTown



Disneyland in Anaheim, California, holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans worldwide, I mean heck, it’s where the magic began after all.  Over the years it’s become a place that people visit in search of memorable experiences. One fan favorite area of the park is Mickey’s Toontown, a unique land that lets guests step right into the colorful, “Toony” world of Disney animation. With the recent reimagining of the land and the introduction of Micky and Minnies Runaway Railway, have you ever wondered how this land came to be?

There is a fascinating backstory of how Mickey’s Toontown came into existence. It’s a tale of strategic vision, the influence of Disney executives, and a commitment to meeting the needs of Disney’s valued guests.

The Beginning: Mickey’s Birthdayland

The story of Mickey’s Toontown starts with Mickey’s Birthdayland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Opened in 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, this temporary attraction was met with such overwhelming popularity that it inspired Disney executives to think bigger. The idea was to create a permanent, immersive land where guests could step into the animated world of Mickey Mouse and his friends.

In the early ’90s, Disneyland was in need of a refresh. Michael Eisner, the visionary leader of The Walt Disney Company at the time, had an audacious idea: create a brand-new land in Disneyland that would celebrate Disney characters in a whole new way. This was the birth of Mickey’s Toontown.

Initially, Disney’s creative minds toyed with various concepts, including the idea of crafting a 100-Acre Woods or a land inspired by the Muppets. However, the turning point came when they considered the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This film’s popularity and the desire to capitalize on contemporary trends set the stage for Toontown’s creation.

From Concept to Reality: The Birth of Toontown

In 1993, Mickey’s Toontown opened its gates at Disneyland, marking the first time in Disney Park history where guests could experience a fully realized, three-dimensional world of animation. This new land was not just a collection of attractions but a living, breathing community where Disney characters “lived,” worked, and played.

Building Challenges: Innovative Solutions

The design of Mickey’s Toontown broke new ground in theme park aesthetics. Imagineers were tasked with bringing the two-dimensional world of cartoons into a three-dimensional space. This led to the creation of over 2000 custom-built props and structures that embodied the ‘squash and stretch’ principle of animation, giving Toontown its distinctiveness.

And then there was also the challenge of hiding the Team Disney Anaheim building, which bore a striking resemblance to a giant hotdog. The Imagineers had to think creatively, using balloon tests and imaginative landscaping to seamlessly integrate Toontown into the larger park.

Key Attractions: Bringing Animation to Life

Mickey’s Toontown featured several groundbreaking attractions. “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin,” inspired by the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” became a staple of Toontown, offering an innovative ride experience. Gadget’s Go-Coaster, though initially conceived as a Rescue Rangers-themed ride, became a hit with younger visitors, proving that innovative design could create memorable experiences for all ages.

Another crown jewel of Toontown is Mickey’s House, a walkthrough attraction that allowed guests to explore the home of Mickey Mouse himself. This attraction was more than just a house; it was a carefully crafted piece of Disney lore. The house was designed in the American Craftsman style, reflecting the era when Mickey would have theoretically purchased his first home in Hollywood. The attention to detail was meticulous, with over 2000 hand-crafted, custom-built props, ensuring that every corner of the house was brimming with character and charm. Interestingly, the design of Mickey’s House was inspired by a real home in Wichita Falls, making it a unique blend of real-world inspiration and Disney magic.

Mickey’s House also showcased Disney’s commitment to creating interactive and engaging experiences. Guests could make themselves at home, sitting in Mickey’s chair, listening to the radio, and exploring the many mementos and references to Mickey’s animated adventures throughout the years. This approach to attraction design – where storytelling and interactivity merged seamlessly – was a defining characteristic of ToonTown’s success.

Executive Decisions: Shaping ToonTown’s Unique Attractions

The development of Mickey’s Toontown wasn’t just about creative imagination; it was significantly influenced by strategic decisions from Disney executives. One notable input came from Jeffrey Katzenberg, who suggested incorporating a Rescue Rangers-themed ride. This idea was a reflection of the broader Disney strategy to integrate popular contemporary characters and themes into the park, ensuring that the attractions remained relevant and engaging for visitors.

In addition to Katzenberg’s influence, Frank Wells, the then-President of The Walt Disney Company, played a key role in the strategic launch of Toontown’s attractions. His decision to delay the opening of “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” until a year after Toontown’s debut was a calculated move. It was designed to maintain public interest in the park by offering new experiences over time, thereby giving guests more reasons to return to Disneyland.

These executive decisions highlight the careful planning and foresight that went into making Toontown a dynamic and continuously appealing part of Disneyland. By integrating current trends and strategically planning the rollout of attractions, Disney executives ensured that Toontown would not only capture the hearts of visitors upon its opening but would continue to draw them back for new experiences in the years to follow.

Global Influence: Toontown’s Worldwide Appeal

The concept of Mickey’s Toontown resonated so strongly that it was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland and influenced elements in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Each park’s version of Toontown maintained the core essence of the original while adapting to its cultural and logistical environment.

Evolution and Reimagining: Toontown Today

As we approach the present day, Mickey’s Toontown has recently undergone a significant reimagining to welcome “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” in 2023. This refurbishment aimed to enhance the land’s interactivity and appeal to a new generation of Disney fans, all while retaining the charm that has made ToonTown a beloved destination for nearly three decades.

Dive Deeper into ToonTown’s Story

Want to know more about Mickey’s Toontown and hear some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, then check out the latest episode of Disney Unpacked on Patreon @JimHillMedia. In this episode, the main Imagineer who worked on the Toontown project shares lots of interesting stories and details that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s full of great information and fun facts, so be sure to give it a listen!

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Unpacking the History of the Pixar Place Hotel



Pixar Place Hotel, the newly unveiled 15-story tower at the Disneyland Resort, has been making waves in the Disney community. With its unique Pixar-themed design, it promises to be a favorite among visitors.

However, before we delve into this exciting addition to the Disneyland Resort, let’s take a look at the fascinating history of this remarkable hotel.

The Emergence of the Disneyland Hotel

To truly appreciate the story of the Pixar Place Hotel, we must turn back the clock to the early days of Disneyland. While Walt Disney had the visionary ideas and funding to create the iconic theme park, he faced a challenge when it came to providing accommodations for the park’s visitors. This is where his friend Jack Wrather enters the picture.

Jack Wrather, a fellow pioneer in the television industry, stepped in to assist Walt Disney in realizing his dream. Thanks to the success of the “Lassie” TV show produced by Wrather’s company, he had the financial means to build a hotel right across from Disneyland.

The result was the Disneyland Hotel, which opened its doors in October 1955. Interestingly, the early incarnation of this hotel had more of a motel feel than a hotel, with two-story buildings reminiscent of the roadside motels popular during the 1950s. The initial Disneyland Hotel consisted of modest structures that catered to visitors looking for affordable lodging close to the park. While the rooms were basic, it marked the beginning of something extraordinary.

The Evolution: From Emerald of Anaheim to Paradise Pier

As Disneyland’s popularity continued to soar, so did the demand for expansion and improved accommodations. In 1962, the addition of an 11-story tower transformed the Disneyland Hotel, marking a significant transition from a motel to a full-fledged hotel.

The addition of the 11-story tower elevated the Disneyland Hotel into a more prominent presence on the Anaheim skyline. At the time, it was the tallest structure in all of Orange County. The hotel’s prime location across from Disneyland made it an ideal choice for visitors. With the introduction of the monorail linking the park and the hotel, accessibility became even more convenient. Unique features like the Japanese-themed reflecting pools added to the hotel’s charm, reflecting a cultural influence that extended beyond Disney’s borders.

Japanese Tourism and Its Impact

During the 1960s and 1970s, Disneyland was attracting visitors from all corners of the world, including Japan. A significant number of Japanese tourists flocked to Anaheim to experience Walt Disney’s creation. To cater to this growing market, it wasn’t just the Disneyland Hotel that aimed to capture the attention of Japanese tourists. The Japanese Village in Buena Park, inspired by a similar attraction in Nara, Japan, was another significant spot.

These attractions sought to provide a taste of Japanese culture and hospitality, showcasing elements like tea ceremonies and beautiful ponds with rare carp and black swans. However, the Japanese Village closed its doors in 1975, likely due to the highly competitive nature of the Southern California tourist market.

The Emergence of the Emerald of Anaheim

With the surge in Japanese tourism, an opportunity arose—the construction of the Emerald of Anaheim, later known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel. In May 1984, this 15-story hotel opened its doors.

What made the Emerald unique was its ownership. It was built not by The Walt Disney Company or the Oriental Land Company (which operated Tokyo Disneyland) but by the Tokyu Group. This group of Japanese businessmen already had a pair of hotels in Hawaii and saw potential in Anaheim’s proximity to Disneyland. Thus, they decided to embark on this new venture, specifically designed to cater to Japanese tourists looking to experience Southern California.

Financial Challenges and a Changing Landscape

The late 1980s brought about two significant financial crises in Japan—the crash of the NIKKEI stock market and the collapse of the Japanese real estate market. These crises had far-reaching effects, causing Japanese tourists to postpone or cancel their trips to the United States. As a result, reservations at the Emerald of Anaheim dwindled.

To adapt to these challenging times, the Tokyu Group merged the Emerald brand with its Pacific hotel chain, attempting to weather the storm. However, the financial turmoil took its toll on the Emerald, and changes were imminent.

The Transition to the Disneyland Pacific Hotel

In 1995, The Walt Disney Company took a significant step by purchasing the hotel formerly known as the Emerald of Anaheim for $35 million. This acquisition marked a change in the hotel’s fortunes. With Disney now in control, the hotel underwent a name change, becoming the Disneyland Pacific Hotel.

Transformation to Paradise Pier

The next phase of transformation occurred when Disney decided to rebrand the hotel as Paradise Pier Hotel. This decision aligned with Disney’s broader vision for the Disneyland Resort.

While the structural changes were limited, the hotel underwent a significant cosmetic makeover. Its exterior was painted to complement the color scheme of Paradise Pier, and wave-shaped crenellations adorned the rooftop, creating an illusion of seaside charm. This transformation was Disney’s attempt to seamlessly integrate the hotel into the Paradise Pier theme of Disney’s California Adventure Park.

Looking Beyond Paradise Pier: The Shift to Pixar Place

In 2018, Disneyland Resort rebranded Paradise Pier as Pixar Pier, a thematic area dedicated to celebrating the beloved characters and stories from Pixar Animation Studios. As a part of this transition, it became evident that the hotel formally known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel could no longer maintain its Paradise Pier theme.

With Pixar Pier in full swing and two successful Pixar-themed hotels (Toy Story Hotels in Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland), Disney decided to embark on a new venture—a hotel that would celebrate the vast world of Pixar. The result is Pixar Place Hotel, a 15-story tower that embraces the characters and stories from multiple Pixar movies and shorts. This fully Pixar-themed hotel is a first of its kind in the United States.

The Future of Pixar Place and Disneyland Resort

As we look ahead to the future, the Disneyland Resort continues to evolve. The recent news of a proposed $1.9 billion expansion as part of the Disneyland Forward project indicates that the area surrounding Pixar Place is expected to see further changes. Disneyland’s rich history and innovative spirit continue to shape its destiny.

In conclusion, the history of the Pixar Place Hotel is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Disneyland Resort. From its humble beginnings as the Disneyland Hotel to its transformation into the fully Pixar-themed Pixar Place Hotel, this establishment has undergone several iterations. As Disneyland Resort continues to grow and adapt, we can only imagine what exciting developments lie ahead for this iconic destination.

If you want to hear more stories about the History of the Pixar Place hotel, check our special edition of Disney Unpacked over on YouTube.

Stay tuned for more updates and developments as we continue to explore the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be



Mickey's Birthday Land

In the latest release of Episode 4 of Disney Unpacked, Len and I return, joined as always by Disney Imagineering legend, Jim Shull. This two-part episode covers all things Mickey’s Birthday Land and how it ultimately led to the inspiration behind Disneyland’s fan-favorite land, “Toontown”. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It all starts in the early days at Disneyland.

Early Challenges in Meeting Mickey

Picture this: it’s the late 1970s and early 1980s, and you’re at Disneyland. You want to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse, but there’s no clear way to make it happen. You rely on Character Guides, those daily printed sheets that point you in Mickey’s general direction. But let’s be honest, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes, you got lucky; other times, not so much.

Mickey’s Birthdayland: A Birthday Wish that Came True

Fast forward to the late 1980s. Disney World faced a big challenge. The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park was under construction, with the company’s marketing machine in full swing, hyping up the opening of Walt Disney World’s third theme park, MGM Studios, in the Spring of 1989. This extensive marketing meant that many people were opting to postpone their family’s next trip to Walt Disney World until the following year. Walt Disney World needed something compelling to motivate guests to visit Florida in 1988, the year before Disney MGM Studios opened.

Enter stage left, Mickey’s Birthdayland. For the first time ever, an entire land was dedicated to a single character – and not just any character, but the mouse who started it all. Meeting Mickey was no longer a game of chance; it was practically guaranteed.

The Birth of Birthdayland: Creative Brilliance Meets Practicality

In this episode, we dissect the birth of Mickey’s Birthdayland, an initiative that went beyond celebrating a birthday. It was a calculated move, driven by guest feedback and a need to address issues dating back to 1971. Imagineers faced the monumental task of designing an experience that honored Mickey while efficiently managing the crowds. This required the perfect blend of creative flair and logistical prowess – a hallmark of Disney’s approach to theme park design.

Evolution: From Birthdayland to Toontown

The success of Mickey’s Birthdayland was a real game-changer, setting the stage for the birth of Toontown – an entire land that elevated character-centric areas to monumental new heights. Toontown wasn’t merely a spot to meet characters; it was an immersive experience that brought Disney animation to life. In the episode, we explore its innovative designs, playful architecture, and how every nook and cranny tells a story.

Impact on Disney Parks and Guests

Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown didn’t just reshape the physical landscape of Disney parks; they transformed the very essence of the guest experience. These lands introduced groundbreaking ways for visitors to connect with their beloved characters, making their Disney vacations even more unforgettable.

Beyond Attractions: A Cultural Influence

But the influence of these lands goes beyond mere attractions. Our episode delves into how Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown left an indelible mark on Disney’s culture, reflecting the company’s relentless dedication to innovation and guest satisfaction. It’s a journey into how a single idea can grow into a cherished cornerstone of the Disney Park experience.

Interested in learning about Jim Shull’s original idea for a Winnie the Pooh ride? Here’s concept art of the attraction proposed for the original Toontown in Disneyland. More on [Disney Unpacked].

Unwrapping the Full Story of Mickey’s Birthdayland

Our two-part episode of Disney Unpacked is available for your viewing pleasure on our Patreon page. And for those seeking a quicker Disney fix, we’ve got a condensed version waiting for you on our YouTube channel. Thank you for being a part of our Disney Unpacked community. Stay tuned for more episodes as we continue to “Unpack” the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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