Connect with us

Theme Parks & Themed Entertainment

A naked Lincoln among the highlights of the Ford Museum’s “Behind the Magic” exhibit

JHM guest writer Dan Viets is back with an exclusive advance preview of the “Behind the Magic: Fifty Years of Disneyland” exhibit, which opens to the public this Friday.



As late as the afternoon of Thursday, September 22, large banners were prominently displayed around the massive grounds of the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan announcing that “Behind the Magic: Fifty Years of Disneyland” would be open on Friday, September 23, 2005. But it was not so.

Due to problems completing the exhibit on deadline, the opening has been delayed for one week until Friday, September 30. It will be worth the wait.

My wife and I had been invited to the private, pre-opening President’s Dinner and preview of the






exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum on Wednesday, September 21, 2005. When we checked in with the museum staff on Wednesday morning, we were informed that the dinner had been cancelled and the opening postponed. Museum staff members were quite appropriately dismayed that no one has contacted us and that we had flown up from Missouri without being notified of the change.

However, I persuaded the museum staff to allow us to have a personal guided tour of the exhibit, even though it was clearly not ready to open to the public. The Disney Company staff members involved with the exhibit were initially reluctant to allow anyone to see it in its state of unreadiness. I called a friend at WDI in Glendale and subsequently, the museum staff agreed that we could be admitted.

Mr. Scott Mallwitz, Director of Experience Design for The Henry Ford, was a gracious host and clearly had become quite knowledgeable about the history of “The Happiest Place on Earth.” He shared with us some of the problems encountered in putting together what looks to be the most well-mounted account of the park’s development and history ever attempted.

The exhibit bears a similarity to the excellent display at the Disney/MGM Studios theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida, “One Man’s Dream”. In fact, some artifacts from that exhibit have been transferred to this one. In addition, many artifacts and pieces of artwork which have never before been seen by the public grace the BTM show.

Ride vehicles from “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and “Peter Pan’s Flight” are included, but the standout piece is clearly the original Abraham Lincoln figure from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. As Tony Baxter mentioned in a presentation at the Marceline Toonfest the previous weekend (a topic for another article) the original Lincoln figure operated during the later part of the Fair at the same time as the second-generation Lincoln figure began his run at Disneyland. The original figure from New York has never before been seen by the public since the close of the Fair.

Certainly, no other Animatronic figure has ever been exposed to the pubic in the manner that our nation’s 16th President will be in this exhibit. The figure will be buck naked!

The Lincoln figure in “Behind the Magic” will not have on a stitch of clothing. His entire mechanical apparatus will be visible with the sole exception of his face which will retain its life-like life mask just as it did when Lincoln had his clothes on. One of the surprising things is how small the actual mechanical apparatus below the feet of the figure is. The whole thing is contained in a box approximately 2x3x2 feet.

One of The Ford Museum’s most famous artifacts is the chair in which Lincoln sat on that fateful night at Ford’s Theater (not affiliated with the Ford Motor Company). The upper portion of the high-backed, upholstered chair is stained with large amounts of Lincoln’s blood. Apparently the museum staff joked among themselves about displaying the Animatronic President in that very same chair! However, that notion was discarded almost immediately.

Much of the rest of the exhibit consists of beautiful concept art and images of the park’s history which can be accessed through interactive computer screens. The screens are displayed side-by-side with original artwork.

My own small contribution to the exhibit is a postcard of Marceline’s main street from the early 20th century when Walt Disney and his family lived there. The postcard is displayed near other images of “Main Street, U.S.A.” and illustrates the fact that Marceline’s main street was indeed the inspiration for the entryway to The Magic Kingdom.

We spent much of our time in Dearborn touring Greenfield Village, a park created by Henry Ford and dedicated to the theme of American history, circa 1750-1950. Walt Disney visited Greenfield Village in April of 1940 and again with Imagineer/animator Ward Kimball in 1948, following their visit to The Chicago Railroad Fair. There is good reason to believe that Walt’s visits to Greenfield Village influenced his design of Disneyland. Some of the historic buildings are arranged around the Village Green, which of course corresponds to the town square in Midwestern towns like Marceline, Missouri, Walt’s early boyhood hometown. A similar town square is just inside the entrance to Disneyland.

Several of the other features of Greenfield Village also seem to be reflected in Disneyland. These include a steam-driven railroad on which passengers travel in open-sided cars much like the ones at Disneyland. When Walt visited Greenfield Village, the railway was a short line, but it was later expanded to circle the entire Village much as the Disneyland Railroad circles that park.

Among the other rides available to Greenfield Village visitors is a trip on the “Suwanee” sternwheeler steamboat which circles “Suwanee Island”, just as the Mark Twain Steamboat circles Tom Sawyer Island and other boats circle similar islands in the Disney parks in Florida and Tokyo. Visitors can also take rides in genuine Model T automobiles manufactured during the early part of the 20th century similar to vehicles in Disneyland. Other available modes of transportation include a horse-drawn omnibus, which is not on rails, but nonetheless resembles the horse-drawn trolley in Disneyland. Both the cars and omnibus travel the Main Street section of Greenfield.

One of the most fundamental resemblances between the two parks is the fact that Greenfield Village consists largely of historic buildings associated with famous Americans. These include Noah Webster’s home, Robert Frost’s home, the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop and home, and an Illinois Courthouse where Lincoln was known to have practiced law. The idea of including such buildings in Disneyland is reflected in the large painting created by Peter Ellenshaw and shown by Walt on the Disneyland television program before actual construction on Disneyland had begun. In that early bird’s-eye view of the park, (which is part of this exhibit) Walt’s original plan to put just such buildings on what became Tom Sawyer Island is shown. That same concept appears on early Disneyland maps and other licensed merchandise. Walt had intended to fill the island with reconstructions of buildings like Mount Vernon, Monticello and other quintessentially American architecture. Although he soon dropped that idea in favor of an island like Mark Twain’s characters enjoyed, the earlier version reflects a concept similar to that of Greenfield Village.

When Walt and Ward Kimball visited the Village in 1940 and ’48, they had tintype photographs made of themselves at the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio. Although such photos are no longer made there, the building remains just as it was when Walt and Ward were there.

“Behind the Magic” includes more than 200 pieces of art and artifacts beautifully displayed in over 3,000 square feet of space. It also features a nice shop with some merchandise unique to this exhibit. Included is an interesting softcover book which reproduces many of the items on display, including my postcard of Marceline’s main street.

Displayed outside the entryway to the exhibit is a Jolly Trolley from Toontown. Also displayed near that entryway is a permanent part of The Henry Ford Museum’s collection which provides an interesting counterpoint to an icon of early Disneyland. The Dymaxion house is very similar in concept and execution to the House of the Future built and sponsored by Monsanto Corporation in the early days of Disneyland. While the Monsanto house was constructed primarily of fiberglass and plastics, the Dymaxion house, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller a decade earlier, is made of aluminum.

In 1946, Fuller proposed to the Beech Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas that its aircraft manufacturing facility, which had been building aluminum airplanes until the end of World War II, be converted to the peacetime purpose of building aluminum homes for the families of returning veterans. The Dymaxion is round with a peaked roof, and mounted on a single spindle which is set in concrete in the ground at a depth of approximately 8 to 10 feet. Other than that single spindle in the middle, there is no foundation for the house.

Creative differences between the Beech Company and Fuller led to the demise of the project, but The Ford Museum acquired both of the existing prototypes of the house and combined what remained of them into an exhibit of what might have been. It represents a very interesting example of what The House of the Future might have looked like if Disneyland had opened a decade earlier.

A special day of presentations is planned for Friday, November 11 in Dearborn. Vice-chair of Walt Disney Imagineering Marty Sklar, Karal Ann Marling, guest curator of the exhibit and Scott Mallwitz will all be making presentations about the exhibit that day.

“Behind the Magic” will be at The Henry Ford through the end of the year. It will then travel to a museum in the San Francisco Bay area, and reportedly will then return to a venue in the Midwest before traveling to other major museums throughout the country during the next few years. However, if you can get to Dearborn before the end of 2005, you will have the added pleasure of an opportunity to see one of the major influences on the design of Disneyland at the same time that you take in this excellent exhibit.

Editor’s note: Dan Viets is the author of arguably one of the better Disney history books to be published in the past few years, “Walt Disney’s Missouri: The Roots of a Creative Genius.” So if you’d like to learn more about Walt’s formative days in Marceline & Kansas City (Not to mention detailed information about Disney’s aborted indoor theme park project, “Riverboat Square”), then I urge you to pick up a copy.


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.

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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading