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California Misadventure — Part 5

Here’s another present to slip under the tree: the final installment of Jim’s April 2000 MousePlanet classic. Read it for yourself and decide how many of Hill’s predictions came true.




All Michael Eisner wanted was to turn Anaheim into Orlando. Was that too much to ask?

Given all the problems Disney had getting Westcot through the approval process … Yes, I guess it was.

Everything that could have gone wrong with Disneyland’s first expansion plans did. Orange County residents, upset at what they believed was the Mouse’s cavalier attitude toward their neighborhood’s concerns with the Westcot project model, quickly organized Homeowners for Maintaining the Environment (Anaheim HOME). This local activist group picketed the park, handed anti-Disney leaflets to guests entering the parking lot. Anaheim HOME did everything that it could to make the Mouse look bad.

Not that Disney needed that much help in that department. When it came to Westcot, between the free Disneyland tickets for Anaheim city hall employees scandal to the including property on the Disneyland expansion plan that the Mouse hadn’t actually paid for yet brouhaha, it just seemed like the project had turned into one embarrassing gaffe after another.

Finally, Eisner, who had lost his enthusiasm for huge Disney theme park projects following the Euro Disney debacle, had had enough. He turned to his new hatchet man, Paul Pressler. “Make this go away, ” said Eisner. Pressler did.

Which brings us to the Fall of 1995. Disneyland’s expansion plans are back to Square One. High in the Rockies, a new team of Disney executives meet to discuss the future direction of the project.

This is not going to be pretty.

Westcot was dead. Long live Westcot.

Eisner and his Imagineers had tried to do something bold, something ambitious in Anaheim. That didn’t fly with the locals or, in the end, make that much financial sense for the company.

But now the clock was ticking. CalTrans had already begun work on a multi-million dollar face-lift of Interstate 5. Once this six-year-long lane-widening, bridge-building and exit-ramp-constructing project was completed, folks could once again be able to zoom down the 5 to Anaheim to see …

What? Disney had persuaded the state to put all that money into highway improvements to help support their new expanded resort. Now that plan was in ruins. The Mouse had better come up with something quick. Otherwise Governor Pete Wilson and those fine folks up in Sacramento are going to be plenty pissed.

As you might understand, the pressure was on as Eisner held a design summit up at his Aspen retreat late that fall. Chief among those in attendance were senior Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) officials Marty Sklar and Ken Wong, Disneyland President Paul Pressler as well as Imagineering rising star, Barry Braverman.

Braverman had recently come to Eisner’s attention because of the exemplary job he’d done putting together the “Innoventions” project at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World (WDW). Using just his tongue and a telephone, Braverman had persuaded many major American corporations to pay the Mouse to build and staff exhibits of their new products. By doing this, Barry had rethemed and redressed Future World’s entire Communicore area for virtually no money.

Sure, Epcot’s “Innoventions” might have looked more like a mall than a theme park attraction. What did that matter? Guests seemed to like the place. More importantly, it had been inexpensive to build and was even cheaper to run. That made Braverman look like a genius in Eisner’s eyes. Which is why Michael invited Barry to join WDI’s senior staff at this meeting in Aspen. Eisner was hoping that Braverman might be able to work some more of his budgetary magic on the Disneyland expansion project.

From the very start of the charrette, the group agreed about what Westcot’s main problem had been: The plans for Disneyland’s second gate had just gotten too big, and too unwieldy. In attempting to make sure the expansion plans met with the high quality of the existing park in Anaheim (arguably the best theme park in the whole Disney chain), the Imagineers had let the project get out of control.

This time around, the Mouse wouldn’t try and top America’s original theme park. Eisner wanted a second gate for Anaheim that the company could build quickly, but was still affordable. He wanted this new theme park to be a modest companion to Disneyland, rather than its flashy competitor. But, most importantly, this second Anaheim theme park had to be able to generate a huge cash flow for the Walt Disney Company from the very first day it opened.

Let’s go over those design parameters again, shall we? Easy to build, but cheap to do. Must compliment — not compete with — Disneyland. And must be able to turn a profit as soon as the place opens.

With that assortment of meager ingredients, could you cook up a great theme park?

Well, at least the Imagineers tried. They talked about doing a smaller version of Disney Seas (too costly) or doing a scaled back Disney-MGM Studio theme park. (Why would folks want to visit a fake movie studio, when there are real ones to tour 30 miles up the road?) They also looked at building just Future World or just World Showcase. But — if they built that — guests would just complain that Anaheim had a half-assed version of WDW’s Epcot.

It was obvious that none of the ideas that Disney had used for its previous theme parks would work in this situation. So the team began attacking the problem from another angle: What was it that was missing from Disneyland? Why do guests leave the resort and continue their Southern Californian vacations elsewhere?

Well, that one seemed obvious. People left Disneyland because they wanted to see more of California. They wanted to walk along the Boardwalk at Venice Beach. They wanted to hike through the Redwoods in Sequoia National Forest. They wanted to ride the killer roller coasters at Magic Mountain, and take the tram tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. In short, these vacationers wanted to sample everything else the State of California had to offer.

For a moment, Eisner and his design team just sat there, blinking at each other. The answer to their problem couldn’t be that obvious, could it? A theme park that celebrated California. A place that recreated — in miniature — the best that the Golden State had to offer. Guests would no longer have to leave Anaheim to continue their Californian adventure (Oooh! Hang on to that! I think we just tripped over the title!). Everything they were looking for, and more, would be right next door to Disneyland.

That’s all Eisner had to hear. “That’s it,” he said. “Let’s build it.”

And that — swear to God — is how the concept for Disney’s California Adventure (DCA) theme park was born.

The project quickly went into overdrive from there. Since Pressler and Braverman were the first to suggest a California-based theme park, Eisner put them in charge of developing it. This, as events continue to unfold, might have proven to have been a mistake.

Braverman, who was just coming off his first big success with WDW’s “Innoventions” project, was anxious to see his star continue to rise within the Walt Disney Company. Eisner wanted a cheap park? Fine. Braverman planned to budget Disneyland’s proposed second gate so tightly that the blueprints would squeak.

But Pressler was also an ambitious man. He too was already plotting his next move up the Disney corporate ladder, perhaps parlaying his Disneyland presidency into something further up the food chain. But, to do that, he’d really have to deliver the goods on the Disneyland second gate project.

So Pressler took Braverman’s initial budget estimates … and slashed them by a third.

Okay, so now we’ve got two ambitious people, each out to impress upper management by delivering a low-budgeted project on a high-speed timetable. Can you say “recipe for disaster”? Sure you can.

Pressler and Braverman got the project off on the wrong foot when they announced that they didn’t want “Disney’s California Adventure” designed by WDI. Instead, they wanted Disneyland’s second gate to be created by the same folks who designed WDW’s hotels: the Disney Development Company (DDC).

What was the deal here? The Imagineers had, somewhat unfairly, taken the rap for all the cost over-runs Disney racked up on Euro Disney. Never mind that Eisner himself had suggested dozens of last minute changes to that park that had tacked on tens of millions of dollars in construction costs to the project. When the red ink started flowing in France, Uncle Mikey needed someone to blame. (Guess who he picked?) Pressler and Braverman wanted to deliver “Disney’s California Adventure” on time and under budget. Since DDC had a better reputation inside the company for meeting its deadlines and controlling costs, Pressler and Braverman wanted to give the park to it to develop.

When word of this got out, the Imagineers hit the roof. For over 40 years, WDI had designed every theme park, ride and attraction the Walt Disney Company held ever built. Now their jobs were to be usurped by the same guys who brought us the Dolphin and the Swan hotels at WDW?

No way.

Veteran Imagineer Chris Caradine (best known as the designer of WDW’s Pleasure Island) did more than just complain about this injustice. He circulated a letter to all of WDI’s senior architects, condemning Pressler and Braverman’s cost control maneuver. He then had all of these Imagineers sign the letter, which he then personally hand delivered to Eisner.

Concerned that his senior Imagineering staff was about to revolt, Eisner got the message. He called Braverman and Pressler into his office and told them that they had to use Imagineers to design Disneyland’s second gate.

This was the first of several short-sighted decisions that Pressler and Braverman made concerning “Disney’s California Adventure.” Individually, none of these decisions were bad enough to sink Disneyland’s second gate. But combined?

Well, let’s just say that there are a lot of folks at Walt Disney Imagineering who view DCA as an almost fatally flawed project.

What exactly are the project’s problems? Some point to Pressler and Braverman’s decision not to develop many new rides and shows for DCA, but opting instead for a lot of attraction recycling.

While it was undoubtedly more cost-effective to take shows that have already proven popular at other Disney theme parks (like Disney-MGM’s “Kermit the Frog presents MuppetVision 3D” and Animal Kingdom’s “It’s Tough to Be a Bug”) and redress them a bit to fit in DCA, is this really the best long-range strategy?

Isn’t it possible that using old WDW shows could actually have a detrimental effect on Disneyland Resort’s attendance levels?

Think about it.

Wasn’t Eisner’s main reason for building a second gate at Disneyland to turn the company’s Anaheim holdings into a vacation destination like Walt Disney World? But why would folks from the East Coast fly all the way out to California just to see shows that they’d already seen — years earlier — in Orlando?

Don’t get me wrong. “MuppetVision 3D” (WDW debut: May 1991) as well as “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” (WDW debut: April 1998) are both fine shows. And there are millions of people west of the Rockies who’ve never seen these attractions and will happily make a special trip to Disneyland just to see Kermit and Flick in 3D.

But if Disney really wants to turn Anaheim into a destination resort like WDW, recycling old shows from Walt Disney World probably isn’t the smart way to go. Adding fresh new rides and attractions that are exclusive to DCA is the only way to guarantee tourists from both coasts will make a point of frequenting the park.

Speaking of rides, another problem a lot of Imagineers have with DCA are those off-the-shelf carnival-style attractions being used in Paradise Pier.

But it’s not for the reason you think.

Sure, the rides over here might look hokey and cheap. (And I can’t help wondering how Orange County feels, having spent all those millions, renovating and expanding its convention center into a state-of-the-art meeting facility, only to have Disney build a deliberately chintzy looking Ferris wheel and roller coaster in front of it.) But the rides are supposed to look that way, folks. This part of DCA pays tribute to those old amusement piers you used to find along the California coast.

And I know that it’s popular to bash this part of the park on the Web.

But I won’t.

Why? Because I like it. I think that Disney’s done a great job of recapturing the look and feel of an old turn-of-the-century seaside amusement park.

But you know what the real irony is? All the old cheesy-looking amusement piers disappeared because squeaky clean theme parks like Disneyland drove them out of business. So now here’s the Mouse, bringing the amusement pier back from the dead, with all its grubbiness intact.

But what do the Disney dweebs on the Web do? Complain loudly about how “cheesy” Paradise Pier looks. It’s supposed to look cheesy, guys. Get it? And — off-the-shelf or not — those old fashioned carny rides you’ll find along on DCA’s Paradise Pier will be a kick to ride.

The real problem is capacity. These old fashioned rides are slow to load and unload. Even with their projected painfully short ride times (Example: Guests will supposedly only get 90 seconds to savor the low-tech thrills of the “Orange Stinger”), there’ll still be huge lines over in Paradise Pier.

Why? Because, on opening day, DCA is only going have only 22 rides and attractions. But Disney’s own attendance projections show that, on a typical summer day, 30,000 guests will be wandering around DCA, looking for things to do.

Think about it. Are you really going to be happy, having paid $40+ a head to get into DCA, only to stand in a two hour long line just to ride “Mullholland Madness?”

This is what worries the older Imagineers. During that first crucial summer of operation, guests will undoubtedly exit DCA — having spent most of their day standing in very long lines for the all-too-short attractions — then go home to tell their friends and neighbors about what an awful time they had at Disney’s new theme park. This is why WDI is pressuring Disney management to begin DCA’s Phase II construction NOW.

Pressler and Braverman honestly believe that they’re improving Disney’s bottom line by bringing DCA in on time and under budget. But where will the great savings be if Disney has to turn around and immediately begin pumping millions into the park in a desperate attempt to boost its hourly ride capacity?

WDI has reportedly repeatedly warned Disney’s top management team about DCA’s potentially fatal flaws. Privately, Eisner has evidently acknowledged that Disneyland’s second gate could be in for a rough couple of years. Even so, he expects DCA to make a lot of money for the company as well as eventually grow into a worthy companion to Disneyland.

Well, here’s hoping.

Myself? I’m hoping that — as I stroll into DCA on opening day — that the theme park is at least as intriguing as the story of its development and construction.

Doesn’t seem very likely now, does it?

THE END – for now…

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.

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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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