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Did Disney execs unintentionally slip “Philharmagic” a Mickey?

With three tepid reviews of the Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction in hand, Jim Hill wonders: Did Disney accidentally debut its newest 3D film in the wrong theater? And will this prevent “Philharmagic” from becoming the corporation’s next franchisable theme park attraction?



Sometimes I hate my job.

What do I mean by that? Well … I know that there are a lot of very nice people at Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Feature Animation who worked very hard on “Mickey’s Philharmagic.” Truly talented folks who labored for months to turn classic Disney characters (toons that — up until now — had only been done in the traditional 2D format) into believable 3D CG creations.

But — in the end — was all of their hard work worth it?

Well … Er … Um …



At least that’s the indication I’ve gotten. Based on the initial feedback that I’ve received from several WDW cast members and annual passholders who attended last week’s previews of this new Fantasyland attraction, “Mickey’s Philharmagic” is a near miss.

Not a flop, mind you. Nor a debacle or a disaster. Based on what I’ve heard over the past few days, the Magic Kingdom’s new 3D extravaganza sounds like it has some very nice moments. And there’s some CG in this film (particularly the work that was done with the computer-generated Donald Duck and Lumiere from “Beauty and the Beast”) that supposedly will put Pixar to shame.

And the post-show store that you’re funneled into after seeing “Mickey’s Philharmagic” is said to be very nice as well.

But … that’s not a very enthusiastic recommendation, is it? Well — you see — that’s my problem. That’s the sort of language that kept popping up in all the “Philharmagic” reviews that I received this weekend. Not “Great.” Not “Spectacular.” But “nice” and “okay.”

Which is what leads me to believe that the Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction may not be all that magical.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Then let’s get this news straight from the horse’s mouth. Here’s what Seabiscuit had to say in his note:

I had a chance to see Mickey’s (even though Donald is the real star here) Philharmagic the other day. After seeing “Finding Nemo,” I was truly disappointed in the computer animation. Also no pre-show, and standard “4-D” effects (spraying water again). The theater does have a wonderful “expanding” effect, and the flying scenes are very cool. Get out and see it when you can. Even if it’s only a “C” attraction.

Mickey and Donald really look like they went through the budget axe.

Which isn’t all that different from what my Friend Flicka had to say:

Saw Mickey’s Philimagic at a cast preview and it is…nice. It really is Donald’s show and the human characters (Aladdin) look like George Pal Puppetoons. Cast member reaction is divided: Those who love it and those who think it is too soft. (It was designed not to have “scary” moments like snakes popping out or a bug’s stinger in your back so that little kids could enjoy it.)

I saw it twice and would see it again. However, you can tell where they were saving nickels and dimes in the auditorium and pre-show. Sorry to see Mickey still a supporting character in an attraction named after him but Donald is a more flexible character in terms of “roughing him up” as animators discovered nearly fifty years ago.

[The show] seemed very respectful to the source material…Lion King, Little Mermaid, etc….and you really have to see it more than once to catch all the little bits.

Some of the 3-D effects are good but it seemed they missed the boat on others.

Which (surprise, surprise) quite similar to what Mr. Ed had to say about this new Fantasyland show:

Warning !! Mr. Ed is quite the talkative Palomino. So there are some mild spoilers ahead. If you’d prefer that “Mickey’s Philharmagic” be a complete surprise to you (whenever it is that you actually finally get around to seeing this new Disney World show), then I suggest that you stop reading now. Or — at the very least — skip ahead of this indented section.

Good first scene. (They must know that CG Mickey looks like sh*t because he appears for less than 15 seconds in the whole show, and almost always from the back and 50 feet away. When he is seen from the front, they give him a really funny little action to do).

CG Donald is fan-freaking-tastic. Not just aesthetically, but they’re braver with CG Donald. He’s everything that made Don the coolest character of them all before, but more. Like Tex Avery more. It’s very, very faithful to the Jack Hanna/Bill Justice Don, but infused with some badass Chuck Jones.

“Be Our Guest” is lame, but Lumiere is so freaking well built and animated, no one cares.

The Brooms from “Fantasia” scene is my favorite. It’s everything I’ve been waiting for in an attraction. True cartoon comedia.

“Part of Your World” is good too. Though kids (in half of the four shows I saw) thought Flounder was “Nemo!” They figured out how to fix Ariel, and it was to turn her into Fiona [The princess from “Shrek”]. Swear to God, they rendered Fiona’s face to fix Ariel. It works. Her hair — however — looks like a placenta full of wet weasels.

But Ariel has a great, great, great moment with Don. So all is forgiven.

“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is okay. The CG is good if uninspired. But the 2d stuff they stuffed in looks great, just underutilized. The CG Zazu is marvelous.

Peter Pan is a close second favorite. Beautiful and funny as hell!!!!!!!

“A Whole New World” is crazy lame. Other than immensely poorly boarded and paced, the CG Aladdin and Jasmine look like those gnomes [that Lord] Farquaad kicked out of Duloc [in “Shrek”].

The finale is ok. The Donald butt in the back of the theater has great movement but placed so poorly, like 4 people saw it. Didn’t we learn anything with “Muppetvision”? Oh, yeah. All those people were fired.

[The post-show “Mickey’s Philharmagic”] shop was beautiful – natch. Of course, they get the good design.

[WDW annual] passholders [who attended Saturday’s preview] liked the show. But remember how those guys talked themselves into loving “Mission: Space”? [Well, it’s the] same thing here, but with the elderly Kissimmee crowd. [“Mickey’s Philharmagic”] will play pretty good [with the regular] guests, but only for three or four years.

Overall, I liked [the show] and would wait as much as 10 minutes to see it again.

You see what I’m saying here, folks? This is pretty tepid praise. I mean, individual characters and sequences got pretty high marks. But the show as a whole seemed to be somewhat … underwhelming. None of the people who e-mailed me this past weekend about “Mickey’s Philharmagic” really sang the show’s praises. By that I mean: They all liked the Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction. They just didn’t love it.

So — sadly — it appears that this new Magic Kingdom attraction won’t the smash hit that Disney had hoped it would be. The Mouse’s 3D movie that was supposed to have kicked “Shrek 4D”‘s butt. (Just so you know: Universal’s newest attraction is still supposedly racking up incredibly high marks on guest satisfaction surveys at that park. Many USF visitors reportedly consider “Shrek 4D” to be a much better show than that theme park’s previous top vote getter, “Men in Black: Alien Attack.”)

And given that Disney Company executives had reportedly been counting on “Mickey’s Philharmagic” becoming the corporation’s next big franchise (I.E. a new attraction that could be dropped — virtually unchanged — into any of the Disney theme parks worldwide), I got to wondering if the somewhat underwhelming reaction to the Central Florida version of the show would put the kibosh on “MP” going global.

So — with that question in mind — I called my super secret source at WDI, Deep Mouse. After I started peppering the poor guy with questions about “Mickey’s Philharmagic,” there was this long sigh at the other end of the line … followed by a prolonged explanation.

“You have to understand, Jim,” said Deep Mouse. “That ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic’ wasn’t supposed to debut at Disney World. This 3D movie was initially supposed to have had its world premiere at Hong Kong Disneyland. In a brand-new theater that would have been built specifically to support this attraction. With a lobby and a pre-show area that would have done a marvelous job of setting the stage for the film that was to follow.”

“But sometime over the past two years, the guys in Team Disney Burbank suddenly changed their minds. Instead of bowing in the Orient, ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic’ would now have its world premiere in Orlando. Several years ahead of schedule. In a retrofitted facility. With little or no theming in the lobby. And with no pre-show.”

“And keep in mind that the Fantasyland facility that ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic’ was shoe-horned into hasn’t ever really worked. Back in 1971, ‘The Mickey Mouse Revue’ didn’t play well in this theater. Nor did ‘Magic Journeys’ in 1988 or ‘The Legend of the Lion King’ in 1994. So I don’t see how the suits expect ‘Philharmagic’ to suddenly turn this situation around in 2003.”

“That Fantasyland Theater is a really poorly designed facility, Jim. The pre-show area there is infamous for not being able to accommodate all the bodies you need in order to fill all of the seats in that house. So you’re behind the eight ball even before you get started here. This is why each of the shows that previously played here never ever met their theoretical hourly capacity. Which is why WDW management was always turning to WDI — every five to ten years or so — and asking us to come up with a brand new show for the Fantasyland Theater at Walt Disney World.”

“It’s a real shame that Disney opted to premiere ‘Philharmagic’ at Disney World, Jim. It really is a cute little show that a lot of people here and at Feature Animation worked very hard on. It really deserved better than this.”

“By rolling the show out in Orlando first — rather than holding ‘Philharmagic’ for Hong Kong Disneyland, where it could have opened in 2006 in a brand new theater that was specifically designed for the show — Disney may have unintentionally cut the legs out from under this potentially quite lucrative theme park franchise. Which is a shame. Not to mention a really stupid business decision.”

“After all, a jewel only looks its best in the proper setting,” Deep Mouse concluded. “And the Fantasyland Theater is NOT the proper setting for ‘Mickey’s Philharmagic.'”

As I was listening to Deep Mouse speak, I found it extremely interesting that this unnamed Imagineer would bring up “Shrek 4D.” For — in a way — this new Universal Studios attraction was the prime example of how placing a new theme park attraction in the right (or wrong) facility can really impact how the public comes to view that particular show.

Take — for instance — the version of “Shrek 4D” that’ was set up at Universal Studios Florida earlier this year. It’s housed inside of that theme park’s old “Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies” facility with lots of highly detailed props and signs to entertain USF visitors as they wait in line. All this witty material — plus the clever pre-show that follows — really put guests in the proper mood to enjoy “Shrek 4D.” Which is why people who visit Universal Studios Florida — as they exit this attraction — always give the park’s new 3D movie extremely high marks.

Now contrast that with what happened on the other side of the country. Where Universal Studios Hollywood officials opted to drop their version of “Shrek 4D” into a facility that really wasn’t suited for showing a 3D film: the slightly retooled “Rugrats Magic Adventure” theater. Since this HSH upper lot venue had only an outdoor queue area until earlier this year, it was really hard to find a way to showcase all the signs and props that Universal Creative had created to set a proper tone of the show. Not to mention all the problems involved with finding a place to present “Shrek 4D”‘s pre-show film.

The end result? Universal theme park visitors on the West Coast like “Shrek 4D” quite a bit. But not nearly as much as the folks who see the same show in Central Florida do. Mind you, it’s the same exact 3D movie. Not a frame has been changed. But Universal Orlando’s guest satisfaction survey results clearly show that USF guests think that “Shrek 4D” is a much more entertaining show that theme park visitors in Hollywood do.

So maybe what Deep Mouse is saying is true. Maybe we’re all going to have to wait ’til “Mickey’s Philharmagic” opens at Hong Kong Disneyland in late 2005 / early 2006 before we can see if this new 3D movie actually lives up to its hype.

Of course, I could be jumping the gun here. Maybe some of you JHM readers also got to see this new Disney World show during its preview period last week. And maybe your opinion of this new 3D film is markedly from what Seabiscuit, My Friend Flicka and Mr. Ed had to say. If so, we’d love to hear from you. So drop us a line here at the site and let us know if you thought “Philharmagic” was really magical or not.

In the meantime … well, I’ll hope and pray that “Wishes,” Steve Davison’s brand-new fireworks extravaganza (soft opening scheduled for October 6th, official world premiere on October 8th) actually delivers the goods. Otherwise, we may all have to wait ’til the Fall of 2004 (when the”Stitch”-ified version of “Alien Encounter” is supposed to debut) before there’s a good enough reason to schedule a return trip to WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

Your thoughts?

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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