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Discoveryland U.S.A. — Part 2

So how come this cool version of the future never made it over to Orlando? Jim Hill explains how too many hotels in France eventually resulted in Disney World getting a downsized Tomorrowland.



Okay. We’ve already talked in detail about WDI’s extra cool plans for turning WDW’s tired old Tomorrowland into a dazzling Discoveryland. So why didn’t this charming Magic Kingdom revamp ever make it off the drawing board?

Two words. Euro Disney.

Ask any senior Disney Company official about how the resort outside of Paris is doing these days and you’ll hear nothing but good things. They’ll go on and on about how the Disneyland Paris theme park now draws more tourists visits annually than the Eiffel Tower (Which – according to the Mouse’s math – now makes the DLP resort the most popular tourist attraction in all of France).

But 9 years ago this month, Disney was singing a very different tune. Why? Because Euro Disney wasn’t even coming close to meeting its financial projections. Oh sure, the theme park was doing great. But – Oy! – those hotels …

When the Euro Disney resort opened in April 1992, the Mouse had six different hotels on property (The Euro Disneyland Hotel, the Newport Bay, the Sequoia Lodge, the Hotel Cheyenne, the Hotel New York and the Hotel Santa Fe). With a total of 5700 rooms to fill.”

But during the resort’s first year of operation, folks who came out to see Euro Disneyland really didn’t seem to want to stay in Mickey’s hotels. They preferred to drive (or take the train) out from Paris for the day, check out the theme park, and then – at closing time – just scurry back into the city.

This meant (particularly during the Fall of 1992) that there were times when the Euro Disney resort had fewer than 20% on its on property rooms occupied. Which – of course – had a disastrous impact on the project’s financial projections.

Now – when pressed nowadays about Euro Disney’s disappointing start – senior Disney officials will insist that it was actually the 1990-1991 recession as well as the lingering effects of the Gulf War that got the resort off on the wrong foot.

Not the Imagineers. Were you to ask a WDI vet (As I did. Just this morning) why the Euro Disney Resort got in financial trouble so fast, here’s the sort of reply you can expect: “The answer’s simple, Jim. We built too many f***ing hotels.”

“I mean, think about it. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, we had less than 2000 rooms on property. (JRH note: To be exact, The Contemporary Hotel had 1050 rooms; the Polynesian 600 rooms and the Golf Resort 150 rooms. For a total of 1800 on property hotel rooms). And – since the resort was almost 20 miles outside of downtown Orlando and all those other hotels along 192 hadn’t sprung up yet – people really had no choice but to stay in our hotels.”

“And then there’s Disneyland Paris. Where they built twice as many on property hotel rooms as Walt Disney World had on its opening day. Then – to add to the stupidity – they open a high speed rail station right outside the theme park. Which made all the more easier for guests to get away at the end of the day. And then they seriously wondered why no one was staying in their hotels.”

To hear this WDI vet tell it, the real key to Euro Disney’s initial financial problems was the greed of the executives running the Disney Development Company (AKA DDC). [JRH note: For those of you who don’t know, DDC was the unit within the Mouse House that – from 1984 to 1996, anyway – designed and built all of Disney’s on property hotels. FYI: Disney Development no longer exists. It was folded in with WDI in the Spring of 1996 to form one somewhat cohesive business unit.]

“Those greedy p****s didn’t want another Harbor Boulevard or I-Drive (JRH note: By this, the unidentified Imagineer seems to be referring to the large number of cheap hotels & motels that quickly leaped up around the outermost edges of Disney property in Anaheim and Lake Buena Vista) on their hands. With all that money going off property into somebody else’s pocket. Money that rightfully belonged to Mickey.”

“So they built these…huge hotels and opened them all at once for Euro Disney. Never mind that the resort is just 30 kilometers outside of Paris – a place that already has hundreds of the world’s best hotel rooms in it. Never mind that the RER made it ridiculously easy for tourists already staying in Paris to get out to Euro Disneyland. These guys seriously expected all 5000 on property hotel room to be full on opening day and stay that way ’til the end of time. You see what I’m saying, Jim? These guys were thinking with their wallets, not their brains. They were absolutely morons.”

According to confidential reports prepared for senior Disney officials in the Fall of 1992, had the Euro Disney resort actually opened with just on property two hotels – instead of six – the project would have probably begun turning a profit by mid-1994. (JRH Note: This might explain why – in an effort to contain cost – the Walt Disney Company ordered that Euro Disney’s largest hotel, the 1098 room Newport Bay Club, be closed for business during the winter of 1992.) But with those four additional hotels and all their empty rooms dragging the resort down, Euro Disney sank deeper and deeper into debt …

So where does WDW’s Discoveryland factor into all this? Well, faced with an overly ambitious project that was suddenly hemorrhaging red ink, Disney CEO Michael Eisner proclaimed “No new ambitious projects.” From here on in, anything that Disney built – be it theme parks or hotels – would have to be modest in scale with a moderate price tag.

Well, you can well imagine how this news went over at WDI. Here these guys had just finished work on the most beautiful Magic Kingdom that Imagineering had ever built. And the Imagineers were itching to take all those lessons that they’d learned while working on Euro Disneyland and apply them on the company’s stateside theme parks. Then here comes Eisner’s announcement: “No more ambitious projects for the parks.”

This news devastated the “Tomorrowland 2055” team. Given the Walt Disney Company’s new financial constraints, there was just no way that this proposed $100 million redo of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was ever going to get off the ground now. So that project floundered for years, as the Imagineers struggled to find a way to work within WDI’s newly restrictive financial parameters. The end result was the New New Tomorrowland – which officially opened to the public at the Anaheim theme park in May 1998. Which (and I’m being really polite here) remains a work-in-progress.

Whereas Walt Disney World’s plans for a new Tomorrowland … Well, faced with a rapidly shrinking budget, the Imagineers in Florida treated this Magic Kingdom redo as if it were a triage situation. As in: The most critical of patients get immediate attention, while those who are really not in such bad shape are allowed to wait a while ’til they’re finally taken care of …

The first order of business was deciding which concepts stayed and which went. And probably the very first thing to get pitched was … the Astronomers Club. Why? Because it was a restaurant. To be specific, it was a proposed replacement for a restaurant that was already doing pretty good business. Its only flaw was that it was a bit of an eyesore. The Imagineers eventually decided that they could live with an ugly fast food place if it ultimately left them with more money to build rides.

Because that – ultimately – was the real top priority to the Imagineers in Florida: Making sure that this revamped version of WDW’s Tomorrowland had a few new rides. A couple of new shows to freshen up this side of the Magic Kingdom.

Keeping “From Time to Time” as part of the plan was really a no brainer. I mean, this retrofit of the old Circlevision 360 theater was relatively economical. After all, the film for the show – having already been created by Theme Park Productions for Disneyland Paris’ “Visionarium” show – was already in the can. So all WDI needed to do was build two new AA figures, redecorate the pre-show area and – POOF! – WDW’s version of “From Time to Time” was good to go.

Whereas “Alien Encounter” … The Imagineers knew – from the get go – that the installation of this new sensory thriller was going to be hideously expensive. But there was also the very strong possibility that “AE” could become a new franchise attraction for the other Disney theme parks. The sort of show that – once it had finally been debugged – could easily be dropped into any of the other Magic Kingdoms around the world. So – in spite of “Alien Encounter”‘s extremely high price tag, the Imagineers still opted to leave it in the mix for WDW’s New Tomorrowland.

Speaking of which … You may have noticed that – in the middle of this part of the article – I stopped calling the revamped version of WDW’s Tomorrowland as “Discoveryland” and just began referring to this redone section of Florida’s Magic Kingdom as “New Tomorrowland.” And there’s a reason for that. Figuring that they’d be able to save a few thousand dollars on signage for this area, the Imagineers opted to ditch “Discoveryland” and just stick with the old moniker.

In dropping the “Discoveryland” name, that also meant that WDI was free to abandon Discoveryland’s elaborate color scheme. All that burnished copper and green sea foam. What the Imagineers opted to do instead was something that would be much easier & less expensive to build. Which was to overlay show elements & new facades on top of the pre-existing Tomorrowland structures that gave the area a Buck Rogers-ish feel. The far off future circa 1930.

The end result … Well, it ain’t half bad. I – for one – find WDW’s New Tomorrowland to be very witty. I love the little details (The robotic newsboy. The pneumatic tube that supposedly zooms your package across the galaxy. The malfunctioning electric palm tree. All the neon. And – best of all – Sonny Eclipse!) that really help put you in that Buck Roger-ish environment. “The Future That Never Was.”

Best of all, this low budget take on Tomorrow has proven to be quite flexible. In 1998, when the Imagineers were thinking about building an attraction around “Toy Story”‘s Buzz Lightyear, they didn’t have to wonder: “Will this new ride fit easily within the theming and the storyline that we’ve already laid down for WDW’s Tomorrowland?” They just knew that the Buck Roger-ish environment and Buzz Lightyear would go hand in hand.

But – when all was said and done – when Florida’s Imagineers opted to go with “New Tomorrowland” rather than “Discoveryland,” there were still a few casualties. We’ve already mentioned the Astronomers Club. But the “Flying Saucer” ride got cut too.

Given what it would have cost to gut WDW’s “Carousel of Progress” and install a revised version of that Disneyland favorite, WDI opted to go with a cheaper fix: Which was to bring in noted humorist Jean Shepherd to redo the attraction’s narration and revamp the look of the theater-go-round’s final scene. Presto Chango! The tired old “Carousel of Progress” was now “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress” – a somewhat less tired take on the old show which was now (allegedly) serves a tribute to the company’s founder.

Well, Disney World vets have noticed that – over the last year or so – the hours of operation for WDW’s “Carousel of Progress” have progressively grown shorter and shorter. So what’s going on? Well, the Mouse has been testing the public’s resolve. To see if Disneyana fans would really pitch a fit if this relic from the 1964 New York Worlds Fair were to suddenly close for good.

And the reason for that is … Do you remember the “Flying Saucers”? Well, keep in mind that – come 2005 – Disneyland’s 50th anniversary is coming up. And the Walt Disney Company wants to celebrate this monumentous event on a global scale. So they’ll be staging tributes to the world’s first theme park at all of their other theme parks around the world that year.

And what better way would there be for Walt Disney World to pay tribute to its predecessor than by recreating one of Disneyland’s classic attractions?

Yep. Remember, you heard it here first. Provided that the budget can finally be approved, look for the “Carousel of Progress” to stop spinning sometime in late 2003 / early 2004 (No exact close date has been selected yet). Then look for the “Flying Saucers” to land at Lake Buena Vista just in time for help kick off Disneyland’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration – which starts in January 2005.

Which I think will be a pretty neat addition to the line-up of attractions at WDW’s New Tomorrowland (Though I have to admit that I will miss this version of the “Carousel of Progress” with all of its sly tributes to Jean Shephard’s films & stories. Don’t believe me? The next time you take in this attraction, check out the son’s room in the 1940s sequence. Lying on the bed is a Red Ryder BB gun [With a compass in the stock, no less!]. Just like in Shepherd’s much beloved holiday film, “A Christmas Story”). But – still – I can’t help but wonder what this part of the Magic Kingdom would have ended up looking like if the Imagineers had actually gone forward with “Discoveryland.”

Which is why – whenever I visit this theme park – I invariably find myself in the Plaza Pavilion. As I grab a table down by the water and start munching on my pizza, I can’t help but think: “Now what would this restaurant have really looked like it had had a giant telescope sticking out in the middle of it?”

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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