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“Everything by Design” offers a detailed look at the development of Disney World’s never-built Mediterranean Village Resort



Jody R. tossed me a note over this past weekend, praising
last Tuesday's "Building Tall" story, saying that …

… it's articles like this that keep me coming back to Jim
Hill Media, that keep me listening to that podcast you do with Len Testa. Your
ability to continually uncover pieces of information about the Disney Company
that I had never heard before.

Thanks for your kind words, Jody. But to be honest, I'm not the
only one out there who's doing this sort of stuff. Have you seen the stories
that Todd James Pierce has been posting lately over on the Disney History
website? Pierce's recent piece about that California Living project
which Walt wanted to build right next door to Disneyland
in the early 1960s is not to be missed. And the same goes for Todd's terrific
"Walt Disney and Riverboat Square"

Copyright Disney History Institute. All rights reserved

Whenever we get together at various Disney functions (If I'm
remembering correctly, the last time I saw Mr. Pierce in person was at that
Destination D – Disneyland 55 event which D23 staged at the Disneyland Hotel
back in September of 2010), Todd and I compare notes about stories we've heard
(we share a fascination for "The Master Builder of Disneyland,"
wheeler-dealer extraordinaire C.V. Wood). And what Mr. Pierce & I have both
noticed is that — often — the very best stories about The Walt Disney Company
can often be found in books or magazine articles that aren't really about the

Case in point: "Everything
by Design: My Life as an Architect

" (St. Martin's
Press, October 2007) by Alan Lapidus. Nowadays, Alan is probably best known as
the guy who designed the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic
City and/or the Broadway
Crowne Plaza
in Manhattan. Or — better yet —
for being the son of architecture legend Morris Lapidus, who designed the
Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.

Now strictly judging a book by
its cover, at first glance, you wouldn't think that "Everything by
Design" wouldn't have a lot to offer Disney history buffs. But that's
where you'd be wrong. You see, Alan had a hand in designing the Mediterranean
Village Resort, a themed hotel for the Walt Disney World Resort whose main
claim to fame (at least among Mouse House history buff) is that this project
never quite made it off Disney's drawing boards.

Copyright St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved

But just because the Mediterranean
Village Resort (which was supposed to have built alongside Seven Seas Lagoon
near the Ticket & Transportation) never made it past the blueprint &
model phase doesn't mean that this proposed Disney World hotel doesn't have a
fascinating history. Which — to hear Alan tell the tale — began with a …

… phone call … from Mouse Central.

It came in 1979, when the Walt Disney Company was about to
start planning a new eight-hundred-room theme hotel at Disney World in Orlando,
Florida. The hotel would be the first new
one in the park since it opened eight years earlier, and Disney executives had
decided to look outside from Disney headquarters in Glendale,
California, wanted to know whether I would
be interested in making a presentation to the board of directors.

Proposed construction location for Disney's Mediterranean Resort


Disney's new resort was to be called the Mediterranean
Village. I was handed a site plan
and the program — meaning, how many rooms, suites, restaurants, conference and
meeting rooms and the like there were to be. I was also given many photos of
the site itself, showing a parcel of totally unremarkable middle Florida
land. No one mentioned a budget.

I also had to sign one of the oddest legal documents of my
career, which stated that I could never let anyone know that I had designed
this structure; I could not use it in my brochure or in any form of publicity.
The Mouse had its own architectural license, and all the documents would list
the architect as WED Engineering. In short, I was to be a nonentity. The
company would even provide me with preprinted sheets of drawing paper,
identifying WED Engineering as the architect, which I would use to produce the
construction documents. This policy was reversed several years later, during
the Eisner regime, when Disney decided to start publicizing its hiring of
prominent outside architects.

Copyright Disney Enteprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Lapidus had worked for some large corporations (Not to mention
some colorful characters. These included Bob Guccione, Aristole Onassis, and
Donald Trump) before. But none of his previous work experience had prepared him
for the way that The Walt Disney Company (at least back in the late 1970s) did
business. Alan was absolutely fascinated by the Mouse's sky's-the-limit /
anything-is-possible approach to the project. Which became clear from Lapidus'
very first meeting …

… with John Hench and a couple of talented young
architects from WED Engineering. At our first session, I asked which type of
Mediterranean architecture they were thinking of — Spanish Mediterranean,
Greek Mediterranean, Italian Mediterranean? John Hench looked at me with an
amused gleam in his eye, laced his finger together, turned his palms out,
extended his arms, and replied in an amused tone, "Alan, we want Disney

"John, if I am doing a Mediterranean
Village, it really should be a sort
of fishing village."

Disney Legend John Hench. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

"I think so too."

"But then we have to have a seaport."


"But a seaport has to have a sea."

"We'll build one."

"And a fleet of colorful fishing boats."

An assistant was soon on hand with several books of pictures of colorful
Mediterranean-type fishing vessels.

Marty Sklar (L) and John Hench at WED Enterprises back in the 1970s.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"You pick them and we'll build them."

"How about some windmills?"

Books of windmills were produced.

This was fun!

During this whole process, no one ever mentioned a budget. And no idea was ever
dismissed as being impractical, unattainable, or undoable. In those days,
Disney truly was a world to itself, an asylum run by the inmates.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Working within The Walt Disney Company's truly unique design
parameters, Alan began dummying out the Mediterranean

The resort began to take shape as a series of streets with
multicolored waterfront "houses" (actually, rows of hotel rooms of
various heights). There was a waterfront walkway with a mosaic serpentine
design, a harbor entrance with a lighthouse, windmills, a breakwater, a
marketplace, olive groves, and trellis-cover walkways leading to streets of
"tavernas," market squares, and many hidden courtyards with a variety
of fountains and outside cafes.

Doesn't that sound like a terrific place to stay. So why
didn't Disney go forward with construction of the Mediterranean
Village? Well, as it turns out, a
similar sort of project was being prepped for a piece of property on the other
side of Seven Seas Lagoon

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

During the course of my work (on the Mediterranean
Village), I observed the Imagineers
designing a companion hotel to mine. It was just as large, and it looked great.
Called the Grand Floridian, it was quite a bit more elaborate, with such inside
architectural reference as the Addison Meisner Room, in honor of an architect
who established the classic 1920s Palm Beach
architecture that symbolized the good life to the F. Scott Fitzgerald
generation. Meisner was not exactly a household name, but it would be
perpetuated by some very clever folks.

Seven months after I began, my design for the hotel was
finished and Disney enthusiastically approved it.

It never got built.

Then newly-installed Disney CEO Michael Eisner
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

After Michael Eisner took over as CEO in 1984, it was a
whole new ballgame. The people I had been working with told me Eisner had
decided to delay the Mediterranean Village
until the Grand Floridian was up and running and ad a year or so to demonstrate
whether it would be a success. No one ever told me the village project wasn't
going forward, just that it was being put on hold. Two or three years later, by
the time the Grand Floridian had opened and started performing well, the
Mediterranean Village had long since been forgotten.

Which had to have been frustrating for Alan. Both on a
professional & personal level. But on the other hand, Lapidus had some very
memorable experiences at the Walt Disney World Resort while he was on property
doing onsite survey work for the Mediterranean
Village project:

After many months, while I was attending some meetings in Florida,
someone up the chain of command judged that I was worthy of being let in on the
innermost secret of the Magic Kingdom.
Like a mother who has decided to tell her pubescent daughter about sex, Dick
Vermillion announced that he had authorization to show me "the tunnels."
Trembling with excitement, I was led around to the back of the park, to what
looked like a hole in the side of a large earthen mound. Once we passed the
security checkpoint, my jaw dropped. There was a world beneath the World: an
underground city straight out of a science fiction film.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The first thing I saw were three Goofy characters walking
side by side. In the (tunnels), a fleet of maintenance trucks constantly
cruised along. Since the roof of this structure was actually the subfloor of
the park, all of the piping, electrical conduits, sewer lines, and other
utilities were hung in plain view of the repair vehicles. All these lines were
being constantly monitored, inspected, maintained, fixed or replaced from
below, so nothing disturbed the peace and tranquility of the kingdom up above.

(Just above the tunnels), a vast network of hidden entrances
to the park was concealed in various aboveground structures and landscape
features. This is why you never see any of the employees go on break. Mickey or
Goofy or Donald ducks into a building and then quickly reappears — except it's
a new Mickey or Goofy or Donald. The setup also makes it possible for emergency
vehicles to reach any part of the complex unseen by the vacationeers above. A
medical emergency can be attended to swiftly, without the ambulance having to
navigate through the crowds or alarm the kiddies. I was dumbfounded.

"Dick, this is the most brilliant piece of urban
planning I have ever seen. Why hasn't the company shown this as an example of
what is possible?"

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

He looked at me as he would at a slow child. "Alan, this is the Magic
Kingdom, and magicians never give
away their secrets."

This is why I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of "Everything
by Design: My Life as an Architect." Alan Lapidus (who's an absolutely
magician of a memoirist) isn't afraid when it comes to revealing secrets.
Especially The Walt Disney Company's secret.

I mean, in what other book are you going to be able to read about that time
when construction mogul  John L. Tishman
(best known in Disneyana fan circles as the guy who supervised the construction
of EPCOT Center
for Tishman Realty & Construction) …

(L to R) Michael Graves, John L. Tishman, Micheal Eisner and Frank Wells check out
the model for the Dolphin & the Swan hotels. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

… sued Disney! For $2 billion! Not only did (Tishman) sue
(The Walt Disney Company), but he also brought a RICO charge. RICO is the
federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, originally enacted
by Congress in 1970 as a tool to use against organized crime … The
possibility that the Mouse would become a convicted felon was enough to bring
Eisner back to the table.


This is the sort of juicy stuff that you'll only be able to
find in a book like "Everything by Design." Which offers some really
great insights & observations on The Walt Disney Company and how it
operates all because this really isn't supposed to be a book about the Mouse.
So go pick up a copy if you're looking for a juicy, business-related Summer


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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