Connect with us

Theme Parks & Themed Entertainment

From the JHM Archives: Exploring Marc Davis’ Enchanted Snow Palace



Go ahead. Ask a Disneyana fan who Marc Davis was. Better yet: Find yourself a comfy chair, sit down, and THEN ask a Disneyana fan who Marc Davis was.

Marc Davis shows Walt one of the Audio Animatronic figures that were built based on
his designs for Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Because you’re about to get an earful.
First you’ll probably hear about how Davis was this legendary animator at Walt Disney Studios. The guy who played a key role in bringing Snow White, Bambi
, Thumper, Cinderella
, Alice, Wendy, Malificent and Cruella De Vil all to life.
Then they’ll undoubtedly talk about how Marc moved over to Imagineering in the early 1960s, where he became one of that organization’s top designers. While working there, he created some of the most memorable characters and set pieces for “The Jungle Cruise,” “The Enchanted Tiki Room,” “it’s a small world,” “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Hall of Presidents,” “The Haunted Mansion” and “Country Bear Jamboree.” The list goes on and on.

Then – if they’re sticking to the “Readers Digest” version of Davis’ life – they’ll probably close by telling you about how Marc retired from WED in 1978, but continued to draw and/or make appearances at various Disneyana events ’til his untimely death in January 2000. Which should tie up Davis’ life story with a neat little bow.

Except that … Well … Were you to start poking around at that version of the Marc Davis story, some holes would begin emerging. And some questions would probably come quickly to mind.
Questions like: If Marc was really such a hot-shot designer for WED, why were all of his attractions for the Disney theme parks built and/or up and running by the late 1960s / early 1970s? Given that this guy didn’t actually retire from Imagineering ’til 1978, it stands to reason that there should have been quite a few more Marc Davis classics popping up in the parks into the mid-to-late 1970s? So what happened? Did this guy lose his chops or what?

Marc working on the design for the new “Sacking the Treasury” finale sequence for
Walt Disney World’s version of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Sadly, the answer is no. Marc never lost his chops. He remained a top designer – doing witty, wonderful work for the parks as well as Disney’s consumer products division – right up until the year he died. Even after he’d formally retired, Davis still got calls from folks at WED/WDI – desperate to tap into his expertise. (This is how Marc ended up consulting on attractions for Epcot as well as Tokyo Disneyland.)

So – okay – if Marc was such a WED wunderkind, then how come all that Disney got out of Davis in the mid-to-late 1970s was “America Sings“? This “GE Carousel of Progress” replacement was pretty much Marc’s last hurrah for the Mouse House. An ambitious Audio-Animatronic filled (109 figures!) tribute to American song, this Tomorrowland attraction was admittedly fun. But it was also no “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “The Haunted Mansion.”

So where’s that one last truly great Disney theme park attraction from Marc Davis? That final show that was supposed to have built on everything that Marc learned while working with Walt? That ride-to-end-all-rides? The one that was supposed to have blown our socks off?And the answer is … Davis actually designed at least two of these attractions in the 1970s. Rides that the Imagineers (who worked at WED at the time and saw Marc’s beautifully drawn up plans) still talk about. I’ve already written at length about one of these shows – the Thunder Mesa project for Walt Disney World’s “Phase One” featuring “Western River Expedition.”
The attraction I’d like to talk about today was probably the last show of size that Marc Davis ever designed for WED: “The Enchanted Snow Palace.”This ambitious attraction – which was proposed for the site that Disneyland‘s massive Fantasyland Theater currently occupies – was considered by many at Imagineering to be the most beautiful thing that they’d ever been designed for a Disney theme park.
So why did Mouse House managers from that era opt not to built Marc’s beautiful “Enchanted Snow Palace”? Patience, Grasshopper.

One of the “plusses” Marc Davis was looking to add to Disneyland’s version of “The
Jungle Cruise” in the mid-1970s. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Let’s first talk about the ride as Marc originally envisioned it.
This whole attraction sprang out of Davis’ desire to create something cool for Disneyland. Not cool as in “That ride was bitchin’ fast” or “The kids seem to really get off on stuff like.” But a place where guests could go to escape the cruel Southern California sun.

Davis – while on a field trip to Disneyland one hot summer’s afternoon in the early 1970s (He was out at the park, scouting locations for the new sequences that he was dreaming up for Adventureland‘s “Jungle Cruise”) – really felt beat down by the heat. As he drove back to Glendale, Marc thought to himself: “Wouldn’t it be great if Disneyland had a place where guests could go to escape the heat on a day like today? Someplace cool & peaceful, away from the crowds?”
And from that slim notion … Marc spun out his entire “Enchanted Snow Palace.” A cool & peaceful place, away from the crowds.

Picture – if you will – an enormous white & blue show building. Similar in size and scale to “it’s a small world.” Only this building isn’t really a building at all. It’s a glacier. (Or at least a mock-up of one. Carefully carved out of plastic and plaster by the artisans at Imagineering).
As we queue up for the ride, we notice that all the ice and snow seems to have melted into some very unique shapes. There – amid all the icicles – are graceful towers and windows and walls. All seemingly carved out of ice. Wait a minute. Could it be that someone actually lives inside this massive block of ice? As we trot down the faux snow covered stairs and get into a ice blue bateaux, I guess we’re about to find out.

Marc Davis concept painting for “The Enchanted Snow Palace”
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Just like on “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “it’s a small world,” the power of the water itself (as well as a few well hidden conveyer belts) sends our boat floating gently into the show building. Once we slip through a hole in the glacier, we’re dazzled by all the blue and the white inside. To the strains of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite,” Audio Animatronic polar bears and penguins caper on iceflows all around us. Timber wolves stand on top of nearby snowdrifts, howling at the moon. Robotic walruses pop up next to our boat and playfully squirt water at us. It’s a magical – if somewhat naturalistic – environment.

But then the aurora borealis shimmers in the sky above our heads. Which somehow causes our boat to drift into a mysterious snow cave … And – once we’re inside – the real magic begins. Immense snow giants – carrying huge icicles clubs – tower over us. But we needn’t fear. For these snow giants seem dazzled by the frost fairies that are flitting in the air in front of them. (What do the frost fairies look like? Remember the ones from Fantasia
‘s “Nutcracker” sequence? Well, Marc brought them back to life. Only in 3D form.)

We then pass the Snow Queen’s beautiful hand maidens – each dressed in an ornate Ziegfeld Girl-seque gown. Every one of them wears an elaborate head dress made out of ice. Each is attended by a snowy owl or an arctic fox or snow white ermine.
Then our boat finally floats into the throne room of the Snow Queen herself. As the music builds, we see that the Queen is getting ready to make her nightly rounds. Her sled – with a team of snowshoe rabbits – is standing by the palace door. Her majesty gestures gracefully toward us … and suddenly the air is filled with snow. We drift through this brief blizzard back into the sunlight … out toward the “Enchanted Snow Palace” ‘s load/unload area.

Marc Davis’ design for the Snow Queen. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

There. Doesn’t that proposed attraction sound beautiful? Not all that compelling from a narrative point of view, of course. And – to be honest – the ride itself (in spite of all its elaborate, ornate tableaus) sounds fairly passive. A bit on the dull side. That said, you’ve still got to admit that Marc Davis’ plans for his “Enchanted Snow Palace” do sound like they would have been very beautiful.

Yes, Davis put his heart and soul into this project. Making sure that all of his concept sketches for this Fantasyland addition were as dazzling as possible. Which is why he did his drawings for this proposed attraction in the style of Erté, the famous Parisian designer best known for his extraordinary sets and costumes for the Follies Bergeres.
And Marc’s drawings were beautiful. The trouble was – back in the mid 1970s – Disney Company management wasn’t really looking for passive but pretty rides like “The Enchanted Snow Palace.” They were looking for attractions that thrilled and dazzled guests, not shows that caused them to smile & snooze.

The real problem was that – circa 1975 – the American theme park industry was undergoing a fundamental change. The era of the steel coaster had finally arrived. And amusement park owners – particularly Disney – were noticing what rides like these could do for a corporation’s bottom line.
Mouse House managers couldn’t help but notice the immediate, positive impact that the original Space Mountain had on Walt Disney World attendance levels when this Tomorrowland thrill ride first opened back in January 1975. Which is why the company rushed construction of an Anaheim version of this attraction (which eventually opened at Disneyland on May 4, 1977).And if one thrill ride could drive up attendance levels at the company’s theme parks this much, Disney’s operations staff wondered: What would TWO thrill rides do? Which is why management decided to dust off Tony Baxter’s plans for his runaway mine train ride … And the rest of the story, you know.

Tony Baxter’s concept painting for the exterior of Big Thunder Mountain Railway.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Of course, with all of WED’s funds being funneled into quickly creating high speed thrill rides for Disneyland and Walt Disney World (not to mention the development of rides & shows for Epcot), there just wasn’t any money left to build something that was just – well – beautiful like Marc’s “Enchanted Snow Palace.” So the project languished. And Davis – feeling somewhat out of step with what Imagineering was up to at the time – decided that now might be a good time to retire.

The question now is: Would Marc’s “Enchanted Snow Palace” have really been a good addition to the parks? Would it have been a show like “small world” or “Pirates” that the public immediately embraced and loved for years to come, or would it have been more like “America Sings” (Which – to be honest – fell out of favor fairly quickly, playing to mostly empty houses ’til the attraction finally closed in 1988)?

My personal feeling – while I love Marc’s concept sketches for this attraction – is that his “Enchanted Snow Palace” was almost too artsy – fartsy for its own good. The proposed storyline for the show was just too slender. There weren’t enough laughs or thrills to really entertain guests as they floated through the building. All the “Snow Palace” had going for it was that it would be A) cool inside and B) pretty to look at. Which was really not enough to justify the proposed attraction’s estimated $15 million construction costs.
Which is WED opted to take a pass on the project.

A litho that Marc Davis personally put together towards the end of his life which
touched on many of the projects that he worked on during his career at Walt
Disney Imagineering. Please note which never-built attraction has the
centermost / most prominent position in this image. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But the beauty of Marc’s work for this proposed attraction lives on. Both in the hearts of the Imagineers who were lucky enough to see Davis’ original sketches when he was first working on the project, as well as the cast members who work in the Disney Gallery.

A few years back (around the holiday season), the Gallery sold a limited edition lithograph of one of Marc Davis’ concept paintings for “The Enchanted Snow Palace.” It showed one of the Snow Queen’s hand maidens in all her icy glory, dressed in a long blue & white gown, with a snowy owl at her feet. The lithos – which included a crystal “Snow Palace” Christmas ornament – sold like hot cakes.

Which proves – I guess – that there really is an audience out there for a strictly beautiful Disney theme park attraction. Whether or not it would have been as big an audience as – say – the folks who like “Big Thunder” or “Space Mountain,” who can say?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

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


The Evolution and History of Mickey’s ToonTown



Disneyland in Anaheim, California, holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans worldwide, I mean heck, it’s where the magic began after all.  Over the years it’s become a place that people visit in search of memorable experiences. One fan favorite area of the park is Mickey’s Toontown, a unique land that lets guests step right into the colorful, “Toony” world of Disney animation. With the recent reimagining of the land and the introduction of Micky and Minnies Runaway Railway, have you ever wondered how this land came to be?

There is a fascinating backstory of how Mickey’s Toontown came into existence. It’s a tale of strategic vision, the influence of Disney executives, and a commitment to meeting the needs of Disney’s valued guests.

The Beginning: Mickey’s Birthdayland

The story of Mickey’s Toontown starts with Mickey’s Birthdayland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Opened in 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, this temporary attraction was met with such overwhelming popularity that it inspired Disney executives to think bigger. The idea was to create a permanent, immersive land where guests could step into the animated world of Mickey Mouse and his friends.

In the early ’90s, Disneyland was in need of a refresh. Michael Eisner, the visionary leader of The Walt Disney Company at the time, had an audacious idea: create a brand-new land in Disneyland that would celebrate Disney characters in a whole new way. This was the birth of Mickey’s Toontown.

Initially, Disney’s creative minds toyed with various concepts, including the idea of crafting a 100-Acre Woods or a land inspired by the Muppets. However, the turning point came when they considered the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This film’s popularity and the desire to capitalize on contemporary trends set the stage for Toontown’s creation.

From Concept to Reality: The Birth of Toontown

In 1993, Mickey’s Toontown opened its gates at Disneyland, marking the first time in Disney Park history where guests could experience a fully realized, three-dimensional world of animation. This new land was not just a collection of attractions but a living, breathing community where Disney characters “lived,” worked, and played.

Building Challenges: Innovative Solutions

The design of Mickey’s Toontown broke new ground in theme park aesthetics. Imagineers were tasked with bringing the two-dimensional world of cartoons into a three-dimensional space. This led to the creation of over 2000 custom-built props and structures that embodied the ‘squash and stretch’ principle of animation, giving Toontown its distinctiveness.

And then there was also the challenge of hiding the Team Disney Anaheim building, which bore a striking resemblance to a giant hotdog. The Imagineers had to think creatively, using balloon tests and imaginative landscaping to seamlessly integrate Toontown into the larger park.

Key Attractions: Bringing Animation to Life

Mickey’s Toontown featured several groundbreaking attractions. “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin,” inspired by the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” became a staple of Toontown, offering an innovative ride experience. Gadget’s Go-Coaster, though initially conceived as a Rescue Rangers-themed ride, became a hit with younger visitors, proving that innovative design could create memorable experiences for all ages.

Another crown jewel of Toontown is Mickey’s House, a walkthrough attraction that allowed guests to explore the home of Mickey Mouse himself. This attraction was more than just a house; it was a carefully crafted piece of Disney lore. The house was designed in the American Craftsman style, reflecting the era when Mickey would have theoretically purchased his first home in Hollywood. The attention to detail was meticulous, with over 2000 hand-crafted, custom-built props, ensuring that every corner of the house was brimming with character and charm. Interestingly, the design of Mickey’s House was inspired by a real home in Wichita Falls, making it a unique blend of real-world inspiration and Disney magic.

Mickey’s House also showcased Disney’s commitment to creating interactive and engaging experiences. Guests could make themselves at home, sitting in Mickey’s chair, listening to the radio, and exploring the many mementos and references to Mickey’s animated adventures throughout the years. This approach to attraction design – where storytelling and interactivity merged seamlessly – was a defining characteristic of ToonTown’s success.

Executive Decisions: Shaping ToonTown’s Unique Attractions

The development of Mickey’s Toontown wasn’t just about creative imagination; it was significantly influenced by strategic decisions from Disney executives. One notable input came from Jeffrey Katzenberg, who suggested incorporating a Rescue Rangers-themed ride. This idea was a reflection of the broader Disney strategy to integrate popular contemporary characters and themes into the park, ensuring that the attractions remained relevant and engaging for visitors.

In addition to Katzenberg’s influence, Frank Wells, the then-President of The Walt Disney Company, played a key role in the strategic launch of Toontown’s attractions. His decision to delay the opening of “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” until a year after Toontown’s debut was a calculated move. It was designed to maintain public interest in the park by offering new experiences over time, thereby giving guests more reasons to return to Disneyland.

These executive decisions highlight the careful planning and foresight that went into making Toontown a dynamic and continuously appealing part of Disneyland. By integrating current trends and strategically planning the rollout of attractions, Disney executives ensured that Toontown would not only capture the hearts of visitors upon its opening but would continue to draw them back for new experiences in the years to follow.

Global Influence: Toontown’s Worldwide Appeal

The concept of Mickey’s Toontown resonated so strongly that it was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland and influenced elements in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Each park’s version of Toontown maintained the core essence of the original while adapting to its cultural and logistical environment.

Evolution and Reimagining: Toontown Today

As we approach the present day, Mickey’s Toontown has recently undergone a significant reimagining to welcome “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” in 2023. This refurbishment aimed to enhance the land’s interactivity and appeal to a new generation of Disney fans, all while retaining the charm that has made ToonTown a beloved destination for nearly three decades.

Dive Deeper into ToonTown’s Story

Want to know more about Mickey’s Toontown and hear some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, then check out the latest episode of Disney Unpacked on Patreon @JimHillMedia. In this episode, the main Imagineer who worked on the Toontown project shares lots of interesting stories and details that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s full of great information and fun facts, so be sure to give it a listen!

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Continue Reading


Unpacking the History of the Pixar Place Hotel



Pixar Place Hotel, the newly unveiled 15-story tower at the Disneyland Resort, has been making waves in the Disney community. With its unique Pixar-themed design, it promises to be a favorite among visitors.

However, before we delve into this exciting addition to the Disneyland Resort, let’s take a look at the fascinating history of this remarkable hotel.

The Emergence of the Disneyland Hotel

To truly appreciate the story of the Pixar Place Hotel, we must turn back the clock to the early days of Disneyland. While Walt Disney had the visionary ideas and funding to create the iconic theme park, he faced a challenge when it came to providing accommodations for the park’s visitors. This is where his friend Jack Wrather enters the picture.

Jack Wrather, a fellow pioneer in the television industry, stepped in to assist Walt Disney in realizing his dream. Thanks to the success of the “Lassie” TV show produced by Wrather’s company, he had the financial means to build a hotel right across from Disneyland.

The result was the Disneyland Hotel, which opened its doors in October 1955. Interestingly, the early incarnation of this hotel had more of a motel feel than a hotel, with two-story buildings reminiscent of the roadside motels popular during the 1950s. The initial Disneyland Hotel consisted of modest structures that catered to visitors looking for affordable lodging close to the park. While the rooms were basic, it marked the beginning of something extraordinary.

The Evolution: From Emerald of Anaheim to Paradise Pier

As Disneyland’s popularity continued to soar, so did the demand for expansion and improved accommodations. In 1962, the addition of an 11-story tower transformed the Disneyland Hotel, marking a significant transition from a motel to a full-fledged hotel.

The addition of the 11-story tower elevated the Disneyland Hotel into a more prominent presence on the Anaheim skyline. At the time, it was the tallest structure in all of Orange County. The hotel’s prime location across from Disneyland made it an ideal choice for visitors. With the introduction of the monorail linking the park and the hotel, accessibility became even more convenient. Unique features like the Japanese-themed reflecting pools added to the hotel’s charm, reflecting a cultural influence that extended beyond Disney’s borders.

Japanese Tourism and Its Impact

During the 1960s and 1970s, Disneyland was attracting visitors from all corners of the world, including Japan. A significant number of Japanese tourists flocked to Anaheim to experience Walt Disney’s creation. To cater to this growing market, it wasn’t just the Disneyland Hotel that aimed to capture the attention of Japanese tourists. The Japanese Village in Buena Park, inspired by a similar attraction in Nara, Japan, was another significant spot.

These attractions sought to provide a taste of Japanese culture and hospitality, showcasing elements like tea ceremonies and beautiful ponds with rare carp and black swans. However, the Japanese Village closed its doors in 1975, likely due to the highly competitive nature of the Southern California tourist market.

The Emergence of the Emerald of Anaheim

With the surge in Japanese tourism, an opportunity arose—the construction of the Emerald of Anaheim, later known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel. In May 1984, this 15-story hotel opened its doors.

What made the Emerald unique was its ownership. It was built not by The Walt Disney Company or the Oriental Land Company (which operated Tokyo Disneyland) but by the Tokyu Group. This group of Japanese businessmen already had a pair of hotels in Hawaii and saw potential in Anaheim’s proximity to Disneyland. Thus, they decided to embark on this new venture, specifically designed to cater to Japanese tourists looking to experience Southern California.

Financial Challenges and a Changing Landscape

The late 1980s brought about two significant financial crises in Japan—the crash of the NIKKEI stock market and the collapse of the Japanese real estate market. These crises had far-reaching effects, causing Japanese tourists to postpone or cancel their trips to the United States. As a result, reservations at the Emerald of Anaheim dwindled.

To adapt to these challenging times, the Tokyu Group merged the Emerald brand with its Pacific hotel chain, attempting to weather the storm. However, the financial turmoil took its toll on the Emerald, and changes were imminent.

The Transition to the Disneyland Pacific Hotel

In 1995, The Walt Disney Company took a significant step by purchasing the hotel formerly known as the Emerald of Anaheim for $35 million. This acquisition marked a change in the hotel’s fortunes. With Disney now in control, the hotel underwent a name change, becoming the Disneyland Pacific Hotel.

Transformation to Paradise Pier

The next phase of transformation occurred when Disney decided to rebrand the hotel as Paradise Pier Hotel. This decision aligned with Disney’s broader vision for the Disneyland Resort.

While the structural changes were limited, the hotel underwent a significant cosmetic makeover. Its exterior was painted to complement the color scheme of Paradise Pier, and wave-shaped crenellations adorned the rooftop, creating an illusion of seaside charm. This transformation was Disney’s attempt to seamlessly integrate the hotel into the Paradise Pier theme of Disney’s California Adventure Park.

Looking Beyond Paradise Pier: The Shift to Pixar Place

In 2018, Disneyland Resort rebranded Paradise Pier as Pixar Pier, a thematic area dedicated to celebrating the beloved characters and stories from Pixar Animation Studios. As a part of this transition, it became evident that the hotel formally known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel could no longer maintain its Paradise Pier theme.

With Pixar Pier in full swing and two successful Pixar-themed hotels (Toy Story Hotels in Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland), Disney decided to embark on a new venture—a hotel that would celebrate the vast world of Pixar. The result is Pixar Place Hotel, a 15-story tower that embraces the characters and stories from multiple Pixar movies and shorts. This fully Pixar-themed hotel is a first of its kind in the United States.

The Future of Pixar Place and Disneyland Resort

As we look ahead to the future, the Disneyland Resort continues to evolve. The recent news of a proposed $1.9 billion expansion as part of the Disneyland Forward project indicates that the area surrounding Pixar Place is expected to see further changes. Disneyland’s rich history and innovative spirit continue to shape its destiny.

In conclusion, the history of the Pixar Place Hotel is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Disneyland Resort. From its humble beginnings as the Disneyland Hotel to its transformation into the fully Pixar-themed Pixar Place Hotel, this establishment has undergone several iterations. As Disneyland Resort continues to grow and adapt, we can only imagine what exciting developments lie ahead for this iconic destination.

If you want to hear more stories about the History of the Pixar Place hotel, check our special edition of Disney Unpacked over on YouTube.

Stay tuned for more updates and developments as we continue to explore the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Continue Reading


From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be



Mickey's Birthday Land

In the latest release of Episode 4 of Disney Unpacked, Len and I return, joined as always by Disney Imagineering legend, Jim Shull. This two-part episode covers all things Mickey’s Birthday Land and how it ultimately led to the inspiration behind Disneyland’s fan-favorite land, “Toontown”. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It all starts in the early days at Disneyland.

Early Challenges in Meeting Mickey

Picture this: it’s the late 1970s and early 1980s, and you’re at Disneyland. You want to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse, but there’s no clear way to make it happen. You rely on Character Guides, those daily printed sheets that point you in Mickey’s general direction. But let’s be honest, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes, you got lucky; other times, not so much.

Mickey’s Birthdayland: A Birthday Wish that Came True

Fast forward to the late 1980s. Disney World faced a big challenge. The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park was under construction, with the company’s marketing machine in full swing, hyping up the opening of Walt Disney World’s third theme park, MGM Studios, in the Spring of 1989. This extensive marketing meant that many people were opting to postpone their family’s next trip to Walt Disney World until the following year. Walt Disney World needed something compelling to motivate guests to visit Florida in 1988, the year before Disney MGM Studios opened.

Enter stage left, Mickey’s Birthdayland. For the first time ever, an entire land was dedicated to a single character – and not just any character, but the mouse who started it all. Meeting Mickey was no longer a game of chance; it was practically guaranteed.

The Birth of Birthdayland: Creative Brilliance Meets Practicality

In this episode, we dissect the birth of Mickey’s Birthdayland, an initiative that went beyond celebrating a birthday. It was a calculated move, driven by guest feedback and a need to address issues dating back to 1971. Imagineers faced the monumental task of designing an experience that honored Mickey while efficiently managing the crowds. This required the perfect blend of creative flair and logistical prowess – a hallmark of Disney’s approach to theme park design.

Evolution: From Birthdayland to Toontown

The success of Mickey’s Birthdayland was a real game-changer, setting the stage for the birth of Toontown – an entire land that elevated character-centric areas to monumental new heights. Toontown wasn’t merely a spot to meet characters; it was an immersive experience that brought Disney animation to life. In the episode, we explore its innovative designs, playful architecture, and how every nook and cranny tells a story.

Impact on Disney Parks and Guests

Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown didn’t just reshape the physical landscape of Disney parks; they transformed the very essence of the guest experience. These lands introduced groundbreaking ways for visitors to connect with their beloved characters, making their Disney vacations even more unforgettable.

Beyond Attractions: A Cultural Influence

But the influence of these lands goes beyond mere attractions. Our episode delves into how Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown left an indelible mark on Disney’s culture, reflecting the company’s relentless dedication to innovation and guest satisfaction. It’s a journey into how a single idea can grow into a cherished cornerstone of the Disney Park experience.

Interested in learning about Jim Shull’s original idea for a Winnie the Pooh ride? Here’s concept art of the attraction proposed for the original Toontown in Disneyland. More on [Disney Unpacked].

Unwrapping the Full Story of Mickey’s Birthdayland

Our two-part episode of Disney Unpacked is available for your viewing pleasure on our Patreon page. And for those seeking a quicker Disney fix, we’ve got a condensed version waiting for you on our YouTube channel. Thank you for being a part of our Disney Unpacked community. Stay tuned for more episodes as we continue to “Unpack” the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Continue Reading