Family togetherness and memories of shared experiences to last a lifetime … those are at the heart of Walt Disney’s many creations – from cartoon characters and heart-warming movies that have entertained generations to Disneyland, which has delighted guests between the ages of 2 and 102 since opening in 1955.
Family meant a great deal to Disney, both personally and professionally.
His daughter, Diane Disney Miller, told me in 2005 that despite her father’s success, she and her sister, Sharon, lived a fairly typical family life. The girls had two loving, caring and protective parents.
Her dad, she said, was a hugger who enjoyed family dinners at home, weekly outings with his girls, even time regularly spent driving his daughters to school on his way to the studio. Walt was quite happy with his little family, even though Diane learned many years later from her aunt that he had wanted more children but that doctors had advised her mother, Lillian, not to attempt another pregnancy after a few miscarriages.
It would have “only been me,” Diane said, if her parents hadn’t gone out and adopted her sister, Sharon.
Walt and Lillian would later become “very loving” grandparents. And, making Walt a grandparent was the “best thing I ever did for him,” Diane said.
Diane and her husband, Ron Miller, parented seven children; six were born before Walt’s death on Dec. 15, 1966.
Five of them – Chris, Joanna, Tammy, Jennifer and Walter Miller – recently shared memories of their maternal grandfather in a special program at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Ron Jr., born in 1963, was too young when his grandfather died to participate with his siblings and Patrick Miller wasn’t born until 1967.
The program provided an intimate look at Walt’s family life from adored grandchildren who had a unique relationship to one of the most creative and influential men of the 20th century. They, too, said both their parents and grandparents did everything they could to give them a fairly typical family life.
The following is the first of two reports offering highlights of the program, plussed and sprinkled throughout with material obtained during an exclusive interview after the event. Part one focuses mostly on the grandchildren’s memories of Walt. Part two will take a look at “Granny Lillian” and include more of their thoughts about Grandpa Walt, from his unfinished projects to the family foundation-funded museum at The Presidio.
Jeff Kurtti, a Disney historian, author and member of the team that helped plan the museum’s galleries, served as the program’s moderator. With an assist by researcher Paula Sigman-Lowery, Kurtti quoted Walt’s own words as he introduced each participant in order from birth.
In a letter to his Aunt Jessie dated Dec. 9, 1954, Walt wrote about the upcoming arrival of his first grandchild Chris Miller: “We are planning to spend Christmas up near San Francisco … where Diane is now living. Her husband is in the service – he’s stationed at Fort Ord, which is near Carmel. So, we’ll all be together up there … and I’m going to be a grandfather, which I guess will make you a great-great aunt. We’re all very happy and excited about this coming event.”
As an adult, Walt also wrote several annual birthday letters to his younger sister, Ruth, born on Dec. 6, 1903. Walt was born on Dec. 5, 1901.
In his letter to her in December 1956, Walt talked about the arrival of his first granddaughter, Joanna: “Now that Ron is out of the service, he and Diane are settling down and are building themselves a home here in the valley. While they are waiting for it to be completed, they are spending most of their time at the house with us. And, although it gets a bit hectic at times, granddaddy and grandma are having the time of their lives with little Chris and Joanna. Joanna is as cute a little pixie as ever drew a breath and Chris is still as wonderful as ever.”
In December 1957, following a two-month trip abroad, Walt wrote to Ruth: “Lilly just about had a fit having to be away from the grandchildren so long and I guess I’ll have to admit to being homesick for them, too. We were as happy as two grandparents could be with just Chris and Joanna, but then little Tammy came along and found her little niche in our hearts, too.”
In December 1960, Walt shared his excitement about his third granddaughter, Jennifer, as well as his desire for another grandson. He wrote: “Diane had another little girl last May 8. … She’s a little doll. No cuter than the others, but at this age she’s a darn sight quieter. I was a little disappointed – kind of wanted another grandson – but Diane says ‘I’m not to give up. There’s always next time.’ “
In December 1961, Walt wrote to Ruth: “I don’t know if you had heard about the BIG news … the birth on Tuesday, Nov. 14th, of Walter Elias Disney Miller. Diane finally decided to name one of her sons for me, and I’m thrilled to have a male heir bearing my name. With the first boy, Diane pulled a name out of the blue. She didn’t seem to like tagging a son of hers with my name. She had a particular aversion to the ‘Elias’ part of it. But, when this one came, she changed her mind and gave him the full treatment. She certainly made me very happy.”
The letters were a touching way of beginning the program. They also illustrated a side of Walt often overshadowed in biographies and the historical record by his numerous professional accomplishments. This “family” story – with photos, film clips and several personal artifacts showing Walt as a son, a brother, a husband, a father and finally a grandfather – provides key bits of information to those studying Walt’s life.
When you listen to Walt’s own voice and then hear Diane, her children and the people who worked with him, you get a sense that Walt was, as Kurtti said, “the man he purported to be.”
“Everytime we saw grandpa in the public or on television, he didn’t seem any different than when he was in his own living room or watching us play in the yard,” Chris said, kicking off the discussion.
Joanna recalled her and her siblings kissing grandpa’s image when they saw him host his weekly TV show, but she became a bit perplexed when some of her friends told her they did the same thing. She’d tell them, “He’s not your grandpa.”
“I’m trying to remember if we ever kissed him on the television when he was sitting in the living room,” Chris added, in one of the afternoon’s many lighthearted exchanges.
To us, Jennifer said, “he was always grandpa. When we walked into the door, we were excited to see him and he was just mobbed.”
Kurtti asked if the five, as children, realized how famous their grandfather was.
“We’d have situations at Disneyland where we were thrust into the parades. … we recognized that something was different about him,” Tammy said, adding that “another clue” came when Walt would take them to school and “people would run out and look at us.”
“We’re all pretty shy and I think some of our first experiences being in parades and the like at age 2, 3 and 4 … that was probably the most traumatic stuff we did with grandpa,” Joanna said, “but we did it for him.”
And, Grandpa “thought we’d have jolly good fun,” Chris added.
Walter called his grandpa “a little bashful, but gregarious.
“He wasn’t shy like we were. You hear about him when he was a kid. He was an adventurous Tom Sawyer, who befriended adults. We were all terrified of adults when we were little.”
“But I think a lot of that (shyness) was because we were protected” Tammy said. “We were also a little insecure about the fact that our grandfather was Walt Disney. We didn’t want people using or trying to manipulate us.
“Of course,” she added, “he was born in a different day and age, too. Could there be a Walt Disney today? Could that personality exist today with all the paparazzi and technology?”
“I think there were a lot of assumptions,” Chris said talking about his grandfather’s fame. As children, it was … “hard to figure out what were dangerous assumptions,” when you could “engage the inquisitor,” or know “what someone was trying to get out of you” – even if that was simply free tickets to Disneyland.
“We … lived a very simple, traditional family life. So when people would confront us with ‘your grandpa is Walt Disney,’ it seemed like an odd affront to us,” even though, Chris continued, “we knew grandpa was world-renowned.”
“We were very lucky though,” Jennifer added. “Our parents and grandparents did a beautiful job of protecting us. We really had such a normal life. They all made sure of it.”
Walter talked about the three questions he and his siblings heard most frequently from peers at school: “Is your grandpa THE Walt Disney?”; “Do you get into Disneyland free?”; and “Is your grandpa frozen?”
“I think the worst was having people ask if he had been frozen shortly after he died,” Joanna said. “We were still getting over losing a relative.”
She then asked her younger brother to repeat his reply to the cryogenics query. Walter would simply parrot the question back at the inquiring peer and ask – “Is your grandpa frozen?” It’s a strategy he remembers using as far back as first or second grade.
Kurtti then asked “where is grandpa when you’re having a memory about him?”
“I’m just thinking of the living room at their house,” Joanna said. “He and granny sitting in their chairs, enjoying the evening together, before or after dinner.”
The grandkids spent most of their time with their grandparents at Walt and Lillian’s two main residences, the “large but humble” Holmby Hills home and the Disneys’ weekend retreat in Palm Springs. Both houses had huge yards and a lot of windows where Walt could keep a watchful eye on his grandkids if he wasn’t sitting out in the yard as they played.
“You have to understand,” Tammy said, “there were moments when grandpa was working and we’d be building forts with lawn furniture around him and he loved it.”
“And I remember little Ronnie sitting in his lap landing airplanes on grandpa’s head as he’s reading,” Joanna said.
“I think as children we didn’t realize how much work he brought home,” Chris said.
“He tolerated all of our chaos and he always seemed to appreciate it,” Tammy said. “We felt so loved – cherished by him as a group. He wasn’t somebody who picked out favorites. He … adored all of us and that’s a wonderful feeling to be able to have.”
Walter admitted that outside of the last year of his grandfather’s life, he has “very few memories” of time spent with him. Most of his memories are sensory – tastes, smells, even some sounds.
He does remember sitting with his grandparents in the living room, “taking ice cubes out of (grandpa or granny’s) Scotch Mist. I still remember that flavor, it was so unique,” Walter said, adding that even today he’s “not a Scotch drinker.”
Kurtti recalled the early days of designing the museum galleries with Walter when boxes of Walt’s personal items arrived. Walter responded to a shaving kit when he opened it and, Kurtti said, “I’ll never forget you saying, ‘Oh my God, it smells like grandpa.’ “
That prompted Walter’s siblings to recall their own sense memories.
“The orange slices in the Scotch,” Joanna said. “You really wanted one and (granny and grandpa would) put in lots of slices when we were there.”
Tammy said she associates the smell of a grease pencil with her grandfather because he used them to mark up dozens of scripts he frequently brought home to review.
Jennifer says the smell of petunias brings back “happy memories” of Palm Springs, when grandpa would be in his office with the windows open “listening to us, enjoying us and watching us” as the kids would ride around and around on a path in the back yard. “He was always present when we were there,” she said.
In addition to the time spent with grandpa and granny at the Disneys’ two homes, the children’s play areas extended on occasion to the Walt Disney Studio and the Golden Oak Ranch, which featured several sets and was used as a film and television shooting location.
The grandchildren remembered using Chris’ or Joanna’s Autopia cars and riding bicycles to explore The Walt Disney Studio and its backlot. They talked of visiting their grandpa’s office and admiring his vast miniature collection. (Chris’ Autopia car as well as a representative sampling of Walt’s miniatures are on display at the museum.)
Walter remembers one trip to the Golden Oak Ranch and seeing “the greatest, most incredible treehouse” and then returning later and being “devastated” to find that it had been removed.
Jennifer remembers visiting Zorro’s horse, Tornado, which was enjoying retirement from showbiz in the verdant pastures of the ranch.
Still as special as those two places were, they paled in comparison to their time spent with grandpa and granny at Disneyland, the world’s largest and greatest playground for all ages at least until 1971.
“Going to Disneyland with them was obviously something totally different from what anyone else gets to experience,” Joanna said, talking about how Walt would prepare before taking the children out into the park by stuffing some pre-signed autographs into his pocket. “He was intent on getting us to enjoy the place. That’s why he made it.”
She also recalled watching him “casually talk” to the cast members and noticed “a warmth that he had with everybody. I don’t know a lot of people who are able to do that.”
Chris finally piped in with a sensory memory – one shared by his siblings.
“Talking about the Disneyland experience, we had the great fortune of spending some nights at the apartment there (above the Main Street Fire Station.) We had this auditory sensation of The Jungle Cruise and the cannibals. We were safe in the apartment, but there were cannibals nearby.”
“I’m very nostalgic about the apartment,” Tammy said. “It was a personal favorite for us … the way we interacted with the jungle people,” prompting several of her siblings to begin a headhunters’ chant. “We had some fun back there.”
Kurtti asked whether the Miller kids if their grandpa, who some employees remember as temperamental at times, ever got angry with them.
“He didn’t get mad,” Chris said, “he’d get impatient.”
“We’re close in age and we’d have our little sibling arguments,” Joanna said, adding that their grandmother had reminded them that grandpa was “a very busy man and he doesn’t want to hear you argue.”
There was one time in Palm Springs when grandpa said “something about not wanting to hear that … that’s all it took. We still argued at home, but not at granny and grandpa’s … we respected that.”
“It’s pretty amazing that in all the time we spent with them, there’s only the one time any of us can remember,” Tammy said.
Kurtti asked about Christmas with the Disneys as he introduced a 1958 letter from Walt to Ruth when Walt wrote about “the little chuckle” that Joanna and Tammy gave him and Lillian when they “asked for (toy) guns and holsters” for Christmas. “Lilly thought she hadn’t heard right … these old-fashioned grandparents thought the girls would want dolls, but guns it is.”
“Christmases were amazing,” Tammy said.
Joanna said that the grandkids would get boxes with “gifts from all the characters, Jiminy Cricket, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald … lots of Disney products.
“I always felt sort of spoiled by that, but later on I learned that grandpa gave to more people than I knew and that pleased me.”
Chris then talked about the Disney employee Christmas parties where everyone who brought a child left “with boxes of stuff,” the same Disney products the grandkids would get from Disney’s cartoon stars.
Toward the end of the program Kurtti asked about their final family vacation with Walt, taken five months before his death, before he knew he had lung cancer.
“That was sort of a finale for the family in a lot of ways … one of the first pure vacations we had,” Chris said, talking about a two-week houseboat trip along the British Columbia coast. Walt and Lillian were joined by 11 immediate family members – their two daughters and their husbands, six of the Millers’ kids and granddaughter Victoria Brown, Sharon’s first-born.
“It was family on an adventure,” Chris continued, “there wasn’t a movie company nearby that grandpa was monitoring and my dad wasn’t working.”
Walter said some of his most vivid memories of grandpa are from the Vancouver cruise. One memory in particular stands out. Chris and Walter were in one of the rowboats when “Chris sees a bald eagle on a cliff … He’s rowing away from the boat when all of the sudden we hear this megaphone: ‘Chris, that’s far enough,’ ” Walter recounted. I don’t think grandpa was mad, he “just wanted to play with the megaphone … and during the cruise he loved to wear the captain’s hat.”
The grandkids remember stopping on small islands and walking through the forests with Walt. They saw totem poles and found eagle feathers on the ground. Walt stood on the deck and watched the grandkids swim and play in the water. During the trip Walt and Lillian celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary, not knowing it would be their last, and Tammy celebrated her ninth birthday.
“Thinking back on it, it was just phenomenally fortunate that we had that with him when we did,” Chris said.
This discussion lead to a beautiful multimedia presentation compiled by the family foundation’s film archivist Scott Zone, featuring several photos (some on display in the museum galleries), a clip featuring Walter’s film debut with Wally Boag as quite literally the bouncing baby boy in “Son of Flubber,” and well as the Millers’ personal family films, showing Walt enjoying his grandchildren at home, at Disneyland, and on that memorable Vancouver vacation. It was the perfect coda to a very special afternoon and left many people wiping away tears.
A few pre-selected audience questions followed, including what the grandkids would like their own children to know about Walt. For the answer to that and other highlights from the program and my exclusive chat, come back for part 2 of this article.
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!
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.
From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be
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.
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.
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