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Is DAK’s Beastly Kingdom DOA? — Part 1

In this three part series from early 2000, Jim Hill looks at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the unfortunate series of events that led up to the park — and the company — losing a land, many talented Imagineers, and worst of all: guests.



You can park your car in the “Unicorn” parking lot.

You can buy your admission ticket at a ticket booth with a huge dragon’s head on it.

And — for a while there — you could even catch a glimpse of a fire-breathing monster as you took a cruise along Discovery River.

So what are the chances that Walt Disney World [WDW] guests will someday soon get the chance to visit a land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom [DAK] that celebrates these mythical creatures?

These days, pretty slim. It’s probably more likely that guests will see a real unicorn or dragon long before they get the chance to tour DAK’s “Beastly Kingdom.”

What happened? Why has the Mouse decided to scrub its years-in-the-making plans for expansion of its animal theme park? Why table what would seem to be a sure-fire addition to Disney’s Florida resort?

Those who have been following the Walt Disney Company’s recent cost cutting craze will not be be surprised to learn that the projected high price tag for building “Beastly Kingdom” factored heavily in upper management’s recent decision to postpone indefinitely any major expansion of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. After all, if times are so tough for the Mouse that they have to lay off the Magic Kingdom’s marching band as well as Epcot’s fife-and-drum corp, what are the chances the company would be willing to spend $200 to $300 million to add a new land to DAK? Slim to none.

Mind you, Mickey was perfectly willing to pony up the $100 million necessary to build the Animal Kingdom Safari. But that’s different. That’s a hotel. That 1307 room resort will start making money for the Walt Disney Company the moment it opens in the Spring of 2001.

But “Beastly Kingdom?” Recent exit surveys have suggested that — even if Disney were to go forward with construction of this new land at DAK — the Mouse wouldn’t see a large enough increase in attendance at WDW’s fourth theme park to justify the cost of actually building “Beastly Kingdom.”

The real irony here is that one of the only reasons Disney’s Animal Kingdom ever got built was that way back in 1993, guests who were surveyed about ideas for a fourth WDW theme park responded strongly to the notion of having a place in Florida where they could see unicorns and dragons.

Want to hear what folks were told about “Beastly Kingdom” back then? What follows is an excerpt from an exact transcript of an early marketing presentation on Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It describes in great detail the fun that would have been had in this part of the proposed park:

Beastly Kingdom is the realm of make believe animals, animals that don’t really exist, out of legends, out of fairy tales, out of storybooks. Like our legends and fair tales about imaginary animals, this land is divided into realms of good and realms of evil.

The evil side is dominated by DRAGON’S TOWER, a burned, wrecked castle inhabited by a greedy, fire breathing dragon. He hordes a fabulous treasure in his tower chamber. The castle is also inhabited by bats who speak to us from their upside down perches. The bats have a plan. They enlist our help trying to rob the dragon and fly us off on a wild chase. At last, we meet the fire-breathing dragon himself and barely escape un-barbecued.

The good side of this land is ruled by QUEST OF THE UNICORN. An adventure which sends us through a maze of medieval mythological creatures to seek the hidden grotto where the unicorn lives. There is also FANTASIA GARDENS. A gentle musical boat ride through the animals from Disney’s animated classic, “Fantasia.” Both the crocodiles and hippos from ” Dance of the Hours” and the Pegasus, fauns and centaurs from Beethoven’s “Pastoral” are found here.

Sounds pretty impressive, yes? Those WDW guests surveyed back in 1993 thought so. They identified “Beastly Kingdom” — with its mix of roller coasters and imaginary animals — as the number one reason that they’d want to visit this proposed fourth theme park.

So why wasn’t “Beastly Kingdom” part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom when the park opened on April 22, 1998? Again, cost played a big part in delaying construction of this highly anticipated land. But DAK’s future planning had to be factored in too.

After all, it took the Walt Disney Company three years and $800 million just to get “Phase One” of DAK open. And — since the park’s name actually had the word “animal” in it — the Imagineers felt that opening day guests would want to see some actual live animals. So the majority of DAK’s capitalization was poured into building the Africa and Asian safari areas.

After that … well, someone had to make a decision. Disney’s Animal Kingdom was supposed to celebrate all animals: the live ones, the extinct ones, as well as the imaginary. The African and Asian enclosures would take care of the live animals.

But — in doing that — Disney blew through most of DAK’s initial budget. There was only enough money left to build one more land. Which should the Mouse go for? Dragons or dinosaurs?

In the end, the deciding factor here was the money the Disney Company had already blown on the soon-to-be-released computer animated film, “Dinosaur.” Even back in 1995, the Mouse had already invested upwards of $30 million into production of this movie. (Current estimates suggest that Disney may have spent as much as $150 million to finish this film, making “Dinosaur” even more expensive than James Cameron’s infamously over-budget 1997 epic, “Titanic.” ) Eisner wanted to make sure that Disney’s “Dinosaur” movie made a return on that investment, so he insisted that DAK feature an attraction that heavily hyped the forthcoming film.

That decision angered Joe Rohde and the other Imagineers on the Disney’s Animal Kingdom project. After all, one of the real reasons that DAK was being built was to keep WDW guests from leaving property to go visit Busch Gardens – Tampa Bay.

And what was Anheuser Busch’s Florida theme park best known for? Its animal displays and its killer roller coasters. With African and Asia, Disney had all the animals it needed. But where were the coasters?

According to Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s original plans, “Dragon’s Tower” was to have been this park’s signature attraction. That’s why the dragon was featured dead center in DAK’s logo. After guests visited WDW’s fourth theme park, this was going to be the ride they raved about the folks back home about.

What was so special about “Dragon’s Tower?” This high tech thrill ride would have been the Walt Disney Company’s first in-park use of an inverted roller coaster. This attraction would have also featured the largest AA figure ever built for a Disney theme park. The angry jewel encrusted dragon found in the ride’s finale — belching fire and smoke at your car as you zoomed on by — would have easily dwarfed any of the dinos found in “Countdown to Extinction” (AKA the “Dinosaur” ride).

But Eisner insisted that it was more important that DAK feature an area that synergized with the upcoming “Dinosaur” film. “Beastly Kingdom” would have to wait ’til DAK’s “Phase Two” … which, back then, was to have been completed no later than Spring 2003.

So — with this understanding that “Beastly Kingdom” hadn’t been cancelled, but merely postponed — WDI agreed to scale back their initial plans for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. But, even as they mapped out plans for the “Phase One” version of DAK, the Imagineers deliberately put in some pretty broad hints of the fun yet to come when “Beastly Kingdom” finally opened. That’s why you can park your car in the “Unicorn” lot as well as buy your tickets at the dragon headed ticket booth.

As for that fire-breathing dragon found in the cave down along Discovery River … before cost over-runs in other areas of DAK severely cut in the proposed budget for this part of the park, that make-believe monster was just one of many fantasical show elements that would have been found along this part of the river. That whole stretch of Discovery River was supposed to be one big coming attraction for “Beastly Kingdom.”

Had the Imagineers gotten all the money they were originally supposed to get, here’s what you would have experienced after your boat pulled away from the dock and began its cruise around Discovery River:

As you passed under the main bridge leading into Safari Village, you would have seen that the water ahead was littered with the shattered lances and crumpled armor of a great many fallen knights. But what horrible fate could have befallen all of these brave adventurers? A roar from the nearby cave offers a clue.

As your boat floated past the opening of the cave, you would have seen a duplicate of the dragon found in the cavern under Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland – Paris. Only WDW’s version would have been a lot more active than France’s sleepy monster. This dragon would have craned his neck out of the cave, roared at the guests and then breathed fire their way, before once again settling back down to sleep.

At this point, your boat driver would have started to get nervous. He would explain that he was worried that the dragon’s roaring would awaken the Kracken, a mythical Greek sea monster that was known to lurk along this stretch of Discovery River. Sure enough, the water around the boat begins to bubble ominously.

Off to one side, the huge fin of the Kracken suddenly cuts through the water. As the boat begins rocking back and forth, you’re certain you’re headed for a watery grave. Just then, your captain pulls out a lyre and begins plucking an odd tune. As the boat stops rocking and the water stops bubbling, the captain explains that music puts the Kracken back to sleep. Once that it’s safe to move on, the boat continues to head up river.

Just as you round the bend, your captain points off excitedly to your left. There on the shore, you catch a glimpse of a unicorn. The beautiful white creature — shrouded in mist as it stands in a picturesque grove of trees — paws the earth lightly with one hoof and nods its golden horn our way. The unicorn’s only visible for just an instant, but it truly is a beautiful sight.

As your boat pulls up to the dock in Harambe, you and your fellow guests would still be buzzing about the wonders you would have glimpsed on this leg of your adventure of Disney’s Animal Kingdom …

But of course … this didn’t happen. As DAK’s opening day grew nearer and it became obvious that the whole project was going over budget, great show elements like the Kracken and the Unicorn got cut from the “Phase One” version of the park. In the end, there was only enough money left in the budget for put one creature along the entire length of Discovery River.

Again — because Eisner insisted that “Dinosaur” be heavily synergized at DAK — the Imagineers decided to build a full-scale version of Aladar, the heroic iguanadon from the forthcoming film. That’s the AA dinosaur guests glimpsed roaring and splashing at water’s edge as their Discovery River boat floated past Dinoland USA.

Unfortunately, this decision left the other leg of the Discovery River boat cruise a five minute cruise past nothing. So Joe Rohde begged, pleaded and wheedled … and eventually got Eisner to kick in another couple of thousand dollars. With this tiny chunk of change, Joe was able to get the rock dragon that spews water along this part of the river built, as well as a very stripped down version of the park’s fire breathing dragon.

But don’t go looking for an Americanized version of Disneyland – Paris’s majestic AA dragon to be found along this part of Discovery River. Rohde’s Imagineers did the best they could with zero cash. All you’ll find here now is a somewhat dinky cave at water’s edge. As the boats went by, a ferocious roar would echo out of the cave, followed by a burst of flaming propane. These effects hinted that there was a dragon somewhere deep back inside that cave … but guests never really got a glimpse of the thing.

As you might imagine, WDW visitors were pretty unimpressed with what they saw along Discovery River once DAK opened. In fact, this was the ride that guests singled out — right from Opening Day — as the worst attraction in all of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. After waiting in line for over an hour to board the boats, they were furious to find that there was virtually nothing to see along the water during their five minute journey to Harambe.

The Imagineers were obviously embarrassed by this situation. It was particularly frustrating to WDI because they knew that they had a solution to the Discovery River problem, ready to go. But Disney management was too cheap to put up the money to make the fixes.

But that had been typical of Disney management’s handling of the whole DAK project. Given the choice between doing things the right way and the inexpensive way, the Mouse always opted to go cheap.

Take — for instance — how the Mouse handled the park’s capacity problems. When it became obvious that Asia was not going to ready in time for Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s April 1998 opening, the Imagineers began warning Disney management that DAK would not have a full day’s worth of shows and attractions. After having paid full price for admission, guests were sure to complain if they only got a half day’s worth of entertainment.

Eisner’s solution? Slap in a temporary land, similar to the “Mickey’s Birthdayland” area that the company had created for WDW’s Magic Kingdom way back in April 1988. From its first conceptual drawing right through to the first guest walking into Mickey’s house, “Mickey’s Birthdayland” had only taken 90 days to install.

Rohde and his Imagineers was appalled at Eisner’s suggestion. But — rather than tell the boss that his idea was terrible and that they wanted nothing to do with it — the DAK design team insisted that they were far too busy supervising construction in the rest of the park to work up any new temporary lands.

So Eisner ordered WDW’s entertainment office to take over the project. Using “Mickey’s Birthdayland” as their template, the entertainment staff came up with the concept for “Camp Minnie-Mickey.” Since there was no money available for even the cheapest of off-the-shelf rides, the WDW team opted to build “Camp Minnie-Mickey” around two low budget stage shows and several no budget character encounter areas.

How quickly and cheaply was “Camp Minnie-Mickey” thrown together? Do the float units the characters perform on in “Festival of the Lion King ” look familiar? They should. They’re the exact same parade floats that Disneyland ran up and down Main Street USA during the three year run of its “Lion King Celebration” parade.

Having this rapidly slapped together area sitting alongside lands that they’d spent years designing really irked the Imagineers. But Rohde advised his team to be patient and hold their tongues. After all, once Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on April 22, 1998 and proved to be a huge success, then WDI would finally get the time and the money necessary to fix all the stuff that was wrong with the park.

Then the Imagineers could get the chance to put back all the stuff that was cut out of Discovery River. Then they could quietly pull the plug on that monstrosity, “Camp Minnie-Mickey.” Then WDI could finally get around to DAK’s “Phase Two” and build Beastly Kingdom.

Well, April 22, 1998 arrived and Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened …

But — after that — things didn’t quite go according to plan.

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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