I’ll say this much for the folks at Universal. They obviously learn from Disney’s mistakes.
Don’t believe me? Then take, for example, all the negative publicity that the Mouse generated due to the awkward way the Walt Disney corporation handled the closure of WDW’s “20,000 Leagues” submarine attraction as well as “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”
Watching Mickey place his foot in his mouth one too many times may explain why — late last year — Universal actually went out of its way to make annual passholders aware that it would soon be shutting down their “Kongfrontation” attraction. The Central Florida theme park even went so far as to invite APers and the media to attend a special “Say ‘So Long’ to Kong” event — where annual passholders were actually allowed to stay in the park after hours to make their “Goodbyes” to the big ape. They were even given a free gift for taking part in the “Kong” event.
The way that Universal chose to handle its “King Kong” closure — being extremely upfront about their intentions, putting a proactive and positive spin on the whole event by actually inviting APers to come out to the park to “Say ‘So Long’ to Kong” — generated tons of positive publicity for the theme park. Not to mention whetting people’s appetite for the mysterious “Mummy”-themed roller coaster that would soon appear in “Kongfrontation”‘s place.
All in all, the whole situation was handled with considerable style and class … a skill that Mickey really used to have, but seems to have forgotten in his rush to put a gift shop in the post-show area of every single new and/or revamped version of every WDW attraction.
Such was the case with WDW’s controversial redo of Epcot’s “Journey in Imagination” ride. Disney was so determined to add additional retail space to this once beloved Future World attraction that it actually ripped out the last third of the ride track for this whimsical attraction to make room for additional t-shirt racks as well as image capture equipment. The end result was a revamped attraction that was so reviled by WDW visitors that the Imagineers were actually forced to reverse course. They had to go back to Orlando and radically rework the previously revamped attraction.
The third version of this Future World ride — “Journey into Imagination with Figment” — recaptured much of the spirit and fun of the original. (And it’s a real tribute to the talents of David Mumford, that — given the extremely limited resources that this WDI vet was working with — that he was still able to pull together such a fun attraction.) But even today, as guests exit that Future World ride and make their way through Kodak’s retail gauntlet, they can be heard to remark “Well, that was nice … but it’s still not nearly as good as the original ‘Imagination’ ride.”
This message — that you can’t replace an attraction with an inferior ride — has clearly been heard by the folks at Universal Creative. Which is why they just replaced the somewhat dated — but still fun — “Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera” with the outrageously entertaining “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast.”
How good is “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast?” Last Tuesday afternoon, inside of an hour, I rode the attraction three times. The very next day, when Nancy was meeting with reps of the DAVE school (she’s giving some semi-serious thought to taking some computer animation classes in Central Florida), I actually went back to Universal Studios Orlando and rode “Jimmy” six more times. And — each time I experienced the attraction — I caught more witty touches, more wildly funny moments.
Now please understand that I was one of those guys who actually liked “The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera.” Given that I’m a bit of a baby boomer (born in 1959), I’m actually old enough to have seen “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” and “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” on their original network runs (or — at the very least — to catch these programs during their first series of off-network reruns).
So it was always sort of cool (at least for me) to stand there in the pre-show of this Universal Florida attraction and see *** Dastardly and Muttley kidnap Elroy. (I always got a kick out of watching Joseph Barbera — as he made his exit in the pre-show film — pull a Snagglepuss-esque “Exit Stage Right” maneuver.)
Then to enter the main theater and have Yogi Bear pilot our craft through a CGI version of Bedrock, a spooky old castle as well as an out-of-this-world amusement park … was sheer bliss. At least for this baby boomer. I always marveled at the nice job that Rhythm & Hues had done with this ride film. Even though “The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera” was created ‘way back in 1990, I always thought that this Universal simulator attraction had held up nicely. (Would that we could say the same about Epcot’s “Body Wars” ride. But that’s a story for another time …)
Anyway … as they say, “All good things must come to an end.” And — as attendance began to dwindle for “The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera” in the late 1990s — Universal Creative began looking for a way to revamp this attraction. Create a ride that wouldn’t just appeal to bloated baby boomers like me, but could really connect with kids of today.
Of course, given that Universal already had a relationship with Nickelodeon, it just made sense for the theme park to rework the ride film for its Central Florida “Hanna Barbera” facility around that Nickelodeon’s set of characters. Create an attraction that would fly Universal guests off to a whole new set of worlds.
But the key difference between the Disney and Universal approach was that — even though Universal Creative was also working with a somewhat limited budget — they were also still determined to deliver a high quality product. A show that — while still being affordable — would still go out of its way to top the “Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera.”
So how did they do this? By being smart. First up, folks who have previously visited the pre-show and main theater areas of “The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera” will note — as they enter “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” — that minimal changes have been made to these areas. A new paint job here, a few new atmospheric props there. But beyond that, these spaces are virtually unchanged.
Of course, given that Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius is the star of this new Universal Studios ride, changes to these spaces were really unnecessary. The over-sized screens in the pre-show — as well as the odd flying machines in the main theater — look just like something Jimmy would have cooked up in his secret lab.
That’s the real brilliance of Universal Creative’s approach to this particular show change-out; they didn’t change anything that they didn’t have to change. They spent the money where it really counted … and in this case, where it really counted was creating a balls-out funny new ride film for this attraction.
So how would I describe the ride film for “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast?” Densely fun. Immensely entertaining. This may be the very first theme park attraction that I would truly describe as being “hip.” There are so many great gags buried inside this movie, so many surprise appearances by Nick characters, so many wonderful touches hidden away in corners … that I was still catching new things on my 9th trip through this revamped Universal attraction.
The story actually gets underway on the Jimmy Neutron soundstage on the Nicktoon Studio lot. As the pre-show begins, Jimmy is putting the finishing touches on his latest invention – the Mark IV, a hand crafted two person rocket ship. As Neutron’s nerdy pal, Carl, and his cybernetic canine, Goddard, look on, Jimmy gives the folks in the queue all the backstory they need to fully enjoy “Nicktoon Blast.” As is:
Jimmy reveals that the soundstages and/or free standing sets where “Hey, Arnold!,” “Rugrats,” “The Fairly Oddparents,” and “Spongebob Squarepants” are all located relatively nearby.
The Mark IV personal rocket ship was preceded by several other prototypes. The Mark III (which seems to have met some dreadful fate … when Carl asks Jimmy what became of the Mark III, Neutron’s succinct reply is “Don’t ask”), the Mark II and the Mark I.
It’s at this point in the pre-show that Ooblar, the evil Yolkian agent (who — while masquerading as a typical Central Florida tourist — has managed to sneak on to the Nicktoon Studio backlot) reveals himself. He’s come all the way from Yolkus (the Yolkian home world) to steal the Mark IV. The Yolkians plan to copy Jimmy’s latest invention as the model for a huge new invasion fleet. Which Ooblar and his egg-shaped cronies will then use to enslave the earth.
With a maniacal laugh, Ooblar flies the Mark IV out through the massive hole that he’s just blown in the side of Jimmy’s soundstage. Neutron then turns to the audience members that are standing in the show’s pre-show area and asks for our help in recovering his latest invention. It’s then decided that Jimmy, Carl and Goddard will chase after Ooblar in the Mark II, while we’ll follow along in the Mark I.
Carl doesn’t have all that much enthusiasm for this plan. He turns to the boy genius and says “I thought you said that the Mark I was somewhat unreliable.”
Jimmy’s response: “Well, it’s not totally unreliable.”
That’s the Reader’s Digest version of the pre-show. What my bare-bones description doesn’t do is capture a lot of the snarky wit and left-handed charm that this portion of the “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” has. EX: Ooblar’s oily introduction, when he calls Neutron “… his old nemesis.” Carl’s response? “I hope ‘nemesis” means ‘buddy.'”
Or that wonderful moment when Carl tries to explain to Jimmy why he so quickly handed the Mark IV’s remote control over to Ooblar after the Yolkian had threatened to “hurt” the nerd: “I think he used one of those alien mind meld things on me.”
(Truth be told, Carl is probably my favorite character in “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast.” Certainly, this heavyset nerd has the lion’s share of the best lines in this Universal Studios attraction.)
With a quietly whimpered “Mommy” from Carl, we’re now on our way into the main theater in “Nicktoon Blast.” As I mentioned earlier, the ride vehicles here look pretty much as they did back in the day of “The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera.” A new paint job here, a vacuum cleaner canister hot-glued there. But beyond that, it’s pretty much the same set-up.
But as for the ride film itself … picture the old “Hanna Barbera” ride film on steroids. With dozens of cartoon character cameos whizzing by at light speed, with gag piled upon gag upon gag … you’re going to have to ride “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” at least twice before you catch even a 10th of the jokes that the folks at Universal have crammed into this revamped attraction.
But here (without spoiling too many of “Jimmy”‘s numerous surprises) are a few highlights of this new Universal attraction:
Just seconds after we blast off out of Neutron’s soundstage, our rocket zooms through the streets of Nicktoon Studios. You really don’t want to blink during this section of the attraction. Otherwise, you’ll miss the quick-as-a-bunny cameo appearances by the cast of “Rocket Power,” “Rocco’s Modern World,” “The Wild Thornberrys” and even “Ren & Stimpy!”
Our next stop — after we sideswipe the slime tower (which unleashes a brief water effect inside the theater) — is the street where “Where’s Arnold” is filmed. As Jimmy, Carl, and the audience continue their pursuit of Ooblar, we interrupt a stickball game. (Watch as Goddard makes an amazing mid-air catch.)
From here, the trio of rocket ships just manage to squeeze through the rapidly closing doors of the “Rugrats” soundstage. The next thing we know, we’re flying over, around and through the Pickles’ homestead. With Angelica — who suddenly finds herself tethered to Ooblar’s ship — cussing out the members of the audience, calling us “dumb diaperheads.” (Keep a sharp eye out for Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil & Dill … as well as the next door neighbor’s dog, who has an unfortunate run-in with a fence.)
After blasting through the wall of Tommy’s bedroom (and dumping Angelica unceremoniously on the bed), our rockets zoom over toward the soundstage where “The Fairly Oddparents” are filmed. Only this time, the doors to that soundstage aren’t open. But that doesn’t stop Jimmy, Ooblar or us as we blast through the wall to discover …
“Fairies!” Carl squeals. Sure enough, Cosmo and Wanda are flying alongside Neutron’s rocket ship. “Jimmy appeals to Cosmos, crying “Help us!” Cosmo mis-hears Neutron’s request as “Elvis,” which is why he changes Ooblar into an egg-shaped Elvis Presley. This transformation causes Jimmy to bring his rocket ship up short, which causes Carl to smack his forehead on the side of the vessel. The nerd moans “Oh, my achin’ head.” Cosmo once again mis-hears this request (“Bacon Head”), which is why Carl’s hair suddenly learns into fresh, crispy bacon.
Elvis Presley. Fresh, crispy bacon. Do I have to draw you a map? It’s a bizarrely funny moment that you’ll certainly never see in a Disney theme park, as Ooblar hungrily pursues Carl as the nerd squeals “Please don’t let him eat my head, Jim!”
To help Jimmy, Carl, and Goddard defeat Ooblar, Cosmo lends his magic wand to the panicked nerd. Carl waves the wand at the Mark VI, screaming “Go away!” In a burst of fairy dust, Ooblar and his ship do disappear. Jimmy then reminds Carl that “We have to follow that ship.” “Sounds like a wish,” says Wanda. With a wave of her wand, she sends Jimmy, Carl, Goddard and us to …
Yolkus! The Yolkian home world that Nicktoon fans may be familiar with if they’ve already seen the “Jimmy Neutron” theatrical feature and/or caught the recent Nickelodeon TV special, “The Egg-pire Strikes Back.” As the Mark II barrel rolls over this bleak planet, Carl reminds Jimmy (and the audience) that they “… don’t exactly like us here.” As a sly nod to various Lucasfilm projects, as our rockets zoom down toward the Yolkian capital city, Carl says “I got a funny feeling. And this time, I don’t think it’s gas.”
From here, it’s a slapstick-filled sequence. With Jimmy flying after Ooblar and both of their rockets wrecking havoc on the city. In addition to the broader, more obvious jokes (As in: When Ooblar flies through the Yolkian Bowlarama and accidentally mows down a bunch of bowlers in “Perfect Strike” fashion), pay attention to the smaller, subtler touches (EX: The film titles at the Yolkian multiplex: “Yolk Story II.” The egg-shaped newsboy hawking papers with Jimmy’s picture on them, crying “Rocket boy returns!”)
Our ship stays close behind Jimmy and Ooblar’s rockets. We zoom into the Yolkian throne room where the King of Yolkus reveals that we’ve fallen right into his trap. “How good to see you again, Neutron …” the King cackles. And — in an inspired lift from “The Wizard of Oz”- – the egg-shaped monarch turns to the audience and says “… and your little friends too!”
And — speaking of friends — the King of Yolkus re-introduces Neutron to another old acquaintance: Poultra, the Godzilla-sized three-eyed chicken that seems determined at eat Jimmy, Carl, Goddard, and us. We rocket out of the palace and just miss being crushed by Poultra’s Buick-sized feet. (There’s some real nice use of in-theater effects here. Every time one of Poultra’s feet strike the ground, our ride vehicles jump. Every time Poultra breathes fire at us, smoke comes surging out from under the screen.)
We escape Poultra only to have the Mark II’s engine flame out. As Jimmy — in the midst of a brain blast — tries to quickly jury-rig a fix on his rocket, he asks Carl to take off his pants. But the nerd has had enough. Wailing “I wanna go home!,” Carl waves Cosmo’s wand over his head and …
WHAM! We’re now high over the Earth’s surface. As our vehicle follows Jimmy’s rocket as it freefalls back toward Florida, Neutron says “Uh oh.” Carl’s response: “I was kind of hoping that ‘Uh oh” is a piloting term.” We now zoom down toward the miniature ocean in the backmost corner of the Nicktoon Studio lot, where we splash down into …
Bikini Bottom! Home to Spongebob Squarepants and all his crazy aquatic friends. We’re zooming over the Jellyfish Fields as Patrick points us out to his porous pal. “A rocket powered jellyfish!” Spongebob squeals. With that, Squarepants is in hot pursuit of the Mark II. With jellyfish net in hand, Spongebob flings himself off of a cliff. He then lands on Neutron’s ship and crams his net over Jimmy’s head.
Neutron cries “I can’t see!” With that, our wild ride through Bikini Bottom begins. Jimmy’s rocket ship spins out of control around Spongebob’s house. (The end result: Squarepant’s pineapple-shaped house ends up getting cut into large ring-shaped pieces. Which are immediately float down into a gigantic canned pineapple can.) While this is going on, our vehicle flies through the window at Squidward’s house, interrupting his clarinet practice.
From here, it’s a trip through the heart of Bikini Bottom. With Squarepants happily greeting his friends as he whizzes along on with Jimmy’s rocket ship. “Hello, Mrs. Puff! (Watch as the much beleaguered driving instructor “puffs” with surprise when she spies Spongebob) Hello, Sandy! Hello, Larry! (And perhaps my favorite line out of the entire attraction) Hello, secondary characters!”
As actual bubbles drift down from the ceiling of the theater, Neutron’s rocket flies through the front door of the Krusty Krab. As Mr. Krab and a handful of customers cling to Squarepants (who’s now waterskiing in the wake of Neutron’s rocket ship), Jimmy pilots the Mark II right into a metallic drain he spies at the bottom of the ocean. “Aw, barnicles!” Spongebob cries as he, Mr. Krab and all of those Krusty Krab customers are knocked off the rocket ship and left behind in Bikini Bottom.
From there, we find ourselves right back where we started. The Mark I and II come up through a drain in the floor of Jimmy’s soundstage. It seems like the attraction is over. Until the King of Yolkus arrives! Snatching the remote control out of Neutron’s hand, the evil Yolkian turns toward the audience and orders that …
No! I can’t do it. I can’t spoil what is truly the most surprising, truly delightful moment in “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast.” Where your ride vehicle does something that you’d never expect it to do. Something you’ve never, ever experienced before … unless, of course, you’d been to one too many really cheesy weddings.
Let’s just say this moment in the show is fall down funny. And that — with this one particular ballsy bit of business — Universal has seriously raised the bar for all motion-based theatrical theme park shows. Disney’s going to have to come up with something really stunning if it ever hopes to top this show-stopping moment in “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast.”
So how does it end? Well, let’s not forget that Carl still has Cosmo’s magic wand. With a wave of the wand, Carl cries out “High powered laser dealie!” A lethal-looking green laser now ricochets around the theater over the heads of the audience before it strikes the Yolkian King. Reducing the ruler of Yolkus to … well … a pile of yolk.
With the villain finally defeated and the Mark IV returned to where it belongs, Jimmy thanks for the audience for taking part in his adventure. Meantime, in the background, Carl (who — according to the mythology of the “Jimmy Neutron” TV show — has always been obsessed with llamas) is using Cosmo’s magic wand to quickly conjure up a herd of llamas. In what is perhaps the most bizarre gag in a truly bizarre theme park show, keep your eye on the righthand side of the screen. Where — just before the steel door closes and Neutron says “Gotta blast!” — you’ll see a very special llama make a surprise appearance.
I know, I know. This is an incredibly detailed description of the “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” show. But — strange as this may seem — this description really only touches on about a 10th of the gags and crazy things that happened in this new Universal Studios attraction. You’d have to watch “JNNTB” at least a dozen or more times before you could safely say that you’ve seen the whole show.
And let’s not forget about the fun to be had in the post-show area: the Nicktoon Control room. Where you can use your very own video camera to shoot some on-location footage at Bikini Bottom. Or that neat Chalkzone area. Or the various interactive attractions to be found here. The whole “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” experience — from the silly film clips that run in the exterior queue to the revamped gift shop — is a winner. At least to my way of thinking.
And you want to know the best part? Universal DIDN’T use the revamping of the old “Hanna Barbera” facility as an opportunity to increase the size of the ride’s post-show gift shop area. That store — which now features a wide variety of Nickelodeon-themed merchandise — remains exactly the same size … another clear sign that Universal learns from Disney’s mistakes.
You want my advice about the very best way to experience “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast?” First ride inside one of the in-theater vehicles that swing and sway in sync with the ride film. THEN get back in line for “Nicktoon Blast” and — this time around — opt to sit down front in the stationary seats. That way, you have a better chance to catching some of the quicker cameos that the other Nicktoon characters make in this ride film. Not to mention that you’ll be in a primo spot to watch the rest of the audience as they …
NO! Must be strong! Must not totally blow the big surprise in “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast!”
You know the best part of this whole situation is? “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” is the first of three truly strong major new rides and shows to make their debut at Universal Studios Orlando. Later this month, “Shrek 4D” also debuts. And that film — particularly the Central Florida version with its elaborate witty queue — is a real winner.
Not to mention the “Mummy”-themed roller coaster that Universal will be unleashing on the public next year, which will skillfully mix show scenes, elaborate special effects, thrills, chills, and a finale that’s sure to …
No! Must not spoil that ride’s surprises either.
Let’s just say that — for the past year or so now — Universal has been taking advantage of all the lessons that they’ve been learning from the Mouse’s mistakes. So don’t you think it’s finally time that the Walt Disney Company to start learning from Universal Studio’s successes.
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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