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Katy Harris talks about all the hard work that went into creating Disneyland Paris’ new holiday offerings



After beginning her theatrical career dancing in London’s West End and then traveling the world, Katy Harris found herself at what was
then known as EuroDisney working as a dancer at that theme park’s “Beauty
and the Beast” stage show. From there, Harris quickly rose through the
ranks and help produce Walt Disney Studios seasonal events such as Kids
Carnival and DLP’s 15th anniversary “Once Upon a Dream Parade.”

Over the past few years, Katy has worked hand-in-hand with Walt Disney
Imagineering on the creation of Disneyland Paris’ 20th nighttime spectacular,
“Disney DREAMS” and this year’s “Disney DREAMS Fete Noel /
Disney DREAMS of Christmas” show as well as DLP’s new tree lighting
ceremony, “Magical Christmas Wishes.”

Let’s look into how Harris and her team creates magic at the
Disneyland Paris Resort.

Katy Harris & Andrea
Monti at the “Disney DREAMS Fete
Noel / Disney DREAM of Christmas” press

AM: Yours is a classic Disney success story; rising up
through the ranks to then becoming show director. How does it feel to look

KH: How does it feel? It feels like I am living a dream. I
started dancing on a stage in 1993 on the “Beauty and the Beast” show & at the
Lucky Nugget and then — over time — moved on to direct shows both small and
big, parades and nighttime spectaculars. When I meet people I used to dance with or used to know
years ago, it always strikes me how much has happened and how fast it all

AM: What do you consider your highlights?

EuroDisneyland’s Lucky
Nugget Revue (1992 – 1993)

KH: It would be easy to say the latest shows our team (And I
say ‘team’ because projects like these always involve teamwork and I have been
lucky  to work with amazing teams) has
worked on. I’m especially proud of the new Christmas tree ceremony
“Magical Christmas Wishes” and believe that  the new “Disney DREAMS Of Christmas”
nighttime show is a really wonderful way for our guests to celebrate the
holiday season in the park.

Of course, if I was to look back, I could not forget how
wonderful it was to work on the 15th anniversary parade, “Disney’s Once Upon a
Dream Parade” in 2007, the months that I spent in Hong Kong Disneyland back in 2008
were great fun and different from my Paris
agenda and — of course —  there is that
 time I created the “Celebrate the Magic
show on the Magic Kingdom‘s
Cinderella Castle
in Orlando.

The first night I started rehearsing with my team at 2 a.m. in the Orlando
projecting on Cinderella Castle
was a moment I won’t easily forget. Nearly alone in the Magic Kingdom playing projections on that iconic castle. Wow,
a  dream come true!

Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

AM: What would you like everyone, Disney fans, theme park geeks and first time
guests to see in your works?

KH: Heart. Putting layers of emotions and content that will
be interpreted differently by each guest. Sometimes there’s this preconception about theme
park shows, that they’re all about spectacle and shallow. My team and I try to create
layers of elements and story that everyone can relate to. I like to add emotional,
heartwarming moments and make everyone smile. My goal is to create something that
our guests will want to come back and see again and share with their friends and
family. That was especially what we were going for in the new “Christmas Wishes”
tree lighting ceremony.

AM: You have also worked in Hong Kong
for the Olympic year, creating a kinetic show in the castle forecourt. That was certainly a change of
pace. What did you bring back to Paris
from that experience?

Acrobats performing in front
of Sleeping Beauty

Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland

KH: My time in Hong Kong allowed me
to discover a different cast and a different audience, also multilingual
(English, Mandarin & Cantonese), very different but still very, very eager for all things Disney. I worked on the 2008 show which
played 5 times a day in front of Sleeping
Beauty Castle.
It was a fun-filled energetic acrobatic extravaganza with dancers and the
characters holding their own Olympic sporting events. Goofy was a weight
lifter, Minnie was a gymnast and Chip & Dale played volleyball. Children
were invited to participate in all of the fun too. We even gave engraved
limited-edition gold medals to the children of the different games we did.
Those medals today have become a collectible as they have the inscription if
not only HKDL but also the date of the 2008 Olympics.

AM: Did it help later in the energy-driven “High School
Musical” street show?

KH: High School Musical
” became an instant hit in the Walt Disney
Studios theme park. We were lucky enough to go to California
to learn all the dance moves. Guests might not have realized it but we were
able to incorporate most of the dance moves from the Disney Channel film into
the Walt Disney Studios show. And — yes — our Paris
cast was as energetic as the Disney Channel cast.

The “High School
Musical” rolling stage at Wat Disney Studios theme park.

AM: You went from big parades in 2007 for Disneyland Paris’
15th anniversary to smaller events in 2008 & 2009 and then back again to
huge DREAMS. And the size of the audiences for each of these presentations
varied from 30,000 people watching a parade to 2000 people enjoying something
relatively intimate like a “High School Musical” street show to
70,000 people watching a show like “Disney DREAMS.” When you works on
shows that have such different scales as these, how do you keep the level of heart?

KH: By staying true to that little English girl inside of me
who — when she was small back home —  always,
always, always wanted to dance for Mickey I guess (Laughter). Jokes aside, I’m glad that people recognize the heart which
goes into these shows. Most of our rehearsals are done at night. For example, “Disney
DREAMS Fete Noel” had 7 weeks of night-only rehearsals. You simply cannot get into all that work if you don’t
believe in it with passion and know what you want from it. And what I want, what I wish, is
for the guests to leave from the show smiling and feeling as though they have shared
a uniquely wonderful journey.

An audience equipped with
“Glow with the Show” ears watches “Disney DREAMS”

AM: I therefore need to ask you: What does Katy Harris smile
more at?

  • Seeing the full audience of “DREAMS” lighting up with their “Glow with the
    Show” ears hats on?

  • Seeing a 4 year-old girl dressed as Snow White cry when her
    princess bows and knees down at her in the Princess pavilion?
  • Mickey posing with a family?

  • Or the simple wave of hand and blowing a kiss back of a
    Princess from a float to a girl?

KH: I look at the eyes of the guests. The eyes often tell
more than the smile. Looking around when a show is on, I tend to look at where people
focus their attention. How they react, what they prefer and how they see everything.
Especially for repeat guests, it’s nice to know what they like about the show
that makes them come back.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
All rights reserved

AM: After “DREAMS” you took charge with a small &
energetic team and then transformed the Magic
Kingdom’s previous castle
projection show, “The Magic, The Memories and You” to “Celebrate
the Magic.” Can we expect to see more of your work in Orlando?

KH: “Celebrate the Magic” came straight after “DREAMS.”
It was conceived from the start as a retooling of the previous show, “The
Magic, the Memories, and You.” But that project soon took on its own
spirit & energy. I was especially pleased to slip a few vintage Disney tributes
into that show, such as Walt hand-drawing Mickey and Mickey in his red shorts
coming out (something we rarely use in Paris).
The show was deliberately conceived so that new segments could easily be added
to “Celebrate the Magic.” Which is why — to date — we’ve added Summer
scenes, Halloween scenes, Christmas scenes and now even a scene from Disney
which will be based on that animated film’s amazingly
powerful new song, “Let It Go.” Which we just used here in Paris
as part of our “Disney DREAMS of Christmas” shows. That new scene is
opening as part of Walt Disney World’s castle projection show on November 18th.
And I’m flying to Orlando tomorrow
morning (Sunday, November 10th) right after we debut all of DLP’s new holiday
offerings late tonight.

Photo by Andrea Monti

AM: Speaking of which: DLP has a tradition of creating many
new seasonal events, second only to Tokyo Disneyland. Paris
has always considered Christmas to be one of a high point
of its year. What does your new take on Xmas-at-DLP bring to this tradition?

KH: This year, we are debuting a brand-new Christmas tree at
the Park (The previous tree was the original one from the 1992 park opening
Xmas season) and we have an amazing new LED light system to go with it. Technology,
though, is never enough at Disney. And as much as our team developed a
state-of-the-art, unique-to-Disneyland-Paris light system, we wrap it all
around STORY. Here the story is about sharing the wishes of children under the
Christmas tree, a subtle and intimate message that will hopefully play into the
hearts of everyone whatever their age is.

With our team, we decided to make a show which, unlike previous versions of the
Christmas tree lighting ceremony for Disneyland Paris, could be seen from all
around Town Square and even
down Main Street through to
Central Plaza.
A show without floats and characters but driven by the narrating voices of Jiminy
Cricket (in English) and Pinocchio
(in French). Which would then help
children-of-all-ages remember the joy of gathering with their families around a
lit-up Christmas tree and all the warmth & joy that the holiday season

Photo by Andrea Monti

Hopefully this “Magical Christmas Wishes” tree
lighting ceremony will become an Xmas classic just like the “Believe in
Holiday Magic” fireworks show at  Disneyland
or how the Osborne Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios have become holiday traditions in the States.
We tried to make something for all and placed a lot of love in all those nights
developing the tree and its story. I look forward to seeing the faces of our
guests when it begins to snow on them. Now onto “Disney DREAMS Of

AM: When this new holiday show was first announced, everyone
believed that it would just be a tag, a new holiday-themed scenes that would
then be added to the existing “DREAMS.” Instead DLP wound up with a
whole new show. How long did it take to create this from start to finish?

KH: Steve Davison back in California
has created this concept which would be shared by World of Color and our
Castle. Both shows were developed and the music is shared. But due to the different venues & guest expectations, we
very quickly started to create two very different versions of the same show. The message
& the spirit of both shows would remain identical, though.

I worked for five weeks in California
this past Summer on the animation and testing of the show on models of the castle. Then I came back to Paris
in September to start a full seven weeks of night-time rehearsals. I acted as Steven’s show director in Paris.
Meaning I followed everything on the Paris show,
making it unique as I directed the show. Guests will see something very
different between the Paris and California
shows. We shared a lot of technology and concepts but then Europeanized it.
Creating specific elements for the architecture of our incredible castle. We
also have fireworks in the Paris

AM: This show has Olaf the Snowman from Disney’s upcoming
“Frozen” acting as narrator, in a role somewhat similar to Peter
Pan’s shadow in the original “DREAMS.” But for the first time ever, Mickey
and Minnie are in this castle projection show. There’s also that classic piece
of animation from “Bambi
” where Thumper teaches the Young Prince to
slide on the ice. And the Green Army Men from “Toy Story
” perform a
wonderful funny tribute to Disney’s “Fantasia
.” Compared to the
original version of “DREAMS,” this castle projection show has more of
a classic feel with more retro material from the Disney vaults. Was this a
deliberate choice?

KH: Christmas & Winter are a Disney staple. We all knew
in our hearts that those first images of little Prince Bambi learning to slide on the ice
or the Dalmatians making their escape across the ice had to be part of the
holiday version of “DREAMS.” Likewise those scenes from “Lady
and the Tramp

” which featured Christmas trees. And getting some vintage
Mickey and Minnie up on the castle is a great reminder of al the wonderful short
films that Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced over the years.

AM: The original version of “DREAMS”  received two new scenes — “Lion

” and “Brave
” replacing “Mary Poppins
” and
The Jungle Book
.” Can we expect more new scenes to be folded into this
castle projection show in the coming years?

KH: That’s the beauty of these castle projection shows. They
can be changed and improved all the time. A little bit like what Walt used to
say about Disneyland, that  it can never be completed as long as there is
still imagination — and projection space, I might add —  left in the world and on the castle (Laughter).

AM: And now for the question that has always been on the DLP
fan forums. Is there any chance of a Halloween version of “DREAMS” ? The
Disney Villains try to take over the castle every night for 3 minutes and 42
seconds. Might they someday get a whole 22 minute-long show for themselves?

KH: Peter Pan and his shadow do manage to keep the Disney
Villains at bay every night. But that is a very interesting series of
characters to explore.

AM: “Disney DREAMS Fete Noel / Disney DREAMS of
Christmas” is a sister show to Disney California Adventure’s “World
of Color — Winter Dreams.” How different are these two night-time shows?

Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

KH: They share the same concept, heart and spirit. And they
do have some scenes — like the “Toy Story Nutcracker” in common. But
the sing-along finale is exclusive to Paris.

AM: Do you anything else that you might like to add to this

KH: Have fun and enjoy DLP’s new holiday offerings with all
your heart.

Andrea Monti

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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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