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Knott’s Berry Farm puts an awful lot of thought into all those celebrities that it skewers at Halloween Haunt



So what happens tonight after the last Hanging is held at Knott’s Scary Farm? Well, the entertainment team at America’s First Theme Park gets a well-deserved night of rest. But after that, these talented folks plunge right into compiling a constantly changing list of celebrity scandals, political faux pas, memorable movie moments and quirky pop culture phenomena which next year’s Hanging can then be built around.

“Since we have to have a treatment of this show ready by the first week of May — so that the people who handle Haunt then know what to budget for the Hanging — we have to start that list very early on,” explained Ken Parks, the Vice President of Entertainment at Knott’s Berry Farm. “We’re always on the look-out for that hit TV series or that piece of headline news that everyone’s watching or that everybody knows about which can then serve as our parody center-pole. That comic thread which runs through the entire show.”

“And some years, that event or news item that we can then build an entertaining Hanging around emerges very early on. And other years, it doesn’t happen ’til much further on,” Ken continued. “But by the first week of June, we have to have something down on paper because we need to start casting that year’s show by July. And then – come August – the script for that year’s Hanging has to already be in pretty good shape because, since rehearsals begin the day after Labor Day, we need to be in the studio recording the tracks for that show ASAP.”

Copyright 2016 Cedar Fair. All rights reserved

Of course, what’s kind of ironic about all of these months of behind-the-scenes effort that go into this jokey juggernaut (where 12 energetic performers – thanks to lightning-fast costume changes – portray a cast of … Well, dozens?) is that Knott’s Hanging wasn’t always quite so elaborate.

“Back a year or so after Knott’s Scary Farm officially started – this was 1976 or thereabouts — the Hanging was just something that Knott’s stunt team did for Haunt,” Parks recalled. “But back then, this show was just a cowboy hanging. The sheriff and his posse came into Calico with this bank robber or cattle rustler that they’d supposedly just caught. They’d then march this guy up to the gallows and then ask all of the guests standing in the square if they should hang this criminal or not. And after the crowd cried out ‘Hang him!’ … Well, the stuntman who was playing this bank robber would then get hung.”

Of course, it was all an illusion. And after he’d dangled there a while, this still-alive performer would then be cut down and hauled off to Boot Hill. Though this stuntman’s next stop / final resting place would really be backstage in Knott’s employee break area.

Copyright 2016 Cedar Fair. All rights reserved

But then – because Knott’s Scary Farm is a celebration of Halloween – this cowboy hanging was eventually changed into a witch’s hanging. Sarah Marshall (AKA the Green Witch that a lot of the Haunt’s early backstory was built around) would first be paraded through the park in a cart. Then – after she’d been led up the steps to the gallows and sentenced to death for the crime of performing witchcraft – Sarah would somehow always escape just before the Green Witch was supposed to be hung. There’d be this big illusion where she turned into a dove or something like that. And then Sarah would magically appear on some nearby rooftop and then curse the residents of Calico before she again disappeared in this huge cloud of smoke.

“And that show was hugely popular with people who went to Haunt. Until 1988, that is. Which is when the pagan community of Orange County reached out to Knott’s and made park management aware that they found the hanging of the Green Witch incredibly offensive,” Ken stated.

Not wanting to makes waves with those who practiced Wicca, the stunt team at Knott’s then began to search for someone else to hang at Haunt. And since this theme park had once had a Gypsy Camp area in the early 1970s … Well, they decided to hang a gypsy at the next year’s Knott’s Scary Farm. Which – as you might expect — then led to the gypsies of Southern California lodging a protest with this theme park.

Copyright 2016 Cedar Fair. All rights reserved

“It was about this time that the Hanging shifted from being something that Knott’s stunt team staged at Haunt to being something that Tom Cluff – who handled entertainment here at the Park back then – took control of. Tom was the one who gradually changed the Hanging from being this dark, atmospheric thing to something that made fun of pop culture. He had control of this Haunt show until 1999. And then I was asked to take it over. And then I had the Hanging from 2000 ’til last year, 2015,” Park said.

And in the 16 years that Parks rode herd of this Haunt favorite, Ken had to deal with some pretty weird requests. Take – for example – what happened just as the 2011 edition of the Hanging was about to open. Which was when Parks got a call from Rebecca Black‘s momanger.

“Now Rebecca lives locally. And this was this year that her song, ‘Friday,’ had gone viral. Anyway, her Mom had somehow gotten wind that we were going to hang Rebecca at the end that year’s Hanging. Which is why Mrs. Black was now calling the park,” Park reminisced. “She said that – while the Black family was not happy with the idea of us hanging Rebecca in effigy at Haunt – they’d be okay with us just killing her as part of our show. Because the Blacks recognized that – by featuring Rebecca in our show … What’s that saying? ‘All publicity is good publicity’ ?”

Viral singing sensation (circa 2011, that is) Rebecca Black

But if Ken honored Mrs. Black’s request and then didn’t hang Rebecca at the close of this Haunt show, who then would fill in for the singer of “Friday” at that year’s Hanging? Parks says that he honestly didn’t stress when it came to this last minute problem.

“All throughout my career, I’ve never fought things like this. Production hiccups that suddenly pop up. I’ve always believed that they bring about happy accidents,” Ken said. “Luckily 2011 was the year when Charlie Sheen had been acting up quite a bit. So what we did with the end of that year’s Hanging was – after Rebecca’s neck had been placed in the noose – we then had Sheen suddenly appear onstage and insist that he’d been a far more annoying celebrity in 2011 than Black had been. Which is why he deserved to be hung far more than she did.”

“With that, Charlie runs up the steps of the gallows. And after he pulls Rebecca out of the noose, he then places the rope around his neck and hangs himself,” Park continued. “Which was a real win-win for us. Because not only did the people at Haunt really love the climax of that year’s Hanging but we’d also managed to make the Black family happy. Rebecca could still be spoofed in our show but the Black family then didn’t have to watch their daughter die onstage.”

Copyright 2016 Cedar Fair. All rights reserved

That’s what Ken loved about all those years he spent working on Halloween Haunt. That most of the celebrities & public figures who met gruesome ends in this Knott’s  Scary Farm show understand that the Hanging is basically (as Parks so accurately describes it) ” … a roast with blood.” Which is why it’s actually kind of an honor for a performer to be skewered (sometimes literally) as part of this satirical seasonal entertainment.

Ryan Seacrest certainly got that idea. Which is why – in 2004 — when Ryan learned that he had been selected to be the celebrity that would be hung at the very end of that year’s Hanging, he actually volunteered to come down to the Park one night and then come onstage to pull the lever. So that Ryan could then hang himself in effigy,” Ken enthused. “And we actually almost made that happen at Haunt. Ryan flew down to Buena Park one night, fully intending to take part in that night’s Hanging. But because there was fog in the area, his helicopter couldn’t safely land at the Park. So he had to turn around and then fly back up to LA.”

These days, since Cedar Fair has kicked Park upstairs, it’s Rob Therman who now rides herd on the Hanging at Knott’s Scary Farm. He’s the one who has to keep track of which sports stars have said and done stupid things. More importantly, decide whether or not these athletes-who’ve-made-asses-of-themselves are still worthy of being mentioned in each year’s show.

Copyright 2016 Cedar Fair. All rights reserved

“That’s the thing about pop culture. It moves so fast these days. And the Hanging has to reflect that. Which is why – even though Rob had written all of these great jokes that referenced the Summer Olympics back in August – he had to start cutting them out of the show in September because these gags had already out-lived their shelf life,” Park stated. “People who come to the Haunt these days expect the Hanging to be both super-funny and super-topical. And Rob and I have to do everything we can to deliver on those expectations.”

Which brings us to perhaps Ken’s proudest moment from the years that he called the shots on the Hanging. It was October 30, 2012. And The Walt Disney Company had – just that morning – revealed that it was acquiring Lucasfilm for $4 billion.

This was obviously huge entertainment news. But given that that year’s edition of Knott’s Scary Farm was just a day away from closing for the season, there was just no way Haunt attendees could realistically expect that the 2011 Hanging could comment on Disney purchasing all of those Star Wars characters, right?

Copyright 2016 Cedar Fair. All rights reserved

“We actually went back into the studio that morning and put together a brand-new song parody. One that sort of sounded like a Disney song medley but featured all of these lyrics that comically referenced Star Wars characters.  Before that night’s performances at Haunt, we quickly rehearsed this new number with our Hanging cast. And then – when they did this Disney-just-bought-Star-Wars number in the show – you should have heard the roar of laughter coming off of Calico Square. The audience at that night’s Haunt couldn’t believe that news that had just broken that morning, that they had just heard about themselves, had already been turned into a song-and-dance spoof,” Parks smiled.

But that sort of instant comic commentary can only happen when you’re dealing with real entertainment professionals. People who know how important it is to sometimes spend an entire year slowly building a list of topics that they can maybe make fun of. Or – better yet – know when it’s entirely appropriate to throw that carefully compiled list right out the window and then go with something silly & spontaneous.

And the list for possible topics to spoof in the 2017 edition of the Hanging at Knott’s Scary Farm gets started first thing tomorrow morning. With – I’m betting – quite a few Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton-related jokes.

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on October 31, 2016

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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