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Let’s do the Time Warp again… and again… and again…

JHM columnist Seth Kubersky returns the planet Transsexual (in the galaxy of Transylvania) with a report on the bi-monthly (Bi? How appropriate) screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Loews Universal Cineplex at Universal’s CityWalk.



I would like, if I may, to tell you about my favorite Orlando theme park attraction.

It’s a certified classic, having endured for over 25 years. It’s no longer the hot new thing, and some elements are charmingly dated, but it continues to draw new fans. Legions of long-time admirers extol its eye-popping production design, unforgettable music, and even its uplifting message. While it is nominally a “scary” experience, it is actually a safe way for people to confront certain fears, and many adult fans delight in introducing their children to it. You can experience it hundreds of times and still find new details to love.

You know the attraction I’m talking about?

This is an attraction that broke new ground by combining film with in-theater special effects in a way that had never been seen before. Guests experience water, smoke, and other surprises that bring the action off the screen in delightfully unexpected ways.

You know the attraction I’m talking about?

This show, which can be found at Universal Orlando, mixes film and physical effects with live actors in a way that had never been attempted before. Live actors, performing in front of a movie screen, interact seamlessly with characters on screen. A character rides out on stage on a motorcycle. The actors even run through the theater, providing the audience with a unique in-your-face experience.

You know the attraction I’m talking about?

Of course, I’m not talking about “It’s A Small World” or “The Haunted Mansion.” I’m not talking about “MuppetVision 4D” or “Honey I Shrunk the Audience.” I’m not even talking about “Terminator 2: 3D.”

I’m talking about that enduring cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Every second and fourth weekend of the month, the Loews Universal Cineplex at Universal’s CityWalk plays host to a convention of sweet transvestites from the planet Transsexual (in the galaxy of Transylvania). An average crowd of over 100 joins a live cast of performers for midnight celebrations of the original audience participation experience.

This phenomenon began life in 1973 as “The Rocky Horror Show,” a no-budget rock musical written by former “Hair” cast member Richard O’Brien, and performed in London’s miniscule Theater Upstairs. The show is a giddy Frankenstein of sci-fi B-movie schlock, sexual fetishism, and the Wizard of Oz. The original production starred Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, the cross-dressing mad scientist, a role he will forever be identified with. The show was an enormous success, transferring to larger houses and running for years. A successful Los Angeles production followed, as did a disastrous attempt at Broadway.

Finally, 20th Century Fox released a film version in 1975. The film starred most of the original London cast, including Curry and O’Brien. Joining the cast were Americans Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Meatloaf. Despite the popularity of the stage play, and the close involvement of the original creative team, the film was a spectacular failure. Assaulted by the critics and ignored at the box office, the film should have quickly disappeared into obscurity.


A small number of theaters, most notably the Waverly in New York’s Greenwich Village, held the film over for midnight showings. Theater managers noticed that, while the audiences were small, they were comprised of the same people who came to see the film over and over. Little by little, these “cultists” developed rituals around the film. People started spontaneously dressing up as their favorite characters and singing along with the soundtrack. The use of props also developed organically, as audience members starting bringing newspapers, rice, and toast to imitate the characters on screen. One night, a schoolteacher in the audience saw Janet (Susan Sarandon) place a newspaper over her head during the rainstorm scene. He shouted, “buy an umbrella, you cheap ***” at the screen, and the audience callback line was born.

By the end of the 1970s, the Rocky Horror cult had spread across the country, and had developed into an elaborate and decadent spectacle. Pre-show performances, involving comedy and musical skits, were added to performances. “Shadow casts” of actors in screen-accurate costume and makeup started performing, first before the film and then in front of the screen during the show, mimicking and commenting on the action in the film. A vast liturgy of callback lines and audience participation gags developed, with each theater having their own individual rituals. By the time the Rocky Horror phenomenon peaked in the early 80’s, it had been featured prominently in mainstream media (Time, Newsweek, the movie “Fame”) and was a permanent fixture in pop-culture consciousness.

Although Rocky Horror is not as popular as it was 2 decades ago, it still has tens of thousands of fans around the world. In the US alone, there are 62 theaters showing the film on a regular basis, and dozens more screen it every Halloween. There was a successful revival of the stage play on Broadway in 2000, and rumors swirl of a Fox TV remake of the film for the 30th anniversary. In Europe a successful production of the original stage play continues to tour. Fans from around the world read fanzines, exchange thoughts on Internet newsgroups, and attend conventions. And every other week it seems VH1 airs a special on it, bringing in more new fans.

What makes this show endure while other pop-culture fads flame out and vanish? For one, the music. The play was one of the first (and perhaps the last) true rock-and-roll musicals, as opposed to watered-down theater pop. Elvis, Keith Moon, and Mick Jagger were all fans of the original show, and the music continues to resonate. Another reason is the production design, which combines styles from the 20’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 70’s in a way that is both nostalgic and timeless. Sue Blaine’s costume designs, featuring torn fishnets and platform heels, had a major founding influence on the punk movement. Rocky Horror was an important factor in making the clothing and makeup of an underground subculture into a mainstream aesthetic, as can be seen today by a visit to the “Hot Topic” in your local mall.

But the thing that makes Rocky Horror endure is its message, as embodied in the lyric “Don’t Dream It, Be It.” Long before “*** Eye for the Straight Guy”, Rocky Horror made the blurring of gender and sexuality mainstream. Rocky Horror preaches acceptance of all, no matter what their persuasion or perversion. Beyond sexual politics, the show ridicules all creeds and cultures equally, leaving no sacred cow unslaughtered. This equal opportunity ethos extends to our live performances, which cast without regard for race or gender. Many a young person, uncertain of their place in society, has found a family in Rocky Horror.

My own story is typical. My first encounter with Rocky Horror (other than an unsatisfying viewing on VHS) came during my freshman year of college. I went for the reason that most guys wind up doing things — my girlfriend wanted to go. I was instantly hooked, and as a frustrated theater student at a fairly conservative school, Rocky Horror was a perfect creative outlet. I stuck with Rocky through college, and when I moved to Orlando after graduation I helped start a show at a run-down local theater. It was a great escape from the pressures of working at Universal, and we were very successful for a time. Eventually, that cast fell apart, and I drifted away from Rocky Horror for a time.

Then, in 2001, the management at the Loews Cineplex at Universal expressed interest in reviving Rocky Horror, which had not been screening in Orlando for a few years. Through my contacts made as a Universal employee, I helped organize a small Rocky Horror convention at the theater. We were ill fated to hold the convention only weeks after 9/11, but still had several hundred fans attend. This led to regular performances, first on a monthly basis, then bi-monthly. Our cast, the “Rich Weirdoes”, has now been performing at Universal for well over a year, with four regularly scheduled performances each month, and our audience continues to grow week-to-week.

What will you experience if you attend a performance of Rocky Horror at Universal? As you approach the theater, you may see a knot of costumed characters entreating passing CityWalk patrons to enter. After buying your ticket (and a beer, if you like), you’ll find a crowd of fans in the lobby, many in costume, and cast member selling “prop bags”. These audience participation kits contain everything you’ll need to join in the fun, including rice, newspaper, confetti, and more, along with instructions on how to use them. Inside the theater, the cast prepares the stage while punk-rock covers of the movie soundtrack play over the sound system.

At the stroke of midnight, the pre-show entertainment begins. Your MC for the evening may be a scantily clad dominatrix, a drag queen, or something truly bizarre. The house rules will be explained (no lighters, no water guns, stay out of the aisles) and anyone thinking they’ve wandered into a PG-rated production will be warned to escape while they still can. Depending on the night, you may be treated to a lip-synched dance routine or a live musical number. The heart of the pre-show is the “de-virginizing”, where first-time audience members are initiated into the cult in an embarrassing (but harmless) ritual. If you are a virgin, don’t try to hide, because we will find you and hunt you down!

Finally, at the end of the pre-show, the entire audience gives the projectionist the finger, and the film can begin. The actual show is a blend of a movie, a play, and sheer anarchy. A full cast of live actors, in costume and makeup identical to the screen characters, act out the show in front of the screen. This elaborate pantomime is both a loving homage to the film and a sly satire of it, and involves elaborate props, special effects, lighting, and sight gags. The actors sometimes leave the stage and perform in among the audience, literally bringing the show into their laps. At the same time, cast members planted in the audience lead the crowd in shouting callback lines and throwing props. The overall effect is one of barely controlled chaos. By the end of the night the theater is a mess, the audience goes home happy, and the cast goes home exhausted.

It’s a great honor to be able to perform this show at Universal. The Loews Cineplex is one of the most beautiful theaters in Orlando, and the theater management is more accommodating of the show than any I’ve worked with. But just imagine if there was a true merger of Rocky Horror and theme park entertainment? The influence of Rocky Horror can be seen in a number of theme park attractions, most notably MuppetVision and Terminator. What if the theme parks returned the favor? What if there was a Rocky Horror theme park attraction?

Just imagine…

The year is 2009, and Universal opens its long-awaited 3rd theme park. Built on a portion of the property Universal purchased from Lockheed-Martin, it is a year-round horror themed park.

There is the “Classic Monsters” section, with a “Dracula’s Castle” roller coaster and a “House of Frankenstein” walk-through attraction.

There is the “Modern Masterpieces” area, featuring a 3-D movie based on “The Ring” and an E-ticket ride through Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong.”

And then there is my favorite section, a land dedicated to “Cult Favorites.” There is the “Army of Darkness” stunt show, and a “Dawn of the Dead” ride-through interactive shooting gallery. And the centerpiece — “The Rocky Horror Experience.”

Guests enter the façade of a decrepit movie theater, patterned after New York’s Waverly. It is minutes before midnight on a Friday during the height of Rocky Horror’s popularity, and the theater is buzzing with excitement. The queue winds through the theater lobby, decorated with B-movie posters that magically transform into video screens, showing clips from Rocky Horror history.

An usher guides you into the theater auditorium, once opulent but now threadbare. The velvet curtains part and the film begins with an up-tempo rendition of “Science Fiction Double Feature.” The iconic singing red lips are superimposed over clips from the sci-fi and horror classics mentioned in the song.

Next, Brad and Janet appear on screen, enacting the post-wedding scene from the beginning of the play. Magically, they step through the screen and appear as flesh-and-blood actors in front of the audience. They perform an edited version of the song “Dammit Janet”, and then disappear as the Narrator appears on screen. The narrator, perhaps played by Tim Curry himself, sets up the story of Brad and Janet, a newly engaged couple out for a drive on a dark, stormy, night. With a flash of lightning, the screen disappears, and the rainy country road on screen has become a real environment.

The audience rises out of their seats and steps into the film. The winding path through the woods passes Brad and Janet’s abandoned car, though an ominous gate with a sign warning “Enter At Your Own Risk!” and up to the doorstep of a gothic castle.

Guests enter the castle lobby, styled to look identical to the one in the movie. At the appointed time, the coffin-shaped grandfather clock in the corner begins to chime, and an actor portraying the butler Riff Raff enters. He sings the first verse of the “Time Warp” and at the chorus leads the guests into the castle ballroom.

What follows is a 12 minute digest of the remainder of the show, performed with a combination of live actors, animatronics, video projection, and special effects. The audience becomes Brad and Janet, witnessing the arrival of Dr. Frank N. Furter to the song “Sweet Transvestite,” and the spectacular birth of his creation, Rock Horror. Eddie arrives on a motorcycle to sing “Hot Patootie”, and the wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott smashes through wall. In the end, Riff Raff returns to destroy Frank and his creation, warning the guests to leave before he beams the entire castle back to their home planet. As the castle collapses around them, guests escape into the inevitable gift shop to the strains of “Superheroes” and “Science Fiction Double Feature Reprise.”

Obviously, this is a blue-sky proposal that could never exist. Not even Universal, known for its PG-13 attractions, would push the envelope this far. But we can dream, and Rocky Horror is all about dreams and fantasies. So, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to go get my fishnets pressed. After all — in just seven days — it’ll be time once more to “… take a jump to the left, and a step to the right.”

For more information on Rocky Horror at Universal Orlando, please visit

Seth Kubersky

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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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