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Little Known Facts about the Foreign Magic Kingdoms

Andrea “Mickeyfantasmic” Monti returns with a potpourri piece about the Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disney Resorts, highlighting some of the lesser known aspects of these resorts and their theme parks.



Up for a little Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland trivia? Well, then, let me share some of the stories that I’ve heard over the years about these two Magic Kingdoms:

A Trolley Tale
Many of you JHM readers probably already know about Eddie Sotto’s first concept for the Main Street USA area at Disneyland Paris. Where the theming for that part of the theme park wasn’t going to be turn-of-the-century America. But — rather — the United States circa 1925, at the height of the Jazz Age. So Main Street was going to be loaded with flappers, gangsters and speakeasies. Not to mention its very own elevated rail line.

So why didn’t this version of Main Street USA ever get built? Well, while this theme park was still in its development phase, Disney CEO Michael Eisner supposedly caught a rerun of “The Untouchables.” And after learning about how brutal gangsters supposedly really were during this era in American history, the Mouse House’s Big Cheese decided that characters that behaved like that really didn’t belong in a Disney theme park. Which is why Eisner ordered the Imagineers to roll Main Street’s odometer back to where it used to be: turn-of-the-century America.

Of course, now the time period for this part of the park had been shifted back 25 years, an elevated train line really didn’t fit in this timeline. Which is why Main Street USA’s overhead trolley got dropped in favor of the old fashioned horse-drawn trolley that had been featured in all of the other Magic Kingdoms.

Still, the Imagineers wouldn’t give up on their idea of recreating a vintage overhead rail system inside of a Disney theme park. So — when design work began on the American Waterfront section of Tokyo DisneySea — guess what design component was followed into this part of the park almost immediately? You guessed it: An elevated train line.

Thankfully, this time around, this particular ride idea didn’t get cut out or downsized as TDS went through its design permeations. Which is why — every day — visitors to this theme can enjoy a trip from Port Discovery to the Americant waterfront aboard an elevated electric trolley. All because the Imagineers refused to give up on this idea. And — by hook or by crook — they were going to eventually get a recreation of this turn-of-the-20th century transportation built in one of the Disney theme parks.

Sharing Sky Rockets
The Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Seas theme parks are so close together that they actually share a fireworks display. Over on the TDL side of the resort, “Fantasy in the Sky” features its standard soundtrack. But given that this nightly fireworks display can also be seen from inside TDS, the Imagineers opted to come with a unique solution to this situation. Rather than pipe TDL’s “Fantasy in the Sky” soundtrack into TDS (and potentially impact the story telling in that theme park), they created an entirely different soundtrack for this fireworks display.

The TDS version of “Fantasy in the Sky” is called “Buona Sera Serenade.” As TDR guests gather in the Mediterranean Harbour area, the fireworks show that they’re watching is synced up to a melody that features the Tokyo DisneySea theme, “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid,” “Arabian Nights” from “Aladdin” as well as John Williams’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark” march.

So that’s two shows really for the price of one. And — just in case you’re wondering — TDR’s nightly fireworks display are actually fired off from the roof of the Oriental Land Company (the Japanese land management firm that actually owns and operates the Tokyo Disney Resort)’s back stage offices.

One attraction. Four different theme parks. Four different locations.
Talk about your restless spirits! “The Haunted Mansion” is the only attraction to be found in a different land in each of the Disney theme parks worldwide. The original mansion is located in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square area, while WDW’s version is located in Liberty Square. Meanwhile, over in Tokyo Disneyland, that park’s Haunted Mansion is found in Fantasyland. And DLP’s “Phantom Manor” was built at the outermost edges of that theme park’s Frontierland area.

And – if the Imagineers have their way – Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” will continue its wandering ways. For — among the many ideas that are currently being considered for “Phase II” of Hong Kong Disneyland’s construction — is putting a jungle-themed “Haunted Mansion” into that park’s Adventureland section. Which (in theory) would give Hong Kong tourists a reason to return HKDL in 2010 (which is about when this proposed “E Ticket” attraction would be going on line at that theme park).

So — since there’s a “Haunted Mansion” in New Orleans Square, Liberty Square, Frontierland and Fantasyland (and one supposed on the way for HKDL’s Adventureland section) — how soon will it be ’til we see a ghost-based attraction popping up in Tomorrowland? Well according to some of the wags at WDI: Given the large number of attractions that are already closed in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland area, technically this section of this Anaheim theme park already qualifies to be a ghost town. (I’m kidding. Just kidding.)

Really putting yourself into your work
Eddie Sotto, WDI’s lead designer on the Main Street USA section of Disneyland Paris, really wanted to “be part of the magic” in that theme park. “How badly did Eddie want to be ‘part of the magic’ in that theme park?” you ask. Well, Sotto’s voice can be heard as part of the Main Street soundtrack. Those weird little bits of dialogue you hear floating out windows as you wander up the street.

Eddie can be heard as the dentist who seems to be accidentally torturing his patient, the barking dog as well as one of the people talking on the party line. Over in DLP’s Frontierland section, it’s Sotto’s voice you hear in the pre-boarding spiel for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (I.E. “Howdy folks!”).

Mind you, Tokyo Disneyland guests also get to hear Eddie’s golden tones. For he helped provide crowd noises for that theme park’s new “Enchanted Tiki Room” show, “It’s hot-hot-hot!”

Or — if you’d prefer to see Mr. Sotto, rather than eyeballing Eddie — you can see this ubiquitous former Imagineer in the “Star Tours” pre-boarding video (He’s the guy who’s seated next to Chewbacca). Sotto also makes an appearance in the “Space Mountain” pre-boarding video which can be seen at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

That Eddie. He really gets around, doesn’t he?

Will you guys please make up your minds?
Back in the 1960s, when the Imagineers were originally designing Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion,” they had to get guests from ground level down to 20 or so feet underground. So that these Disneyland visitors could then walk along a tunnel that would take them under the railroad tracks that circle the entire theme park. Whereupon they’d actually be inside of the massive “Haunted Mansion” show building and could begin the ride proper.

In order to do this, the wizards at WED overlaid some weird story elements on top of a somewhat standard elevator. And — Presto Changeo! — what once was an operational necessity became one of the real highlights of the attraction: the Stretching Room.

Of course, given that Disneyland guests had responded so positively to the Stretching Room section of that theme park’s “Haunted Mansion” attraction, the second version (which the Imagineers were prepping for installation at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom) had to have one too. The only problem was … Florida’s version of the “Haunted Mansion” didn’t need to take its guests underground in order to safely transfer them to the attraction’s main show building. The Imagineers had plenty of room to work with in Central Florida. More to the point, given that the theme park was basically being built on top of swampland, the theme park’s construction crew wanted to build everything as high about the groundwater line as they could.

But — given that they really wanted to keep this story moment as part of WDW’s “Haunted Mansion” — the guys from WDI came up with a unique fix. Instead of riding in an elevator that was actually going down, Disney World visitors would remain where they were standing. While all around them, the ceiling and the walls would slow move up, recreating the look and feel of Disneyland’s memorable Stretching Room sequence without the need to really lower the room.

Of course, given that Tokyo Disneyland opted to have a recreation of WDW’s “Haunted Mansion” built as part of that theme park, guests in that Stretching Room don’t actually go anywhere. They just stand still as the room slowly deforms around them.

Whereas — in the case of Disneyland Paris’ “Phantom Manor” — it was Anaheim all over again. The Imagineers had to get DLP guests down below ground so that the Disneyland Paris Railroad could safely pass overhead. Which is why this theme park used an elevator to lower visitors to the tunnel that will take them directly to the main show building for DLP’s “Phantom Manor.”

So — for those of you who are keeping count — that’s two versions of Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion” that actually feature elevators in their Stretching Rooms and two versions of the attraction that do not.

Of course, just to be contrary, I bet if the Imagineers actually do go forward with construction of an Adventureland-themed “Haunted Mansion” for Hong Kong Disneyland that they’ll use some combination of a working elevator and slow rising walls to drive the illusions in that version of the attraction’s Stretching Room.

Only — in this incarnation of this venerable Disney them park attraction — the walls of the Mansion will expand outward, instead of upward. You know those Imagineers. Always trying to play with our minds.

Club 33 – Version 2.0
I’m sure that a lot of you Disneyana fans dream of the day that you’ll be allowed to dine at Disneyland’s Club 33, that oh-so-exclusive restaurant that’s located upstairs in the park’s New Orleans Square section. Of course, the only way that you’re ever allowed to dine at this hoity-toity establishment is if you’re a member or a guest of a member. Which is why so many of us spend time (whenever we’re visiting the Anaheim theme park) staring longingly at the restaurant’s understated entrance (Which is located — not-so-surprisingly — at 33 Royal Street).

If it’s any consolation, it’s not just stateside Disneyana fans who are feeling deprived at not being able to gain access to this elegant & exclusive eatry. For Tokyo Disneyland too has its own Club 33 (Which is located at 33 Centre Street in the World Bazaar section of that theme park). And — just like the Anaheim original — it features the same sort of understated décor and top-notch service.

The only real difference between the Anaheim & Tokyo versions of Club 33 is that the floor plan of the Japanese eatery features many more private little function rooms. Which — given that TDL’s Club 33 is a favorite spot for Japanese businessmen to take clients that they’re trying to impress — just makes sense. By dining in a small group in one of the restaurant’s smaller function rooms, these Japanese businessmen can impress their clients with the restaurant’s excellent service and exquisite décor without having to worry about who might be listening in on their potentially delicate negotiations.

Do you look like Tarzan? Well, if so, how would you like a ticket to Tokyo?
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia at the Tokyo Disney Resort: Only non Japanese performers are allowed to play face characters in TDR’s theme parks. By that I mean, characters that are usually portrayed in Disney’s theme parks by performers who are NOT wearing masks. Your Snow Whites, your Cinderellas, Your Pocahontases, Prince Erics and Tarzans.

This translate into an unusual career opportunity for Disney cast members who are working at the Anaheim theme parks, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris. For the Tokyo Disney Resort always seems to be recruiting attractive performers to portray face characters at both of their theme parks.

On the other hand, the “zoo crew” positions (I.E. Disney characters who are portrayed in the theme parks by performers dressed in full body costumes) are usually played by Japanese cast members. Who are just as gifted as their American and European counter-parts when it comes to playing Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, etc.

Disney Deja Vu
Everyone knows that Disneyland Paris wasn’t exactly a smashing success when it first opened in April 1992. But how many of you realize that Tokyo Disneyland had similar attendance problem when Disney’s first overseas theme park initially opened in April 1983?

Strange but true, folks. But — during its first year of operation — Tokyo Disneyland appears to be on the brink of becoming a massive failure. All because the citizens of Japan refused to initially embrace the idea of “a Disneyland for the Japanese.”

It took until 1986, when TDL opted to relaunch the theme park with a brand new marketing campaign, which reportedly gave Japanese tourists the impression that visiting Tokyo Disneyland was just like taking “a trip to the USA,” before things finally began to turn around.

This new way of marketing the theme park was obviously a roaring success. Even today, the lingering effects of that “Just like a trip to the USA” ad campaign can still be felt. Particularly on the retail side of things, where Japanese tourists still purchase TDL souvenirs to give their friends and neighbors upon their return home from the theme park. Which is just what they’d do if they’d actually made a trip overseas.

Well, that’s enough Disney trivia for today. Here’s hoping that you enjoyed these stories about Tokyo Disney and the Disneyland Paris resorts. And that you’ll now be able to see these resorts and their theme parks through different eyes.

Until next time, “ciao, ciao!”


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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