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No foolin’. Here’s a story about that Star Wars-themed dual track coaster which Imagineers thought about building back in the 1980s



Given that April 1st is typically the day when a number of Disney news sites post these elaborate prank stories where they then try & convince a few poor April Fools that their obviously bogus article is legit,  I thought that JHM should go the other way today. In that I'm going to post a story that may sound bogus but is — believe it or not — absolutely true.

Better yet, given all the chatter that there's been out there on various discussion boards around the Web about that Star Wars-related survey which the Disneyland Resort has been sending to various annual passholders, asking for their input …  today's story will actually be kind of newsworthy.

But before we get started here, I need to remind you all how miserable things were for the Mouse back in the early 1980s. During this time, Walt Disney Productions was deliberately trying to reinvent itself. The executives in charge of the Studio at this time had decided that the Mouse Factory needed to stop churning out charmless sequels like "Return from Witch Mountain," "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again " & "Herbie Goes Bananas " and instead start producing far more ambitious films that would then (in theory, anyway) help the Studio broaden its box office appeal. Allow Disney to finally bust out of the family film ghetto, so to speak.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The only problem was that the ticket-buying public just wasn't buying what Disney was trying to sell then back then. Moviegoers turned up their noses at "Midnight Madness ," the Mouse's ham-handed attempt at making a raucous "Animal House " -like comedy aimed at young adults. Likewise adults balked at the idea of buying tickets for "Night Crossing ," Disney's earnest attempt to turn one family's real-life escape from East Germany to West Germany via hot air balloon into an exciting drama.

And you have to understand that — each time Walt Disney Productions served up a cinematic dud — it then had this unfortunate ripple effect on the rest of the company. Which meant that — because the Studio wasn't creating any new characters that the public was actually interested in seeing again — this then made life that much harder for the Imagineers. They didn't have stories or settings that then could then used as fodder for new rides, shows and attractions at the theme parks.

And for the second generation of Imagineers like Tony Baxter, Bruce Gordon and David Mumford, this situation was just intolerable. Largely because — at a time when Walt Disney Productions was serving up stillborn thrillers like "The Watcher in the Woods " — George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were working at the very top of their games. Producing these elaborate effects-filled motion pictures like 1980's "Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back" and 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that featured strong characters, vivid settings and compelling storylines. The sorts of movies that did huge box office because they appealed to a very broad audience. More importantly, the kinds of films that could easily be translated into popular theme park attractions.

Copyright 20th Century Fox Ltd. All rights reserved

It was during this period that the Imagineers approached Ron Miller, the then-CEO of Walt Disney Productions and told Walt's son-in-law that it was time to think outside the box. That if the Studio was now incapable of making sorts of movies that could then serve as the inspiration for new rides, shows and attractions for the parks, perhaps it was time that Disney now reach out to the filmmakers who were actually making those sorts of movies. And then see if it were possible for Walt Disney Productions to snag the theme park rights to said productions.

And to Ron Miller's credit, he did see the wisdom of what the guys from WED were saying. So in 1983, he arranged a meeting with George Lucas. Lucas actually drove down from Skywalker Ranch and then had dinner with Ron and his wife Diane Disney Miller at Silverado Vineyards, the Disney family winery in Napa Valley.

Luckily, it turned out that George was a life-long Disneyland fan. The then-11 year-old Lucas and his family had actually visited the Happiest Place on Earth on July 19, 1955, the second day that this theme park was open to the public. And the Lucases had been so impressed with what they saw on that initial visit to the park that they then began making annual treks down to Anaheim. Just so the Lucases could then be among the first to experience the latest wonder that Walt had just installed at Disneyland.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So to now be approached by Walt Disney Productions and be asked if it would be okay if the Imagineers could use some of  his Star Wars characters to help create new rides, shows and attractions for the parks was kind of a dream come true for Lucas. So right after George gave his blessing to Ron, the Imagineers then became knocking around ideas about how exactly they could fold these characters who lived " … a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away" into the Happiest Place on Earth.

Because — believe it or not — the first idea that the Wizards of WED came up with during this project's Blue Sky phase wasn't "Star Tours" (or — as this flight simulator-based attraction was known during a particularly unfortunate period of its development, "Star Bus"). But rather an indoor steel roller coaster.

Which — when you take into consideration the time when the Imagineers initially started working on this Star-Wars-in-the-Disney-theme-parks project — only makes sense. After all, the most popular attractions that had been built for the parks in the previous 10 years had been heavily themed coasters like Space Mountain (the WDW version of this indoor coaster opened in January 1975, the Disneyland version in May of 1977) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (the Disneyland version of this outdoor coaster opened in September of 1979, the WDW version opened in November of 1980). So doing some initial exploration of possibly trying to tell the Star Wars story in coaster form seemed like a fairly logical way for WED to go at this very early phase of the project.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

But as David Mumford revealed during a talk that he gave at the National Fantasy Fan Club's annual convention in July of 1988, what the Imagineers had originally hoped to do with this Star Wars-themed coaster was to significantly step up their game. Create an attraction that Guests would have to ride at least twice in order to experience all of its show elements.

Here (according to Mumford, anyway) was this proposed indoor attraction's key gimmick: After your coaster car left the load / unload area, it would proceed to the lift hill. And as your car proceeded up this lift hill, to the left & the right side of the coaster track, two holograms would suddenly appear. One would be of Yoda,  who would appeal to you to follow the ways of the Force. While the other hologram would be of Emperor Palpatine, Dark Lord of the Sith. Who'd then try to seduce everyone who was riding in this particular coaster car over to the Dark Side.

Now where this gets interesting is that — much in the same that Epcot's "Horizons" pavilion used to feature a choose-your-own-ending finale (i.e. diving beneath the water and then journeying to the Sea Castle research station deep beneath the ocean, flying a hovercraft across the desert to the Mesa Verde agricultural station, or blasting off into space and then piloting a probe to the Brava Centauri space station) — each seat in this Star War-themed coaster was to have featured a light-up panel where the Guest could then vote on what they wanted their ride experience to be.

In kind of an ironic bend on this story, there used to be a spot in
the queue area for the Tokyo Disneyland version of Star Tours
where you could watch all three of the ride films that the
Imagineers had created for "Horizons" choose-your
finale sequence

And if the majority of the riders decided that they wanted to go to the Dark Side, then their coaster would take a track that would zoom them past show scenes which featured close encounters with Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader. If — on the other hand — if the majority of the riders in this coaster car wanted to follow the ways of the Jedi, this coaster would then connect with an entirely different track at the top of that lift hill. One which would then have sent these Guests whizzing by show scenes which featured Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia.

That sounds like a neat idea, don't you think? According to David Mumford, George Lucas thought so as well. The only problem was … Well, no one had ever built a coaster like this before. Where — at the top of the lift hill — the track would then have to have a switch assembly that could safely & seamlessly shift cars full of people from the Dark Side over to the way of the Jedi over & over again. 365 days a year, sometimes for as long as 18 hours a day.

As Mumford told those attendees at that NFFC convention back in July of 1998, WED's engineers figured that it would take them upwards of 5 years to first design, build and then safety test the sort of track switching mechanism that was crucial for this Star Wars-themed, choose-your-own-path coaster. And given how competitive the Southern Californian market was when it came to thrill rides (i.e. the assortment of killer coasters that could already be found at Knott's Berry Farm & Six Flags Magic Mountain), the Imagineers felt that they really didn't have the time to waste on developing a coaster-based project like this that might — in the end — ultimately not pan out.

Six Flags Magic Mountain and its mad collection of coasters

So the Wizards of WED then began exploring other options when it came to bringing the Star Wars characters into the parks. Then someone had the very bright of taking that Rediffusion flight simulator technology which the Imagineers had already been checking out and then possibly using that ride platform as a way to tell a story which was set " … in a galaxy far far away." And it was this you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter moment that eventually led to the creation of "Star Tours" as we know it today.

Anyway … I brought up that Star Wars-themed dual track coaster today because … Well, the way I hear it, the Imagineers are investigating all sort of ideas right now as they look for new ways to bring George Lucas' characters & the storylines that he helped create into the Disney theme parks. And as they dig down into WDI's files, they're undoubtedly going to come across this Blue Sky concept that David Mumford described to those NFFC members back in July of 1988. And an idea that seemed impractical or damn near impossible back in 1983 might actually be downright doable in 2013.

Again, just to reiterate, folks: This isn't an April Fool's joke. This was indeed a Star Wars-based ride idea that Walt Disney Imagineering toyed with (albeit briefly) in the early 1980s. And given that survey which Disney Parks & Resorts sent out to annual passholders last month, asking what sort of Star Wars-themed lands, rides, shows, and attractions (more importantly, how many Star Wars-themed rides, shows and attractions they'd like to see in each of these lands) … Well, I just wonder if this dual track roller coaster might now make it out of the filing cabinet and back onto WDI's drawing board.

Quick size comparison between the show buildings for DHS' Rock n Roller Coaster
and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Mind you, were Disney to actually build this indoor thrill ride, we'd be talking about a genuinely massive show building, people. Something twice the size of DHS' Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. But given that this attraction would be able to celebrate both sides of the Star Wars saga, you have to admit that it would be a pretty neat addition to the parks.

So what do you folks think? No fooling now. Would you like the Imagineers to maybe circle back on this particular Star Wars-related ride concept?

Your thoughts?

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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