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One Day Out of the Year: A Visit to the Magical Holiday Faire

Have you always wondered what it might be like to visit the Disney lot in Burbank? Well, now you can find out — thanks to this excellent article by JHM guest columnist Paul Schnebelen.



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Hey, folks!

Jim Hill here. You know, I was lucky enough to actually be out in Southern California in late November / early December a few years back. Which is how I was able to attend one of these “Magical Holiday Faire” events on the Disney lot. That’s how I know that today’s JHM guest columnist — Paul Schnebelen– has done a spot-on job of capturing the exact look and the feel of the event. This is what it’s really like when you take part in the “Magical Holiday Faire” at the Burbank. Thanks, Paul, for providing such detailed coverage of this fun event.

Enjoy, jrh


It’s the place where classic Disney films and TV shows were made – from cartoons to animated and live action features, from “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “Zorro” to “Home Improvement.” It’s the place where a little train was built in a machine shop, which led to bigger trains and a steamboat and a few other things being built and installed in a former orange grove in Anaheim. It’s the dream factory that Walt (and Roy, Ward, Frank, Ollie, Marc, and others) built, and it’s where Michael (and Bob and another Roy) run the global entertainment empire that the dream factory became.

It’s the Walt Disney Studios — not the theme park re-creations in Paris or Orlando, but the actual honest-to-(Peg Leg) Pete Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California — and unless you’ve got connections, you work on the lot, or you are given (or buy yourself) an opportunity to visit, you can’t go there.

Except for one day a year, that is.

Many years ago, the Walt Disney Studios decided to host a Christmas craft fair for its employees on the lot. It was nothing fancy, just a chance for the employees to do a little Christmas shopping and a chance for some craftsmen to sell a few handmade items. The craft fair kept getting bigger and bigger, and eventually the Studios decided to open it to the public, add a few fun little extras, and charge a small admission fee, and the employee craft fair became the Magical Holiday Faire. The Faire is held every November just before Thanksgiving and always manages to attract quite a crowd — an amazingly large crowd, considering that Disney doesn’t advertise it or promote it to anyone other than its’ employees.

Now, I must admit I’m not a big fan of craft fairs. My fiancée practically has to drag me kicking and screaming to these things most of the time, and when we get there, I usually try to find a nice quiet place to hide until she has some shopping bags for me to carry. But when the craft fair is being held at the Walt Disney Studios… “What’s that, honey, you can’t make it? No problem — I’ll go for you and see what they have.”

About a quarter of the Studio lot is opened to the public for the Faire — the parking lot (where the craft booths are located) and the center of the original Studio campus. This is an area roughly bordered by the original Animation Building to the north, the parking lot to the south, the Shorts Building and Sound Stages 1, 2, 4 and 5 to the east, and the Commissary to the west. In years past, you could also visit the Legends Plaza, home to a giant version of the Disney Legends Award and plaques commemorating the winners of that award; you could also have a look at the exteriors of the Team Disney Building (home to the Company’s executive offices) and the Frank G. Wells Building (home of the Disney Archives). These areas are fenced off nowadays; guess that with all the troubles the Company’s been having lately, Michael’s afraid that the stockholders are going to use the Faire as an excuse to gain access to the lot and storm his office or something.

But why dwell on what you can’t see when you consider what you can see? You can sit on the steps of the Animation Building and imagine being an animator going off to work on a classic feature. You can walk to the corner of Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive and admire the famous Art Deco street sign, then take a gander at Pluto’s Corner, where Pluto’s paw prints are imbedded in the cement and a nice little fire hydrant awaits nearby (available exclusively for the star’s use, I guess?). Although you can’t visit the Legends Plaza, you can have a look at the handprints of many of the Legends in the sidewalk in front of the studio theatre.

You can have a look at the Hyperion Building, the only structure remaining from the 1930’s, when the Studio was located a few miles south of its present location. You can even stop in and have a look at the Art Deco-inspired design and the historical photographs of the Commissary. Not up to speed on your Disney history? If you look closely at the buildings and soundstages as you pass, you can see and read plaques commemorating the significant events in Company history that have occurred in each of these buildings.

If you’re not into reading plaques and don’t feel like buying arts and crafts, not to worry — there are a lot of other things to do at the Faire. For example, the Burbank Fire Department has a fire safety display across from the entrance to the Commissary, and the Studio Fire Department also put out some fire-fighting gear and a little electric “fire cart” for little kids (and not-so-little kids) to be photographed in. In one of the side patios of the Commissary is a kids’ activity center, where the young’uns can decorate holiday cookies, color, or write letters to Santa.

If you’re a few years too old to color or are looking for a little more to eat than a cookie, the Commissary is open to the public during the Faire, serving a limited but delicious menu (fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, corn dogs and fries, sandwiches, and Chinese food from Panda Express). Just grab a tray, get yourself some lunch, and have a look around while you pretend you’re a star having a quick bite to eat before you’re due back on the set.

Disney also sets up couple of food booths in the craft fair area and on the walkways, selling hot dog and potato chip lunches, kettle corn, popcorn, and (my personal favorite) chocolate-covered frozen cheesecake. Never had the pleasure of this treat? Here’s how it’s made — take one frozen slice of cheesecake, put a stick in it, dip it in chocolate, and then cover it in sprinkles, nuts, or candy pieces (or in my case, all of the above). I’m glad they don’t sell them at Disneyland — I’d probably have half a dozen of them over the course of a hot summer day.

After you’ve stuffed yourself with lunch and treats, why not catch a movie? The studio Theatre usually screens a film during the Faire; this year, the Theatre presented free screenings of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. As you might expect, a theatre on a movie studio lot is an excellent place to watch a movie! Most of the seats in the theatre are soft and plush and they recline; they’re comfortable enough to fall asleep in, and I saw several people do just that before the movie started.

In the center of the theatre is a roped-off working area; this consists of gigantic mixing boards used for preparing the soundtrack, a row of work desks used by production staff as they work on assembling the movie, and two ultra-plush leather sofas that make the merely plush regular seats look as appealing to sit on as wooden benches. These are the seats the producers, stars, and Michael and the execs get to use when they screen dailies and completed films. And there’s no multiplex mini-screen and tinny sound system at this theatre, folks; the movie screen is as large as life and the first-class sound system made the music sound as good as it did on the recording stage. Michael, if you’re reading this, I’m available the next time you screen a movie there — I’ll even bring the popcorn.

What Disney event would be complete without the chance to take photos with the characters?

There was one location specifically set up for photos with Mickey and Minnie in their pilgrim costumes; if you didn’t have a camera, the Faire volunteers were available to take a free Polaroid photo. Needless to say, only one photo location and the offer of a free photo with Mr. or Ms. Mouse helped make the line pretty long, but you could also catch one or the other of our stars on their way backstage after they traded off duties at the photo location. Pluto, wearing reindeer antlers and sporting a red nose, was holding court at Pluto’s Corner (unfortunately, you had to provide your own camera for a photo with him). Santa and a couple of (real) reindeer were also at the Faire, meeting a long line of kids on the porch of the Hyperion Building. A 5×7 photo with Santa could be purchased for $12, but if the kids just wanted to talk with ol’ Saint Nick they could do so without Mom and Dad having to purchase a photo.

Let’s face it, a Disney event just isn’t a Disney event unless there’s stuff to buy, and in addition to the arts and crafts, there was some official Faire merchandise available for purchase. Problem was, there wasn’t a lot of it. The cheapest commemorative item at this year’s Faire (and apparently the most popular, since they sold out in about 20 minutes) was a $3 pin featuring the event logo (Santa with Mickey and Donald on his lap, surrounded by his naughty and nice list).

Sweatshirts with the logo were also available for $14 for kids and $18-19 for adults. The purchasing method for the sweatshirts was fairly painless – fill out an order form, try on one of the blank display sweatshirts on for size if you’re not sure what size you take, exchange the form for your sweatshirt, and pay at the register. Unfortunately, the pins and sweatshirts were all that was available. In the past, commemorative watches were offered. But not this year, and if you wanted a T-shirt (which you might get a little more use out of in sunny Southern California than a sweatshirt), you were out of luck.

A couple of other locations offered non-commemorative Disney items to Faire visitors. Commissary sold commuter mugs featuring a quote from Walt on environmental awareness and a couple of photos of him for $2.50, which included the drink (and a 15-cent discount on future refills — oh, boy!); I saw a lot of them being carried around by Faire attendees.

The Studio has its own Disney Store, and it’s open for business during the Faire. You have to be dedicated to shop at this Disney Store, though — there were so many people wanting to shop there that there was always a wait of at least 15 minutes to enter throughout the event. Maybe it was the wait, but the Studio’s Disney Store was a disappointment for me. The store itself is decorated in the original Disney Store style, with a great mural of the characters walking around the Studio lot and several figure=s interspersed throughout, but most of the stuff for sale was the same stuff you could buy at most any other Disney Store.

There were a few exceptions — the Studio store has a pretty good selection of WDAC items and animation sericels, and there are several items available that feature the Studio logo (such as pencils, pens, magnets, T-shirts and polo shirts). Thing is, you’d expect a Disney Store at the Studios to be carrying more interesting stuff than the same plush, toys, and kids’ clothes you can buy at your local mall. I realize that the purpose of this event isn’t to generate money for the Company — they’re trying to get Faire attendees to buy from the artisans, not from the Disney Store. Still, if people are coming to the Studios for a unique experience, more of the official merchandise available should be just as unique.

So, was the Faire worth the money and the hassle? Definitely. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see a part of Disney that I wouldn’t normally get to see; it was great to be able to walk around and see the places where so much Disney history has been made. The movie, the photo, the shopping, and the food were definitely worth the $3.00 I paid for admission. The Faire could have been better, though. I would have loved to have seen more of the lot, especially the Legends Plaza and the Wells Building. I was also disappointed to see that some fun things that had been offered to Faire attendees in the past — such as hayrides through the lot in a cart pulled by Disneyland draft horses — were cut this year. Finally, it would have been nice if there had been more official merchandise specific to the Studios or the Faire available.

And if anyone at Disney is reading this, don’t stock so few of the items that you do have that they run out in 20 minutes! Unless you’re a Disney dweeb like me or you’re passionate about shopping for arts and crafts, you might not go more than once, but the Magical Holiday Faire is still worth checking out.

Does a visit to the Faire sound like something that you’d like to do? If you’ll be in Southern California just before Thanksgiving, start checking the Disney fan sites around the end of October and see if anyone knows the date for the Faire — unless you have friends who work for the Company, that’ll be about the only way to get the date. Once you’ve got the date, make room in your trunk or a whole lot of shopping bags (don’t tell yourself you won’t buy anything; trust me, you will) and come on down.

Don’t pass up an opportunity like this — after all, it’s not every day that someone gets the chance to visit the Walt Disney Studios.

Paul Schnebelen

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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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