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Remembering Circus World, the theme park that forced Disney World to step up its game in the early 1970s



How tall is Walt Disney World‘s Space Mountain?

Seems like a relatively straight forward question, don’t you think? But the way that Company officials have answered that question has changed greatly over the past 37 years.

By that I mean: If you were to ask a spokesperson who works for the WDW Resort today about what the height of this Tomorrowland thrill ride is, they’d mostly likely tell you that — were you factor in some of the spires which jut out of this immense show building — this Magic Kingdom mainstay is over 180 feet tall.

Construction continues on the Space Mountain show building at WDW’s Magic Kingdom
during the Winter of 1973 / 1974. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

On the other hand, were you to jump back 40 years and then ask a member of the Disney World PR staff about Space Mountain, they’d have told you that this “future project” (You gotta remember that this indoor coaster wasn’t an opening day attraction at the Magic Kingdom. Though concept art & photos of the model for this futuristic thrill ride were regularly attached to press releases which hyped the October 1971 opening of the WDW Resort,  construction of this Tomorrowland attraction didn’t actually get underway ’til late 1972 / early 1973. And given all of those 117 foot-long concrete beams that — taking into account that they each weighed 74 tons — had to be carefully hoisted into place to form that iconic cone-shaped structure … Well, it would be a full two years before the first Disney World Guests officially got the chance to experience what “a high speed race through space” felt like) would be 20 stories tall.

“Why describe Space Mountain as being 20 stories tall instead of just saying that this show building was over 180 feet tall?,” you ask. Because Disney World publicists wanted to be sure that everyone knew that the attraction which they’d soon be adding to Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom would be taller than that 19 story elephant-shaped hotel that Irvin Feld was planning on building out in Haines City to serve as the “weenie” for his soon-to-begin-construction Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus World theme park.

I’m serious, people. In the pre-opening press kit for this $50 million project, there are all sorts of images of Circus World’s elephant-shaped hotel. With detailed descriptions of how this …

My apologies for the quality of this illustration. But this is a copy of a
black-and-white newspaper photo showing a concept painting of
Circus World elephant-shaped hotel. To give some sense of
scale for this proposed structure, that’s a full-sized Ferris
Wheel directly to the elephant’s right.

.. huge bejeweled elephant, (Circus World’s) symbol, will tower higher than a 19 story building, “the largest structure of its kind in the world.”

Tourists will be able to sightsee and shop inside the giant pachyderm which will tower 350 feet above sea level. High speed elevators in the elephant’s leg will whisk visitors to an observation platform shaped like a howdah atop the classic mastodon and from the top, visitors will be able to see the entire Circus World complex, as well as the surrounding countryside, as a vast panorama.

This giant structure was to have been particularly impressive at night. Given that that’s when the hundreds of jewels which covered this enormous elephant-shaped hotel were to have been lit from within. Which would then — Circus World’s designers hoped — have bathed the surrounding theme park in a cascade of colors.

This Circus World logo (which prominently features this theme park’s
elephant-shaped hotel) should give you some idea the sort of
colorful structure Irvin Feld wanted to build

Add to this the elegant two-story luxury restaurant which was to have been one of the signature elements of what Circus World hoped would eventually become this theme park’s equivalent of WDW’s Cinderella Castle … And you can perhaps understand why Disney was more than a little concerned about what was being built just up the street.

And when I say “street,” I mean I-4. That interstate highway which ran from Florida’s beaches on the East and the Gulf Coast to the west which then served as the feeder road for the Walt Disney World Resort. And you have to understand that — in the early 1970s — it wasn’t just the Circus World project which was being built out in Haines City that had Mickey worried. Construction of  Sea World of Florida was already underway at this point (Phase One of that sealife-based theme park would open in December of 1973, while the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus World Advance Showcase — which was, in essence, the preview center for this Circus-themed theme park — wouldn’t open ’til February of 1974).

So how did the Mouse respond to the Elephant & Killer Whale it saw encroaching on its theme park turf? Which was something that Disney took very seriously back in the early 1970s. Especially the Circus World project. You see, Mattel owned Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus at this point in that toy company’s history. So it was Mattel’s reportedly very-deep pockets which was supposed to fund the construction of this $60 million theme park that was going to be located just 12 miles down the road from the Magic Kingdom.

A concept painting of the Irvin Feld version of Ringling Brothers – Barnum and Bailey
Circus World theme park

So following the September 1972 announcement of the Circus World project, what did Disney World officials do? A few months later, they held a press conference of their own where Mouse House managers then revealed that the WDW Resort had an aggressive expansion plan in the works. One that would provide Central Florida visitors with more new entertainment offerings ” … than Sea World and Circus World combined.”

Among the items that got greenlit during Disney’s rush to deal with this perceived threat to its theme park supremacy in the Orlando area were:

  • Pirates of the Caribbean,” one of the most popular rides at Disneyland in California. About 4,300 guests will depart each hour of operation on the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride, an animated recreation of buccaneers plundering on the Spanish Main.

Marc Davis working on the looting-the-treasury sequence. Which was created to
provide the WDW’s version of “Pirates of the Caribbean” with a suitable finale.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

  • Big Thunder Railway,” an exciting downhill race over the clattering tracks of a Wild West ironhouse roadway, around hairpin turns, over a deep valley, past teetering rocks and desert wildlife. A high-speed adventure in the Old West overlooking Frontierland’s “Rivers of America,” (this attraction) is the first step in construction of “Thunder Mesa.”
  • Western Town. Near the Fort Wilderness camp store and Circle-D ranch, it will contain shops, theatres, dining and entertainment facilities.
  • Lake Wilderness — brings back the old swimming hole, complete with white water for raft sliding.

Concept painting of Ben Gunn’s Cave for WDW’s never-completed Treasure Island.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

  • Treasure Island — On that picturesque island out in Bay Lake, Disney planned on constructing some small lakes & waterfalls which could then be accessed by a series of walkways and trails. Once this infrastructure was in place, the Imagineers then planned on developing a themed adventure based on Walt Disney Productions’ 1950 live-action version of “Treasure Island.” Which was to have featured the wreck of the Hispaniola and Ben Gunn’s cave to explore, a dining location fashioned after the Benbow Inn and even a peg-legged parrot to serve as the host of our tour.

Of course, not all of the proposed WDW additions described above actually got built. But that was because Mattel began having some very serious cash flow issues in the late Summer / early Fall of  1973. To the point that — even before construction of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus World Advance Showcase had been completed — this toy company was already trying to find a buyer for its Central Florida theme park. And though many were tempted (For a two week period in December of that year, Gulf Oil — through its Venture Out recreational development arm — toyed seriously with purchasing this project outright. Only to then get cold feet because of the continuing bad publicity associated with Gulf charging higher prices for gas  at its service stations due to the Arab Oil Embargo), no one actually bit. Which was why Mattel was then forced to go forward with construction of this circus-themed theme park all on its own.

But because Mattel wasn’t willing or able to provide the $60 million necessary to construct the grandiose version of this theme park that Irvin Feld had originally wanted to build, a lot of Circus World’s more spectacular features never ever made it off the drawing table. Including that 19 story-tall elephant-shaped hotel.

Irvin Feld (center of photograph, in light grey suit) presides over the ribbon cutting
 of the Ringling Brothers — Barnum and Bailey Circus World Advance Showcase
on February 21, 1974

Which really was a shame. Especially given all the time & effort Feld had already poured into this particular element of his Circus World project. Irvin actually made this hotel’s designers go measure the skeleton of Jumbo (i.e. P.T. Barnum’s prize elephant. Which —  when he purchased this pachyderm for $10,000 back in 1881 — was supposedly the largest animal of this species to have ever been put on display) just so the proportions of this immense elephant-shaped structure would be correct.

I’m told that Irvin met with computer engineers to discuss how the steel structure of this hotel should be built. Not to mention fretting about the proper placement of this building’s elevators (He eventually settled on one elevator shaft being built inside of this elephant-shaped building’s left front foreleg while the other elevator would be built in the rear right leg).

This 19 story-tall structure would have been quite the sight to see as you drove up I-4 toward Ringling Brothers – Barnum & Bailey Circus World. More to the point, would have certainly provided a Cinderella Castle-like “weenie” for this theme park.

Cover of the official Opening Day program

But given that Mattel never really had the money to properly execute Irvin’s plan, this theme park — which was funded in fits & starts by this toy company’s board of directors — never really delivered on the promise of its Advance Showcase. Which was one of the very first places on the planet where you could go and see a film shot in the IMAX format. Feld has commissioned this 25 minute-long cinematic valentine to circus life. Which — when it was projected on a five story-tall screen — was supposed to have given you a sense of how exciting & colorful an entire theme park which celebrated the world of the circus could be.

But that version — Irvin Feld’s vision of what the Ringling Brothers – Barnum & Bailey Circus World theme park should really have been like  — never got built. The built-on-the-cheap version limped along ’til 1986 when Mattel finally sold the place off to Arizona real estate developer Jim Monaghan. Who — in turn — sold the property off to Harcourt Brace Jovanich, who then turned this circus-themed theme park in Boardwalk and Baseball. Which barely lasted three years before it then closed for good.

Don’t get me wrong. Even the on-the-cheap version of Circus World had some pretty amazing attractions. Michael Jackson just loved this theme park’s Roaring Tiger roller coaster. Whenever he was in Orlando, the King of Pop would always make a special trip out to Haines City so that he could then enjoy multiple trips aboard this old-fashioned woodie. In fact, when Boardwalk & Baseball suddenly closed down in January of 1990, I’m told that Jackson made repeated inquiries about this coaster. With the hope that he could then have what-was-then-known-as-the-Florida-Hurricane dismantled and then shipped back to the West Coast. So that this coaster could then become the centerpiece attraction of Michael’s own private theme park at Neverland Ranch.

Michael Jackson and director John Landis riding Circus World’s Roaring Tiger
roller coaster during a 1980s-era visit to this Haines City theme park

But for me … Well, I’m always gonna wonder about what might have happen if Mattel hadn’t had those cash flow problems back in the early 1970s. If Irvin Feld’s version of Ringling Brothers – Barnum & Bailey Circus World had been built and then proved to be serious competition for the Walt Disney World Resort, what would the Mouse have then done in response? Would we seeing what’s going on now between Disney and Universal. With the Imagineers responding to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and USF’s Diagon Alley project by spending a rumored half a billion dollars on James Cameron’s World of Avatar? Or would Disney have significantly stepped up its game back in the 1970s and — in direct response to the Barnum City portion of the Circus World project (which was supposed to have been this state-of-the-art residential community that would have been built on 5000 acres directly adjacent to the theme park) — would the Mouse have actually gone ahead with Walt Disney’s last & greatest dream, Epcot (the futuristic city, not the theme park).

That’s a lot to consider, I know. But as I keep telling Len Testa on those Unofficial Guide Disney Dish podcasts that he and I post on iTunes, the Mouse doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It regularly responds to forces in the marketplace. And if Ringling Brothers – Barnum and Bailey Circus World theme park had followed Irvin Feld’s original vision and then — using Mattel’s money — emerged as this major player in the Central Florida tourism market … Disney would have had to do something of size in response. Like — say — that giant Mouse-shaped hotel that Michael Eisner once talked about building.

But enough about the Circus World that never was. How many of you actually made the trip out to Haines City in the 1970s & 1980s. I have to admit that I myself never made it to this Central Florida theme park in any of its incarnations. So what was this place really like to visit?

The entrance to Circus World at the height of this theme park’s popularity

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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