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With summer on its way, Roger knows its not just a good novel that makes for fun reading in the sun.



Before starting today’s column, Roger has something to share from his inbox:

This showed up in my e-mail on last Friday night.

I was asked to share it with you all by someone who has worked in the animation industry for the better part of his life. You’ve seen his work and loved it. He wouldn’t steer us wrong on this.

Grammar aside, it is a legitimate plea that I hope you will take to heart. I’ve met the author (once on a quick tour), and hope you’ll give this your consideration. Frankly, there was a lot of great work done by a lot of good people that we will likely never be seen on the big screen in a theater — unless we take up the call and drop a note in response to this request.

Subject: Mickey Mouse at the movies

Dear friends –

Would you like to see a great Mickey Mouse movie at your local theater? Well so would I.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Donovan Cook and I recently finished directing, The Three Musketeers a Disney animated feature film staring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. (You can see a short preview of my movie on the Lion King 1 1/2 DVD.) Sadly because of misguided management this movie is scheduled to skip a theatrical release on the big screen and go straight to DVD.

Mr. Eisner and his executives did not make this decision based on the content or execution of the movie. In fact, the three top executives at the Disney Studio have never seen the movie. Mr. Eisner has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t think there is a large enough audience for Mickey to be in the theaters. Bob Iger, the number two exec at Disney, has publicly added that releasing The Three Musketeers in the theaters is too big of a financial risk because it is not computer animation. High quality classic animation is a financial risk? Not a big enough audience for Mickey Mouse? If you are as confused as me, please read on.

A few weeks ago, I was discussing this very situation with a friend of mine who is in no way connected with Disney or the entertainment industry. “Who could I send and email to at Disney about this?” He asked. I thought about it for a moment and said, “Well *** Cook would probably be good.” Mr. Cook, (no relation to myself) is the Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, which means he is the big cheese in charge of all movies, DVDs and TV shows that Disney makes.

My friend did send an email to *** Cook expressing his disappointment about Musketeers going straight to DVD. Now here is the really crazy part, two weeks later, Mr. Cook called my friend to discuss his concerns. Yes you read correctly, the Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios picked up the phone and called a regular Joe just to discuss the email he sent.

Now it is unlikely that Mr. Cook calls every consumer who sends him an email, which means that this particular issue is of great concern to him. I believe that if enough people express their desire to see Mickey Mouse on the big screen, *** Cook and the Disney execs will reconsider.

So if you want to take your kids to see a high quality, classic and funny Disney movie staring Mickey Mouse and friends, send *** Cook and email at…


For your convenience, a sample letter is provided below. You may simply fill in the blacks then copy and paste it into a new email. Better yet, add your own personal concerns/complaints or best of all, write a letter in your own words.

A couple notes about your letter; be brief, (unlike me) or Mr. Cook probably will not have time to read it. If you are a Disney stockholder be sure to include that info as it means a lot, especially now.

Feel free to forward this email to any friends who you think would be interested.

Thanks for your help.

All the best to you,
Donovan Cook


(Subject: Letter from a parent and/or stockholder)

Dear Mr. Cook,

My name is (your name here) and I am a stockholder (if you do not own Disney stock, omit this) and an undying Disney consumer/fan. I am a parent of (enter number of children) children and our family happily supports Disney products. We see every movie, purchase the DVDs, go to (Disneyland/Disneyworld — pick one), watch the Disney Channel as well as purchasing a great deal of Disney products.

I was recently thrilled to hear that Disney is making a movie of The Three Musketeers staring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. I was however very disappointed to see that this movie will be going straight to DVD.

I am very excited to introduce Mickey, Donald and Goofy to my (child/children) through this movie, but I do not understand why this movie is not being released in the theaters. These are the characters created by Walt Disney himself. They are what your company was founded on. My family and I would like to see The Three Musketeers the way Walt would have shown it, on the big screen.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your reply.

(Your Name)

(Your email address)

(Your phone number)

Now on with the regular column…


“Print is dead.”
— Harold Ramis as Dr. Egon Spengler, “Ghostbusters” (1984)


Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of it’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

While you can’t dismiss the growth of online content and folks making use of it, print is here to stay. Let’s face it. Folks like me who read tend to read a lot, and there is still a lot of content on the printed page that hasn’t made it’s way online just yet. And there is something about having that book or magazine to refer to after you’ve done reading it the first dozen times or so…

It’s why, when I get the chance, I pick up a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle to read from the paper pages, rather than the online edition. And it’s why I will buy a novel to read at my own pace instead of listening to someone perform an audio book.

So today, I’m sharing some of my favorite magazines with you. They shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

To bring home the point that print is anything but dead, the San Francisco Chronicle had a great piece about a new magazine being published out of the City.

What is interesting to note is that the subject isn’t one you would usually think of when it comes to San Francisco. That’s NASCAR. Typically, one thinks of a magazine like this being published somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line.

NASCAR has something that other sports or competitors for our disposable income would kill for — nationwide growing fan base. And the demographics of who is going to these races makes advertisers drool. Wide across the spectrum, it’s got something for everyone in the family. But this new magazine won’t be alone as there are already a flock of NASCAR themed publications on the stand. But “American Thunder” has some interesting folks on the masthead. Notably, President and Publisher Val Landi (who was with IDG, the Boston based publisher of Macworld and other technical magazines) and chief editor Lucas Mast (the one we can all blame for making online payments so easy — he was the man behind Paypal). According to the piece in the Chron, the magazine is to be more of a lifestyle piece than just more news about races. Gotta say, it is an interesting concept and will be worth keeping an eye on.

One of the benefits (so far) of having a Premium Annual Pass for Disneyland is the yearly subscription to Disney Magazine. I’ll give them three out of four stars for this one, but there are times when it tries to be a bit too much of all things Disney to all of it’s subscribers. Understandable that may be. But as an AP, it’s a bit like preaching to the choir at times. Maybe I was spoiled by all those years of the fondly recalled and late lamented “Vacationland” magazine. This link shows some of the classic covers. One treasured issue in my collection from the early 70’s has a great piece on young (was he ever that young?) Rod Miller and his piano at the Coca Cola Corner. With a lot less in the way of non-Disney advertising, and a Disneyland focus, is there any surprise that folks still miss it so?

Now, readers here may recall that I have an interest in the history of trains, planes and automobiles. Setting aside trains for the moment, let’s look at the others. “Air Classics” has been a favorite for many years with it’s annual coverage of the Reno Air Races, but has also offered some good history on flight back to the earliest days. A bit of everything from airline history to air combat in all kinds of conflicts. Stepping up the ladder is “Smithsonian Air & Space“. As the official magazine of the Museum it’s a bit like the Disney magazine in that it promotes attendance at it’s parent locations. And it has advertising that targets it’s core customers as well. A recent issue had a great look at the new Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington’s Dulles International. Truly some fine examples of the aero-space industry and the people who created and flew them on display there.

When it comes to cars, my dad has always enjoyed “Road & Track“. One item I always looked forward to was the April issue and their unique road test. One year it was the Space Shuttle crawler transporter, and another was Great Britain’s “Flying Scotsman” steam locomotive. Always fun to read. A slightly less pretentious car magazine for the hot rod folks is “Drive!” “Big Daddy” Ed Roth had a regular column for several years that was a great look at car culture as it has grown and evolved. Missed he is, but the magazine is still a great place for info. And best of all, it’s free! Check the web pages for locations where you can get an issue.

One of the things worth noting about magazines is that they come and they go. A good example was Paramount’s “Star Trek” magazine. Lot’s of great detail into all of the franchises with information to satisfy even the most dedicated of fans. Yet it couldn’t sustain a level of profitability to keep it going. Yet, the fan focused “Star Trek Communicator” manages to survive. Originally it was a true fan based publication, and now it’s owned by Decipher Games (best known for their collectible card games). They have good info, some of the same detailed articles on the shows (including a classic look at the original Starship Enterprise model now in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum). Throw in a store with some decent merchandise and they manage to survive where the big guys didn’t.

Oddly enough, the other collectible card game force, Wizards of the Coast (now a subsidiary of toy giant Hasbro), (best known for it’s Magic – the Gathering card games) produces the Star Wars Insider that caters to another other big sci-fi fan base. It too started out as a fan club magazine, and now keeps fans informed of all the latest from the Lucasfilm empire. (Oh, George! What were you thinking! Teen angst?)

Well, let’s dive into the train magazines…

There are a bunch of these that seem to find their way into my hand year round. You may recall in a previous column that I mentioned a fine British publication entitled “Heritage Railway“. We had a similar publication across the pond here for a while called “Locomotive and Railway Preservation”. It didn’t have quite the coverage as it’s UK cousin, but was a good look at the topic, nonetheless. A web site called Railway Preservation News covers the railway museum scene here in the North America today.

When you talk train magazines here, the big two are “Trains” and “Railfan and Railroad“. Both go way back. “Trains” came out just before World War II, but “Railfan” goes back even farther with roots as a pulp magazine of railroad tales. Of the two, “Trains” has taken on the appearance of a more upscale publication with a slicker appearance and style. “Railfan” continues to be more homespun and fan-based in appearance and content. Both magazines also have companion model railroad publications as well, with their own histories.

Kalmbach, the publisher of “Trains” produces a host of other magazines outside the railway realm, But another railway magazine they seem to have a winner with is the quarterly “Classic Trains“. If you can’t go back in time, this magazine does a good job of taking you there. Some great stories and photos of days gone by, and tales from the people who made the trains run. (This magazine, too had previous incarnations, even under another now defunct publisher.)

For the real nuts and bolts folks, there are the more detailed train magazines. The private car owners group, AAPRCO publishes “Private Varnish” for both its members and enthusiasts. Various railroad historical groups also publish magazines with a decidedly historical focus. A few of note are “The Streamliner” from the Union Pacific Historical Society; “The SP Trainline” from the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society; “The Western Pacific Headlight” from the Western Pacific Railroad Historical Society; and “The Warbonnet” from the Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society. And there is a whole bunch more out there!

Now I don’t subscribe any of these right now. I just pick up an issue now and then from a local newsstand or three. Other than Disney or Time, no other magazines clutter my mailbox except that of my employer. One of the perks of your AAA membership is the local affiliate club magazine. In my case, it’s “VIA Magazine“.

So, what do you think? Looks like print will be with us for a while to come. And in the immortal word of KFOG’s Scoop Nisker, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!”

Next week? The usual suspects return from a visit to the South, and Roger will share a thought or two on that and other topics. Who knows? Maybe even the return of “Cranky Pants”?

If you’ve enjoyed Roger’s weekly effort, why not show your support but dropping a buck or two in his Paypal Donation Box. Truth be told, it’s only folks like you who keep him going here week after week. There’s no profit sharing or other schemes, just your generosity! Thanks for your support!

Roger Colton

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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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