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Sometimes, you get the column. And other times, like this one, the column gets you… It’s been an interesting week for Roger … so, it’s a change in plans as he heads off in a completely different direction than expected. Watch out for topic drift ahead!



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A short week suddenly got a longer…

It started last Friday morning with a news note about Disneyland.

I’ll not repeat what others have said, but instead add that my thoughts are still with the families and friends of those injured. Kudo’s to the CM’s and other folks at the DLR for doing what they needed to, and doing it so well. Props to the folks at LP and MP, and the Bronx cheer for our favorite curmudgeon…

Then came the news about Leon Janzen.

I only met him once for a few moments, but I have tremendous respect for both he and his brother, Jack. Their production of the E-Ticket is, in my opinion, nothing short of, well… I can’t find the words to describe it. Most fanzines come and go in a couple of issues, maybe a year or two at most. Yet they manage to keep informing us with the best in Disneyland history, issue after issue.

Thanks to both of you for sharing your passion for the work of the people connected with the place that we enjoy so much. You have and will continue to make a difference in this fandom through your fine example.

And yesterday, was the second anniversary of 9/11. Somehow, I find much of the remembrances simply hollow gestures. The losses we suffered as the world is much more than many want to admit, but life still goes on.

What a week…

So, here is a tale from the road last weekend.

My dad’s a member of the Jaguar Associate Group, and usually they have some kind of driving event once a month during the better weather out here. In what has almost become an annual event, he has led a drive from somewhere in the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe. I have helped out on several occasions by finding a route and then pre-running it to make sure there aren’t any surprises along the way.

A favorite trip is to take State Highway 70 through the Feather River Canyon. While planning a trip using that way, we discovered that Cal Trans (our lovely and talented highway department) was in the midst of the post summer construction blitz for a fair piece of that road. With one-way controlled traffic, seven-days-a-week until the end of October in no less than eight places (each with a minimum of 10 minutes in delays) we opted not to go that way to the Lake.

So break out the maps, and let’s see what the possibilities are. We began by eliminating the most obvious. Highway’s 80 and 50 both go to Tahoe — one to the north and the other to the south. There simply is no challenge in driving them.

One of the more adventurous routes we used before was State Route 4 across Ebbetts Pass. While it’s a fun road, we wanted to offer something different this time out.

So starting in Vacaville, we all met bright and early, (okay, it was 10 o’clock…) last Saturday. In years gone by, this was a favorite stop on the way from the Bay Area to the Lake. The Nut Tree was a great place for families to get out of the car and stretch for a few minutes. There was a great toy store with a miniature train ride out and back through the orchards. Shopping was good with a fine variety of local products, and even a special area devoted to airplanes. Throw in an airport out back, and this was a busy place.

Across the Interstate, the same folks opened the Coffee Tree. It’s the usual kind of coffee shop you might expect anywhere along an interstate route. Busy and popular with travelers, yet it’s closing the doors after almost forty years, with claims of “un-profitability”. So after a hurried breakfast, we gathered the faithful (ten assorted Jags worth) out in the parking lot to lay out the day’s journey.

Our route today would give folks a great look at the scenery of California. Starting out in what used to be orchards, and now is home to an outlet mall, we headed off across the Sacramento delta and into the Sierra Foothills. (Our route? Something like this. 113 to 12 to 99 to 12 to 88 to 89 to 50 to 28 to 267.) With a couple of stops along the way to regroup now and then, it was clear sailing. Weather was great. Lots of sun, and temps in the upper seventies. Perfect for the convertibles.

A stop for lunch along the way was made near the Bear River Lake Resort. Some folks enjoyed a picnic under the pines along the roadside, while others ventured off the highway down to the resort. As usual, one of the cars needed to take a break for an overheating problem. But in less than an hour, we all were back on our way.

Now the last time I had been in this part of the Sierra was about thirty years ago while part of a Boy Scout 50-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s still spectacular scenery as it was then. Crossing the Carson Pass, at almost 8000 feet is a challenge at any time of the year. But Smithsonian had a great look at what it takes in the heart of winter. The highway passes right next to Caples Lake in one of the most scenic parts of the trip.

From that hike years back, I fondly recalled Fourth Of July Lake. This trip report from a September 2002 visit by Kevin Gong shows some of the beauty of the area, south of the Carson Pass. Someday, I’ll get off my butt and walk back into the area there.

Arriving at Pickett’s Junction (Highway’s 88 and 89 meet here), we all turned left and spotted the cars for a group photo. A few minutes later and we were off headed for what passes as “civilization” or South Lake Tahoe. We bypassed most of it using the Pioneer Trail, but still were seduced by the siren’s song of the stateline casinos. One car pulled in here as they were spending the night, while the rest of the group headed east along the lakeshore.

We finished up the trip with a nice ride along the east side of the Lake, passing the Ponderosa Ranch (remember the reference from the cowboy column…) on our way again to Crystal Bay and another crossing of the Nevada/California stateline.

It’s a classic Fifties postcard view of Crystal Bay, Nevada.
From the collection of Roger Colton.

That night we all enjoyed a fine meal at the home of one of the club members in nearby Truckee.

Some of you might recall a tale or two of that town from my earlier columns. This weekend was “Truckee Railroad Days” with the folks from the Feather River Railroad Society in nearby Portola having brought some vintage equipment for display (courtesy of the Union Pacific Railroad). Amtrak also brought one of it’s Capitol Corridor cars, and California Rail Tours had it’s dome lounge “Plaza Santa Fe” and lounge “Royal Gorge” open for tours. The UP also provided two locomotives from its historical fleet along with a modern day freight locomotive. FRRS had a variety of other cars on display including cabooses and a former UP business car.

We passed by early Sunday to check out the festivities. Things were pretty quiet so we took a detour to visit nearby Squaw Valley. Now this is the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. In all my years of going to the Lake, I had never been into the valley proper. It doesn’t take to much to imagine what it must have been like back then. Things were pretty much undeveloped out here. There were a few buildings (shaped like snow flakes — of which two survive today) where food was sold to the hearty souls who made the trek here, and the Olympic village to house the athletes. The skating rink was out in the open in the middle of the valley floor.

There’s a Disney connection here as well. Walt was convinced to step in and help out with the opening ceremonies for the games. And in what has to be a classic moment, the inclement weather that threatened to spoil the event was parted by rays of sunshine — as if Walt had ordered it so — only moments before it was scheduled to start.

Now that’s not all… the Village at Squaw Valley could pass for a northern cousin to the Grand Californian at first glimpse from the outside. I’ll have to make plans to come back and check it out in detail. It looks to be a good mix of retail shopping and dining along with hotel accommodations as well as homes within the Village.

We continued on our way to the Lake, following the Truckee River to Tahoe City. Lots of water running for this time of year. A bike path alongside of the river follows what used to be the right of way for the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company. In the late Thirties, the Southern Pacific acquired this narrow gauge railroad and upgraded the line. For a few years before the war, the Espee used it as a feature in their advertising.

Wooden speed boats at the Lake!
From the collection of Roger Colton.

At Tahoe City, the railroad used to run out onto a pier where steamboats, most notably the “Tahoe” would carry travelers to the various resorts around the Lake. At the end of their careers, the steamboats were scuttled and now rest on the bottom of the Lake, mostly intact. Various schemes have come up from time to time to refloat one of them, but none have ever progressed past the talk stage. A local video company, Skyfire offers this video of the “Tahoe” at rest (at 372 feet down) as well as other images from the lake bottom.

There was a fair amount of traffic on the road that Sunday morning as we headed east along the shore. But it wasn’t automobiles, it was bicycles. The Tour de Tahoe, at 72 miles over 6000 feet, offered the stout of heart a chance to enjoy a challenging ride around the Lake. In my younger days, I contemplated taking the trek, but I got better before I ever got such a chance. We saw more than a few riders pick up their bikes and walk up some of the more intimidating hills along the way from Tahoe City to Carnelian Bay.

That was our destination. Brunch at Gar Woods has become something of a tradition for my father on these trips. With this menu, there is something to tempt almost anyone. I particularly enjoyed the Grand Marnier French Toast and the Beer Steamed Prawns. It was warm in the sun on the deck outside, even though a breeze was up on the lake.

The web pages for this popular bar and grill also detail some of the history behind the place. Garfield Woods was known for his fine pleasure craft, some of which still ply the Lake on occasion today. The Sierra Boat Company is located right next to Gar Woods, and this summer hosted the 31st annual Tahoe Yacht Club Foundation’s Concours d’ Elegance. The 2004 event planning is underway, and you can find more details here.

After having stuffed ourselves, it was time for the ride home down Interstate 80. Maybe it was because this was the first weekend after the long Labor Day holiday, but traffic was light the whole way down the hill and back to the Diablo Valley. We made it back in time to watch the Forty-Niners have their way with the Chicago Bears on national television.

Changing gears, you may recall a classic Victorian structure at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. The Crystal Palace (as reviewed on MousePlanet) is somewhat based upon a classic San Francisco structure, The Conservatory of Flowers. After an epic windstorm in 1995 damaged the structure, many of the rare plants were moved to other locations. After a complete restoration, this classic glass and redwood structure is about to reopen to the public on Saturday, September 20, 2003.

When my mother’s parents lived just outside Seacliff on Twenty-Ninth Avenue, we would pass by the Conservatory both to and from their house. Seeing what the display in front of the building had been changed to was always something we looked forward to. It is truly one of the most special things in Golden Gate Park.

So there you have another column done. Apologies again for not telling the tale promised, but I’ll have that soon for one and all.

Now, if you’ll pardon me for a moment, I’m going to stand on my soap box and give you a short bit of opinion. Thanks to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, I had no choice but to go see my doctor and get my various health issues under control. So as a result, my diabetes is under control (blood sugars where they should be), cholesterol is where it should be) and my blood pressure is down dramatically. That’s the one we’re still working on.

I feel better, and I’m told, look better as the result. It took a few changes to my lifestyle that were not all that hard to make. (I can enjoy a cocktail now and then, thanks! Try one of these sometime!) Had I not made these changes, I was undoubtedly heading for major health problems in the not all too distant future.

As annoying as a visit to your doctor can be (and boy, have I had a few winners!) the alternative is something we would rather avoid. Just ask my pal, Jeff Ferris, all about his bypass surgery last year. Had he taken a few more visits to his doctor, it might not have been so dramatic and surprising an event.

So that the cautionary part of today’s little tale. Stepping down from the soap box, now… Here’s something a bit more whimsical.

A classic over the counter medication. Or it should be!
From the folks at Joy of Tech.
Click to view larger version of image.

In a final commercial moment, I still have a place or three left on our one-day private car excursion for Saturday, October 18 from Oakland to Bakersfield and back again. Check out our web pages for more information.

So that’s all for this week. If Roger can get back on track, he should have a piece on San Francisco’s Presidio — what may become the future home to the pieces of the Lucas empire. Stay tuned…

Like what you’ve read? Why not drop a buck or two in Roger’s Amazon Honor System Paybox and keep him where he belongs, safe behind the keyboard, at work on next week’s effort!

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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