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Ruminations

This week Roger is back with the third (no, really … not like last time …) in the series of things you always wanted to do but never knew you could. So Buckle Up, hang on for all the left turns and read what’s in store for you this time!

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“A dream is a wish your heart makes,
When you’re fast asleep.
In dreams you lose your heartaches.
Whatever you wish for, you keep.

Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through.
No matter how your heart is grieving,
If you keep on believing,
The dream that you wish will come true.”

Okay, so there’s a great bit of wisdom from Disney’s “Cinderella”, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you, that is 100 percent, absolutely true!

If you’ve been reading my columns for a while, you might recall an earlier effort on the subject of pin trading. Among the tales of my enjoyment of pins was a real low moment when the bulk of my collection (all in one big pin bag) was stolen from the back seat of a car parked in front of my house. I imagine that the bag looked a lot like a computer laptop case. Once who ever took it found out what it really had, it was likely they would toss it away.

There were a lot of memories and great times associated with the pins, but I always hoped they might show up, somehow. That was back in 2001, on March 15, and I just considered them gone.

Fast forward to this week. Got a voice mail from the company that does the landscaping for the townhouse complex I live in. Seems they thought they had something of mine that one of their gardeners had found. So not knowing what it might have been, I called. I’ve had mail go missing, packages left by drivers in odd spots, so I didn’t really give it much thought. When I heard back from the folks at their office, they asked me some questions about the item they found. Seems that they had reported the find to the property management company that handles the complex a while back, but no one had a clue as to who it might belong to. So they put the item off to one side in their shop where it gathered dust until about a week ago. A closer examination revealed my name, and they got my phone number out of the book.

So when someone stopped by yesterday afternoon, I was absolutely surprised. It was the missing pin bag with all of the pins intact!

“Happy, happy, joy, joy!” (Imagine Roger doing his best Ren & Stimpy happy dance here…)

Since then, I’ve looked over the goodies about a thousand times, and started to do a proper inventory. I’ll have a fair number of pins to trade now, thanks to some I managed to replace. I’ve said some prayers of thanks as this is not much short of as miracle in my book.

As the song above says,

“No matter how your heart is grieving,
If you keep on believing,
The dream that you wish will come true.”

Now on with the feature…

Name the number one growing sport in the country? You would probably not be surprised that it has a large family and female demographic. That would be NASCAR racing. And as popular as it is becoming, that popularity is not limited to the big time Winston Cup races. It’s growing at small tracks all across the nation.

Not so long ago, if you had asked folks looking for advertising dollars for any NASCAR event, you might have been told that it had very narrow market. Mostly in the southern states and likely males from 25 to 45, too. But that is definitely not the case now. Especially when it can be noted that Nextel just signed a 10 year deal to sponsor the Cup Series!

By now, you should know that I’m hooked on machinery. Yes, I have used the term “planes, trains and automobiles” in jest, but there is more truth in that phrase than I sometimes want to admit. If it goes fast and makes a lot of noise, I’m there!

And while for me, auto racing is a passing fancy (Okay, so I went to my first race when I was less than six months old in Germany — June 7, 1959 for the 1000 Kilometer race to watch Dan Gurney, Phil Hill and Sterling Moss at the old Nurburgring — there are movies to prove it. More on the Nurburgring later…), some folks live and die on how their favorite driver did in his last race (my oldest nephew and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as an example).

I’m told I chewed on the cover of a program similar to this one. How embarrassing!

With a racing history across the country going back as far as motor cars themselves, people have enjoyed watching races at all kinds of venues. There were dirt tracks, board tracks, city street courses and cross country road courses. Some of the early NASCAR races were run on sandy beaches. Some people went for the excitement of the machinery, others to see the heroes behind the steering wheel. That hasn’t changed in all the years.

As technology has improved, the availability of spectator participation has as well. Once you had to be content with finding a good seat and a spot to watch you favorite driver go by on each lap. Now you can almost be right in the car along with the driver. There is the in-car camera and even listening to that driver chat with his crew over the radio.

But if you want to make that final step, there is a way to actually ride along in the car. That’s the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and it takes place at NASCAR venues all across the nation. But why not join folks like Michael Eisner, and take the plunge just outside the parking lot at the Magic Kingdom in Florida? That is one of several year-round locations where this opportunity is available. Before we visited Florida in 1999, I knew it was there, but the sounds of cars going around the track at speed was hard to miss as we arrived at the TTC one morning.

While I have not had the pleasure of this experience first hand, one of my friends (Ken Mitchroney with memorable experiences racing open-wheel modifieds) did! Last year, during a visit to the Daytona Speedway, he found a group of his former racing buddies (from the Volusia County Speedway) all employed as part of the team offering this to the public. After he stopped laughing over old times with them, it was off for the ride around this classic racetrack. As this was not his first visit (He’s been there during Speedweek and even had a full access pit pass one year) to the track, he knew what to expect, but said it was a real thrill none the less.

The Richard Petty Driving Experience offers several levels of opportunities for you to enjoy:

The basic experience is the Ride Along. “Available At: All locations (during scheduled driving experiences) Price: $89 – $125 (Price varies according to track location.) Highlights: Experience a real life racing thrill when you ride shotgun in a two-seat stock car driven by a professional instructor for a Winston Cup style Qualifying Run”

From there, it’s a chance to ride in a race with other cars out on the track in the Ultimate Ride Experience. “Available At: Short tracks to superspeedways across the country. Price: $199 – $249 (Price varies according to track location.) Highlights: Richard Petty Driving Experience is taking you one step closer to experiencing first-hand the thrill and excitement of stock car racing! Experience a real race from the passenger’s seat. Ride for six to ten laps from flag to flag as you experience side-by-side racing, drafting, passing, pit stops and more!”

Next up the ladder is the Rookie Experience with you behind the wheel and in control of the car. “Available At: Atlanta, California, Chicagoland, Darlington, Gateway, Homestead, Indianapolis, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Lowe’s, Memphis, Michigan, Milwaukee, Nazareth, New Hampshire, Phoenix, Pikes Peak, Richmond, Talladega, Texas and Walt Disney World. Price: $349 – $499 (Price varies according to track location.) Highlights: Your hands are on the wheel, your foot is on the gas, and you’re in the driver’s seat for 8 laps around the track. The program lasts three hours; the memories last a lifetime.”

Not enough? Well get ready, as the next level is the King’s Experience. “Available At: Atlanta, California, Chicagoland, Darlington, Gateway, Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Lowe’s, Michigan, Milwaukee, Nazareth, New Hampshire, Phoenix, Pikes Peak, Richmond, Rockingham (UK), Talladega, Texas and Walt Disney World. Price: $749 – $1199 (Price varies according to track location.) Highlights: Satisfy your need for speed while trying to tame the speedway in this high-thrill, 18-lap program. Total program lasts approximately five hours.”

Are we there yet? Maybe not! How about the Experience of a Lifetime? “Available At: Atlanta, California, Chicagoland, Gateway, Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Lowe’s, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pikes Peak, Rockingham (UK), Texas and Walt Disney World. Price: $1199 – $1249 (Price varies according to track location.) Highlights: Think you can handle 30 laps of white-knuckled, heart-pounding speed? Improve your driving line, increase your speed and consider a career change.”

By now, you should be ready for anything! So why not step up to the Racing Experience? “Available At: Atlanta, Las Vegas, Lowe’s and Texas. Price: $2399 Highlights: This program covers 80 laps over 1 1/2 days. You’ll receive instruction on refining your driving line, building speed, and side-by-side driving.”

Can you feel the pace getting exciting? Move up one more level to the Advanced Racing Experience. “Available At: Atlanta, Las Vegas, Lowe’s and Texas. Price: $2999 Highlights: The greatly intensified personal instruction makes drivers who take this 40 lap program feel like they’re ready to take on Petty. Experience of a Lifetime or Racing Experience is prerequisite for admission to this experience.”

Ok, so you’re all set to go now, right? Well then, how about some experiences at particular speedways around the country? You can choose from the following:

? BRISTOL EXPERIENCE
? BRICKYARD EXPERIENCE
? DAYTONA EXPERIENCE
? DAYTONA SUPER 16
? TALLADEGA EXPERIENCE
? TALLADEGA SUPER 16

So there you have it. How to get from one side of the fence to the other, and see what it’s like from the track instead of the grandstand.

But that’s not the only way. Check out your local speedway or racetrack. Just up the freeway from me (Jim and Nancy drove right by on their way to Fresno/Mineral King and didn’t even know it!) is the infamous Altamont Raceway Park. (In 1970, the Rolling Stones used the property for an open-air concert, and hired a local Hells Angel chapter to provide security. Details have never been clear, but there was a fatality, and the place was marked for history.)

Today, Altamont makes a claim that it is the fastest half-mile paved oval track in Northern California. According to the history page on their web site, “Altamont Raceway Park originally opened its gates to the public in the 1930’s and changed to its current configuration in 1963. Throughout its history, Altamont has run a wide variety of events and attracted some of the biggest names in racing history, such as Foyt, Andretti and Unser. Today, Altamont is sanctioned by the SRL Short Track Auto Racing Series.”

But it has something that let’s average folks like us enjoy racing all that much more. Rentals! Previously, rentals has been available in the Mini Super Truck division — that races on the quarter-mile oval. A new division, the CAM or Corporate American Modified cars offers spectators a slightly less intimidating opportunity with all the thrills one would expect. Racing schools offer instruction to all ages at the track including the opportunity to race.

Opportunities like these are available across the country, so the next time you’re out at the local speedway, ask! You will be surprised (and maybe even tempted) by the answer.

Back to the Nurburgring for a closing comment. Road & Track Magazine had a great feature on the track in the January 15, 2001 issue. While the layout of the track has changed a bit since that 1959 visit (although a new F1 course also is in the area), the public is still able to drive the old course for a fee — in 2001 that was about $9.50 a lap. One of the most disturbing sights has to be the tour busses travelling the circuit — at speed. (Here’s another fan site for the Nurburgring.)

One issue the article does cover is that the old track has seen its share of accidents — both during races as well as during open driving events. Unlike the legal wrangles this would offer here in the U.S., it is very clear that once you decide to drive the circuit or even stand as a spectator at certain locations, you do so at your own risk. If something happens, so be it, and no one else is liable for anything. Now that’s refreshing…. Someone accepting responsibility for their own actions and not expecting someone else to do that for them. What a concept!

 

So there you have it. Another one of those things you always wanted to do, but didn’t think you could! Next week, there is another tale from out and about, and hopefully, the next piece in this series will follow that — the tale of spending the night in a real medieval castle. Yoikes and away!!!

Thanks again to everyone who has given coin of the realm through Roger’s Amazon Honor System Paybox. Even a dollar or two makes the smiles grow out here on the electronic prairie.

Roger Colton

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History

The Evolution and History of Mickey’s ToonTown

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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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History

Unpacking the History of the Pixar Place Hotel

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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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History

From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be

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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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