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A trio of temptations awaits this week! And all well worth the time it takes to investigate, so read on adventurers…



You never know what you’ll stumble on to out and about on the ‘net. And so it is that you’re the beneficiaries of three little gems unearthed from the Information Superhighway. So, buckle up and away we go!

Once upon a time, no Saturday was complete without a visit to your local movie palace (or shack as the case might be) for a wide variety of short subjects and a feature film (likely something of the killer “B” genre) or two before it was time to head home for dinner piping hot from Mom’s kitchen. Usually those short subjects were a newsreel, a Disney and or Warner cartoon and the latest chapter of a serial adventure. If you don’t think the latter had any influence on the generations of movie goers who made sure not to miss a single chapter of their favorite heroes in action, well, you obviously spent too much time in line at the candy counter.

A couple of kids who seemed to have gotten what those films were all about? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. What else would you call any of the “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” films? They’re nothing but new versions of the old serial adventures all shown at the same time. How many of you have ever watched a full viewing of each chapter of such favorites as “Radar Men From The Moon” staring Commando Cody (complete with his flying suit and keen helmet – Hello? “Rocketeer” anyone? And don’t overlook Leonard Nimoy in his first screen role as of all things a space alien. “Star Trek” likewise just an overgrown space adventure in serial form, right)?

Well then you would be as pleased as I was to discover “Rex Steele – Nazi Smasher”. What started as the typical student film project has turned out to be anything but. Based on the adventures appearing in a compilation of titles from Monkeysuit Press, the work of creators Bill Presing and Matt Peters has taken on a new and exciting chapter (“13” to be precise, or as it’s subtitled, “Into The Bosom of Terror”).

What you get here is a fine step back to those days in the theater waiting to see how your hero had managed to survive last week’s peril. Alexander Woo is the power behind the throne here as the Producer/Director, with both Bill and Matt as the lead story guys and animators.

“Rex” has the same flavor as the Fleisher “Superman” cartoons of the 1940’s. According to Alex, that’s not too much of a coincidence. “It’s funny that you mention the Fleischer cartoons. Many people have made that connection, and they were definitely an influence. We wanted to do a sort of modern day pumped up version of that genre of film.” There are more than a number of elements to compare from Rex and the jutting jaw of his profile, to his trusted sidekick Penny Thimble as the vulnerable (yeah, right!) female.

This wasn’t the usual quick and dirty student film, by any means. Again Alex: “The film was made over three years. I started it after my sophomore year of College (New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts ). I spent about two and half years in pre-production and production, storyboarding, and animating everything myself. During the last six months, I started recruiting students and friends in the industry to help finish the film up. I gathered together a great ink and paint team that worked on ANIMO (a digital ink and paint software program from Cambridge Works), and also handed out tied down animation to be cleaned up and made ready for scanning.”

“Most of the background paintings were done by friends of mine for next to nothing in pay. There were all doing me huge favors. All the paintings were done in Photoshop. So while I was getting all these elements from my different departments, I would slowly composite all the elements together in After Effects 6.0. When I had all the scenes together, I just edited it together with Final Cut Pro.

The music, which is my favorite part of the film (because I didn’t have to do any of it!), was scored by my Ryan Shore – an award winning composer who had worked on another short film that I had worked on early on in college. I knew we needed a grand orchestral score but also knew we couldn’t afford any US professional orchestras, so we decided to look abroad. Our search led us to Prague, where the Czech Philharmonic have made quite a name for themselves in film score recording (they had done Brad Bird’s “The Iron Giant” which was a HUGE inspiration – musically and cinematically). We contacted them, and ended up flying over there to record in their world famous concert hall, the RUDOLFINUM (the same place the score for The Iron Giant was recorded).”

According to Alex’s bio on the WooHoo! Pictures web pages, “He recently graduated from the Film/TV Production program, where he won the Russell Hexter Filmmaker Award, and the Richard Protovin Award for Excellence in Animation. He has spent the past three years working on his first film, “Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher”, while also animating professionally on a number of shows and commercials.

Alex is currently developing his own animated projects for both film and television.”

Creators Bil Presing and Matt Peters are also seasoned veterans of the animation world in their own rights. Again from the WooHoo! pages:

“BILL PRESING – co creator

Bill Presing has been working in the animation industry for over seven years. After graduating from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in 1996, Bill soon began work on various commercials and animated television shows, including Walt Disney Television’s “Doug”, “PB&J Otters” and “Lizzie Mcguire”. He has also worked on a number of Cartoon Network shows as a storyboard artist, including “Sheep in the Big City”, and the upcoming “The Venture Bros”. Bill has also worked as an Art Director on the Warner Bros. Animation web cartoon “Gotham Girls” and various General Mills commercial spots.

Bill’s work has been recognized by a number of a award committees and institutions. The “LUGZ” commercial spot he illustrated was nominated for an ANNIE award, and his work on the animated opening for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show “won him a prestigious Daytime Emmy award. Bill is also the co-creator of “Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher”, a comic book for which he received a nomination for the 2000 IGNATZ award for outstanding artist.

Bill Presing is currently a storyboard artist at Pixar Animation Studios.”

(All the more interesting as “Rex” got a recent showing on the Emeryville Campus…)

“MATT PETERS – co creator

Matt Peters has made animation his profession now for seven years. After graduating from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in 1996, Matt has worked on projects ranging from commercials to television animation. He has worked as a storyboard artist and designer for such Walt Disney television cartoons as “Doug”, “PB&J Otter”, “101 Dalmatians”, and “Sabrina The Teenage Witch”. He has also storyboarded for Cartoon Network on such shows as “Codename: Kids Next Door” and “Sheep in the Big City”, as well as various pilot episodes including the soon-to-be-released “The Venture Bros.”. Matt has also storyboarded web-animation for the Gotham Girls web-cartoon by Warner Bros. Animation.

In addition to animation, Matt has worked in illustration and publishing heading the storybook department of Disney’s Doug as well as PB&J Otter. His contributions to the “Monkeysuit” anthologies are as the co-creator of “Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher” and also as artist and writer of various other short comics.

Matt Peters is currently completing back to back seasons of Cartoon Network’s hit show Codename: Kids Next Door.”

A final credit from that web page has an interesting side note:

“DAN BLANK – Voice Actor and Gag man

Dan Blank is a recent graduate from New York University’s animation program. While in school, he provided the voices to many of the celebrities on all four seasons of MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch, from Kelsey Grammer to Hugh Hefner to Steven Spielberg. Dan studied animation alongside Alex Woo, and his stop-motion film “Shadowplay” went on to win both a Student Academy Award and Student Emmy Award. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he is a visual effects artist on the upcoming “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”, and coincidentally, will be providing some voice-over work on the film as well. Aside from voice-over acting and animation, Dan’s life long dream is to retire and live out his days as the butler at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.”

To learn more about Dan and his film “Shadowplay”, visit this link. Hmmm, maybe we’ll have to chat with him about “Sky Captain”?

So? Are you ready to find a showing of “Rex Steele – Nazi Smasher”? I am! Coming up a handful of days from now, to be precise and just up the road from me here in Livermore. The Danville (California) International Children’s Film Festival has “Rex” all set on the program. Friday, May 21 through Sunday, May 23 they’ll be showing a variety of films for and by children. “Rex” is scheduled to be shown Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and then on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in the Town Hall location. Saturday’s hours for the full event run from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday’s from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a variety of events before during and after (some at extra cost). I’ll be there on Saturday, at least to see “Rex”…

Now I promised a trio of things this time out, so here’s the next one. How about two great silent films and live orchestra accompaniment? I’m a fan of might Wurlitzer theater organs of both Hollywood’s El Capitan (liberated from San Francisco’s fabled Fox Theater) and Oakland’s Paramount. But a full orchestra? Why, of course! And two classic silents from a couple of favorites. How about Walt Disney’s first Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Plane Crazy” and Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill Jr.”? That’s the program for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s Annual Silent Film Gala, Saturday June 5 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Prices may seem a bit on the spendy side ($30 for General Admission), but I find it hard to imagine an evening like this any other way! I’m trying to find a way to get down for that evening…

Finally, back a few months when we were all out at Walt’s Barn in Griffith Park, there was a flyer for a new book on the Disneyland Railroad. Well here is the poop for your approval and pre-order! “Welcome Aboard The Disneyland Railroad” is the work of Steve DeGaetano, Editor of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society newsletter The Carolwood Chronicle. And from what he has in store, this book is going to be taking a place on many a shelf soon. Here’s a glimpse into it:

“Some of what you find inside the 300 pages of Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad!:

? Information on exactly how the locomotives are operated, including custom-made drawings with call-outs of a locomotive cab interior;

? In-depth histories of the locomotives including their “vital statistics,” rolling stock both old and new, stations and servicing structures;

? Over 100 never-before-published color photographs and over 20 custom-made CAD drawings of the locomotives, cars and stations;

? Notes on modeling the Disneyland Railroad, including tested formulas for creating close approximations of the colors used on the trains;

? Discussions of the wide variety of collectibles available for the Disneyland Railroad, including both common and rare items of interest;

? A written and photographic tour of the Roundhouse, with descriptions of the day-to-day activities of those who keep the trains running;

? What it’s like to ride in the cab, with thorough discussions of the locomotive controls; firing techniques, and operating procedures.”

That’s just what this Disney railfan is ready for! Now here’s the deal:

“The first edition of Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad!, with a publication date of fall 2004, will be extremely limited. The cost of the hard cover book is only $64.95 plus shipping and handling. Each numbered book will be signed by the author upon request. If you pre-order before September 1, 2004, you will also receive, absolutely free, one of Steve’s signed and numbered limited edition prints of the E.P. Ripley, the same one that hangs in Diane Disney Miller’s home. This print is a $40.00 value, but is yours FREE when you place a pre-order for the most comprehensive book on the Disneyland Railroad ever written, Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad!”

Well, that’s all for this week. A trio of fun and something for everyone I hope…

Next week? Oh, that’s a long way off yet, but hey, there’s a holiday weekend ahead and I wouldn’t want to disappoint any of you faithful readers out there. I’ve still got a few things to share yet…

We’re working on the Message Boards still fine tuning things, so don’t be alarmed just yet. Your comments are appreciated either way to help shape the final product, or as final as anything on the Internet can be. Don’t’ be a lump, share your thoughts!

On the donation front for the Message Boards, kudos to our own Instidude for doing his part by sharing a donation with us. As nice as that is, we have about two-thirds of what we need to make the advertisements go away again. Every bit helps folks, no matter how much. So think about it, will you?

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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