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Roger Colton is back from Anaheim with a column featuring both a trip report and a Disney topic for a change!



Jim Hill Media Featured Image

Very nice to see everyone, and yes, Jim Hill really does exist. Or if not, those folks at WDI really do know animatronics!

I tagged along with Jim and Chuck on their three Disneyland tours. Hope you enjoyed them. Heck, even I learned something new along the way as well.

The Meet ‘n’ Greet went well also, but we all missed Michelle and Alice who were both home with one of the many colds making the rounds. Thanks to better living through modern chemistry, I managed to enjoy the long weekend, if not the airline flights. Sinus troubles are just plain no fun at altitude.

Some observations from four days at the DLR:

1. DCA was busier than I have ever seen it. Aladdin may cost a bunch of money every day, but the 6:30 show on Friday was packed with a full house. Michele and I had seats in the rear of the orchestra level and enjoyed it. Give props to the Genie as he steals the show with all of the best lines. And despite what others have said, for the average guy and gal, the show does work. As well as any touring company of numerous Broadway musicals I’ve seen, the cast and crew did just fine.

2. We took the time to enjoy the wine tasting in DCA also on Friday afternoon. For $7 each, we got to sample four California wines with Elizabeth as our host. She was not only informative, but also entertaining. The cost was comparable to a single glass of wine, and the four in our group all gave her and the experience high marks.

3. “Flik’s Fun Fair” was also well received, and while we didn’t have any six-year olds as testers, we all gave in and did the Tuck & Roll Bumper Cars. For the younger crowd, the speed is just fine. The same for Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train. Cute, and even flavorful with a spritz from the watermelon.

4. Cheerleaders. Like Indiana Jones and Nazi’s. Maybe it was all raging teen hormones or ego’s out of control, but I was bumped, jostled and just plain assaulted by the gaggles traveling Disneyland with events held in the Festival of Fools and Fantasyland Theater areas. To quote Stan Lee, “’nuff said!”

5. Add me to the folks who like the restored soundtrack for “Small World.” Nice touch.

6. Once again, Al Lutz is going on about the possibility of a Dinner Train operation on the Disneyland Railroad. Riding and observing the railroad in operation just continues to show how and why a Dinner Train will never be profitable. You just can’t feed enough people and keep them comfortable aboard the Disneyland Railroad. Building an entirely new passenger train with modern heating and air conditioning along with proper onboard sanitation facilities and food handling will cost way too much. Hiring an outside consultant to run the thing is a bad idea, and one Walt would have laughed long and well over. Come on Disneyland management; let this idea just die quietly before throwing good money after bad. I’m not just blowing smoke here; I do have some practical knowledge on the subject. Better to spend it on something practical like renovations to the exterior on the Tiki Room instead…

7. Spring break should be a time when more attractions are opened than closed. As this was the quote beginning of that period, it was amusing to note everything down for rehab or just plain closed.

8. I managed to actually eat relatively healthy for a change and somewhat enjoyed it. Who knew? Everything from the Breakfast with Chip & Dale at the Storyteller’s Café in the Grand Californian to the Rancho De Zocalo in Frontierland offered something tasty and healthy.

Anyway, that’s the end of the major notes from the trip. One of the nicer four days I’ve spent there in a while actually.


Here’s the topic for this week’s column: Pins. From the consumer side of the story…

Let me start by saying, “Hi, my name is Roger, and I am a pin collector.” I’m addicted.

It started innocently enough when Disney was giving away “free” pins.

“Come on, kid! Try it! The first one is free!”

Now, I know that the concept of Disney giving anything away for “free” must seem somewhat unusual. If the truth were told, it was not “free” after all. You got something by buying a Disneyland admission.

Back in the day (1985), it was Disneyland’s 30th Anniversary. To promote attendance at the Park, some of the better minds in Marketing had come up with a good idea that would offer prizes to every 30th guest.

As guests entered at the gates, everyone received a ticket from the machine indicating what prize they had won. There were lots of folks with a “Sorry – not a Winner” tickets, but there were many different levels of winners. Minor prizes included these pins and free Disneyland passes. (In 1986, prizes included popcorn and ice cream, so that every guest was a winner.)

If you were very lucky, your ticket read “Gift Giver Extraordinare” and you got the chance to head down Main Street to the hub where an oversize birthday cake sat. (Right where the “Partners” statue is today.) Once your ticket was verified, you went up on stage with the event host and got your chance to pull the lever and see what you won. I don’t recall all of the prizes, but I do know that one was an oversize plush classic Mickey and Minnie set. (Two friends managed to win those. I never got more than the pins even though I went over 30 times to the Park that year.)

Once a day during the yearlong promotion, Disneyland gave away a brand new GM Geo automobile. (The cars were small enough that they fit inside the big cake and came up from below when the winner was chosen.) One woman I saw as the winner mentioned that she really needed a new car, as hers had literally died that morning on the way into the Park!

Back to the pins… In 1985, the pins given away were one for each of the lands of the Park. They were Main Street, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Bear Country, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. And so, pin trading began. If you already had one, why not trade another guest for one you did not have?

The pins were not without controversy. Some had sharp points that might hurt younger guests, and were replaced with rounded, friendlier versions. (Specifically, Tomorrowland had Donald with a spaceship with a pointed nosecone, and Frontierland had a sheriff’s star badge with points.) And over the two years, designed were slightly changed with new characters and or colors. (New Orleans Square featured both Mickey and Brer Fox with saxophones as an example.)

I’m not exactly sure when Disney started selling cloisonné pins. I do know that for the longest time, friends and I lamented the dearth of new pins as well as the limited variety on sale. Long before the Super Traders made it the fashion; we bought photographers vests (sold at the Adventureland Bazaar for all of $13 dollars as compared to $48 last weekend) and loaded them with our pins and buttons. At one point, I stopped wearing it because it was just so heavy!

When pin trading really and officially took off, I already had a fair sized collection of Disneyland Cast Member and special event pins, along with everything else. The trip to Florida in 1999 added a bunch more. Family and friends visiting various parks and stores helped with their contributions. When pin bags came along, I got a nice one with the DCA logo on it. Held all of my pins, some 500 or more of them. (You should get that I’m leading up to something here…)


It almost came to an end on one morning in March of 2001.

I had taken my pin bag to work the day before. And when I came home, for reasons that I will never remember, I left it in the car, in front of my home, along with a backpack. And I committed that most unpardonable of sins… I did not lock one of the car doors.

When I came out to the car to go to work that morning, I spotted a box of compact discs on the ground outside my door. Recognizing several of them as Irish music from my collection, I immediately became apprehensive. Those had been in the back seat last night. Going to the car, it became obvious. Someone had opened the door, taken the pins and the backpack (that along with a CD player, had about a dozen of my Disneyland Forever CD’s).

I give the thief some small credit. He or she took one of the Irish CD’s out of the disc player and left it with the others. I guess they liked Disneyland music more than Irish music. I filed a police report, and the responding officer mentioned that there had been a recent rash of auto and home burglaries in the area where doors were just checked to see if one was open. If they found one, they took what ever looked like it could be sold quickly.

In my case, the pin bag probably looked like a computer laptop bag. And the CD player was a cheap model, maybe $35 bucks. I posted a Lost Item and Reward poster all over the neighborhood, but never got any responses. I still check shops around town from time to time, but imagine the stuff ended up in the trash or at a flea market. I have a small hope that it’s in some kid’s bedroom some place.

Naturally, I was devastated. The loss represented some 15 years of my life and well over $2000 in value.

I could not think about buying new pins for some time. A search of eBay showed many of the pins I had lost were out there and available, but many were at an inflated price. (I also looked for someone in my area selling pins that I once had. No such luck…)

In the end, it was all just stuff, and it really was not the end of the world.

It had just seemed like it at the time.

What got me back into it was my nephews. I started them collecting pins on a visit to DCA a couple of months before the loss. They were collecting just for the fun of it, and really liked trading with cast members as well as with me. I see it more through their eyes as their passion now. And I must admit that I do get a kick out of seeing them descend on an unsuspecting CM like a roving pack of hungry wolves as they look for that new trade!

Thanks to them, today I have a small and yet interesting collection. There will always be the memories associated with those lost pins. Perhaps that’s the best way to think of the pins. After all, they are more souvenirs than they are collectibles; something I wish more people would remember…

Two of my favorite pin moments involved children and their parents, with both new to pin trading. The first was a daughter and mother who saw me trade with a CM on Main Street. They asked if they could look at my lanyard (How’s that for polite?), and then traded for three pins. They said this made their day as their experiences had been with several rude pin traders before. No one wanted to trade for any thing they had, saying that all they had were common pins. I didn’t mind trading with them as the pins on my lanyard were there for that reason. In the end, we all went away feeling better.

The other trade involved a family who had just gotten their lanyards about thirty minutes before I met them. Pins were neat, but they didn’t understand about trading with anyone. After a short introduction, we traded a few pins, and then were off in search of cast members to trade with. That just made my trip.

However, pin trading is not all smiles and sunshine. It’s got it’s own share of gangsters. I hope that there is a special theme park in hell with a corner just for pin sharks or the aggressive traders. My idea of pin trading is not badgering some child to get that collectible pin to fill in the gap in your bags. Another irritation are the clowns who wear multiple lanyards, and won’t trade anything. Some people just never got the concept of trading versus hoarding. That social part of pins is something we are all supposed to enjoy. It’s just too bad that there are a few folks out there who have forgotten that.

This last weekend I enjoyed trading with all kinds of folks from guests new to pins to CM’s to even a few traders with books. Sharks are still out there including one bozo with an entire page of the recent Surfboard Jessica pins he was looking to make big trades for. I almost wanted to call security and have him escorted out of the park as a scumbag pin dealer rather than a trader.

My wife even managed to make a final trade as we were waiting to catch the plane home. In the terminal at Long Beach a family was looking over it’s lanyards and she took the time to make a trade with one of the children for a Shere Khan pin to add to her Disney cats collection. She did well over the weekend adding to her collection of travel related Disney pins along with Winnie the Pooh and holidays.

I’m happy to admit there are new pleasures for me as pins are being added now and then. A recent obsession was Lilo & Stitch pins, and the new Disneyland Railroad pins. And on eBay, I finally managed to replace the complete set of those “free” pins that started it all.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to be addicted to after all.

And darned if the folks at Disney don’t keep coming out with interesting new pins…

Now if they would only come out with the T-shirt that says “Will Trade Wife For Disney Pins!”


Two weblinks for pins:

Official Disney Pin Trading Web site

Dizpins, unofficial site for news and information for Disney pin collectors


Roger’s wife also collects travel related and classic Pooh pins. She owns (and wore it last weekend!) the “Will Trade Husband For Disney Pins” T-shirt. He bought it for her.

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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