Connect with us

Theme Parks & Themed Entertainment

Ruminations – “Dinner In The Diner”

Changing gears, Roger offers a look back at meals enjoyed during many a fine trip aboard those classic railroad dining cars.



So, how did we end up here?

It’s all due to the evils of eBay. One of my standard searches is for dining car items in the Railroadiana subsection of the Transportation category of Collectibles. Are you still with me there? Stay close; it’s easy to get lost on eBay…

On any given day, there are a good number of items listed with everything from paper menus to linen table cloths to china plates to all kinds of silver utensils and serving pieces. Heck, if you really want to get serious, there’s even a full sized dining car for sale! (Not that I would recommend this one, there are others out there on the market in better shape…) Over the last few years, I’ve added a few items now and then for use on some of those private railroad car trips.

The most recent treasure I located is dated January 1, 1940. Pocket-sized, it was once a corner-stone tool for it’s owner, Isaac Johnson. Number 189 out of an issued of 500, this is a very special little cloth tape bound book – the Southern Pacific Company – Special Recipes for Guidance of Chefs on Dining Cars – Dining Car, Hotel, Restaurant and News Service Department. 200 plus pages of the secrets of great meals that were enjoyed by travelers all along the routes of the railroad and it’s empire. Consider that at one time, that empire included dining cars, lunch counter cars, hamburger grill cars, ferryboats, steamships, lunch counters and restaurants in stations, crew points and more! Feeding us was one big effort, and the railroad knew how to do it. Do it right, and be as cost effective as possible, too.

I have a genuine respect for the men (and women!) who worked in this kind of service. It took a lot of hard work before, during and after meals to provide what they did. I’ve had my own experience cooking aboard the train, but nothing even close to what they did.

Many of these folks have shared their experiences through oral histories or articles in newspapers and magazines. Some of the better are:

Those Pullman Blues” by David Perata. A great collection of tales of life aboard the train as one of the onboard crew (porter’s, waiter’s, bartenders and more). Honest, informative, funny and poignant stories.

Dining By Rail” by James D. Porterfield. Jim offers a great look at the nuts and bolts of dining car service from the earliest days right up to Amtrak with lots of great recipes from railroads across the country. He also writes a column for Railroad & Railfan Magazine called “On The Menu”.

A local favorite of mine here in the Bay Area is Thomas C. Flemming. Well respected as a journalist, he is a co-founder of the Sun-Reporter, Northern California’s largest weekly African-American newspaper. One of his earlier professions was as a dining car cook with the Southern Pacific out of Oakland between 1927 and 1932. This web link has a series of columns he has written including a look at dining car service. It was no picnic and he doesn’t pull punches. This was a hard life and he tells it like it that.

Chef Melvin Pierson (ctr.), Cannis Elie (l.) and Oliver Medlock

prepare for rush of patrons as the “Daylight” prepares

to pull out of San Francisco for Los Angeles. (1945)

This photo gives you a glimpse of the cramped space in which a the cooks of a dining car worked their magic. It was hot, noisy and busy, busy, busy. Think three meals a day and the serving as many passengers as wanted to eat. In a 48-seat dining car, it was not uncommon to serve 300 passengers for a meal, and then the crew aboard the train as well! That’s at least six seatings, and off of a full menu of choices.

From the passenger perspective, you might make a request from the dining car steward to dine at a particular meal. On the Southern Pacific, Breakfast was served from 7:00 to 9:30 A.M., Luncheon was served from 12:00 to 2:30 P.M., and Dinner was served from 5:30 to 9:00 P.M. If space was available at a table, the steward would seat you. You would be handed a menu and he would place your meal check on the table with a pencil. As waiters were not permitted to take verbal orders, guests would write their meal selections. The waiter would then confirm the selections and then proceed to the pantry to place the order.

What most passengers never saw was the drama that unfolded to get that order completed and back out to the table. In the pantry,

Tempting choices, reasonably priced from this vintage menu on the secondary trains of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe circa 1954.

And for each one of those choices, the railroad had specific instructions. Not only the recipe, but what kind of plate and garnish was to be used.

Take for example, the following from that Southern Pacific’s 1940 Special Recipes:

“Chicken Pot Pie, Old Fashioned

Boil chicken, skin disjoint and bone. Arrange one-half in deep pie dish, garnish with a slice of hard-boiled egg, some carrots, turnips and celery cut small and cooked in broth. Cover with sauce made of chicken stock. Make a soft dough from biscuit blend, scoop from same a large dumpling, drop in center of dish and steam or bake under cover from ten to fifteen minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.”

Now, in your home kitchen that wouldn’t be too difficult, right? Try this. Imagine a kitchen that is maybe two and a half feet wide, and some fifteen feet long. Instead of a single cook, you would find the chef, a second, third and fourth cook. Each one had his own duties. And if you were unlucky enough to be the fourth cook, you also had to wash all of the dishes used in the dining car as well as the kitchen cooking pots and pans. And the stove you cooked on? For many years, that was a coal fired stove. Another plum job for the fourth cook was to get up before everyone else and be sure that fire was ready to go, and keep it that way all though the day.

Keeping track here? That’s cramped work space, very hot (with no air conditioning) and you’re busy during meal times. When not serving meals, you’re likely to be getting ready by doing all of your prep work for the next one. That could even include baking fresh rolls, breads, pies, cakes and other pastries.

Oh, and did we forget to mention that the train was usually moving? That means moving in all directions. You might go up, down, back and forth; occasionally all at the same time. (I’ve experienced the same cooking on the train to have the pan go one way and the contents go exactly the opposite with the unexpected results.) You were also expected to wear a clean uniform while on duty. So, you can appreciate that this was difficult if sometimes not impossible.

Yet, the men who worked aboard the dining cars did the impossible. Dining aboard the train, you found the same level of service and quality of food equal to many a fine hotel and or restaurant. Trip after trip, miracles continued. For many people, a meal in the dining car was the highlight of their trip. And certain railroads developed specialties for which passengers might go out of their way to be sure to ride just to enjoy that meal.

Remember how Walt Disney and Ward Kimball rode the Santa Fe’s “Super Chief” from Los Angeles to Chicago in 1949 to attend the Railroad Fair? Ward told the tale of how he was looking forward to enjoying the beef stew (which the train was well known for under the Fred Harvey company’s guidance), only to have Walt order a couple of prime steaks instead. Various railroads offered regional favorites. The Denver & Rio Grande Western was known for the Rocky Mountain Rainbow Trout served in their dining cars. A well told tale relates how a passenger asked the steward how fresh the fish was, only to hear that the chef had reeled it in only moments before as the train rolled along the Colorado River.

A typical dining car meal check (For Government Employees Only) from the Sante Fe’s Fred Harvey Dining Car Service! Don’t forget to add dessert to that order!

As much as I can appreciate the effort that went into the final product served to the guest, I was fortunate to experience it a very limited number of times. Specifically, six memorable meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner each way) aboard the Rio Grande Zephyr’s “Silver Banquet” dining car on a round-trip between Salt Lake City and Denver in 1980. (The D&RGW didn’t join Amtrak until the mid-Eighties.)

Before Amtrak took over passenger train operations in 1970, my only train ride of any distance did not have a traditional dining car, but featured an Automatic Dining Car with vending machines, a radar range (a.k.a. microwave) oven and a single attendant to make change and assist as needed. A glimpse of the menu offered aboard that car offers a glimpse into the corporate mind.

An experiment in cost cutting gone awry, the Southern Pacific’s Automat dining cars were genuinely despised by passengers and crews alike.

So to wrap up today, I’ll share a few more recipes from that fine little eBay purchase. I’m certain to be enjoying it for some time to come!

“Combination Special Salad

  • ½ head of lettuce, quartered
  • 1 tomato, peeled and quartered
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon of shrimps, marinaded
  • 4 asparagus tips

Arrange lettuce in couple plate with tomatoes between. Fill shrimps in center, garnish with egg and place asparagus tips in star formation. Serve with thousand island dressing.”

“Fritters, Corn

To one cup of canned corn add one teaspoon of sugar, two eggs and a pinch of salt. Beat well, and add one cup of flour mixed with one teaspoonful of baking powder. Fry in shallow grease. When using new corn, crush same well, and add melted butter as shortening.”

“Wiener Schnitzel (Cutlet Vienna)

Slice cutlet from tender part of veal leg (not the fricandeau part), flatten lightly, slat, season with paprika and dredge with flour. Dip into beaten egg and bread with fresh bread crumbs (not cracker meal). Fry in butter slowly on both sides until golden brown. Arrange on platter and surround with tomato sauce. Garnish with a slice of lemon on which is places a fillet of anchovy, ring shaped, with capers in center.”

“Celery, Southern Pacific

Remove outside branches of celery stalks, trim tops, wash thoroughly and boil in consommé until soft. Let cool in consommé until same becomes firm. When serving, quarter stalks, and arrange with some of the jelly in a platter lined with crisp lettuce leaves.”

“Pineapple, Creole

Cook one cupful of rice in one quart of milk. Add half cupful of sugar and one cupful of chopped pineapple. Mix well. Mold in sauce dish, top with slice of pineapple, cover with raspberry syrup. Serve hot.”

That’s only a small sample of some of the magic those dining car wizards used to produce on a daily basis. I’ll be sharing more of these classic recipes, and a few more tales now and then in the coming months.

Oh dear, it’s time for lunch now. Why is it that there’s never a dining car around when you need one?

Don’t forget out first JHM “Night at the Movies” coming to Oakland on August 27. So far, a growing but select group, and always room for more to join in what promises to be an evening of merriment and misadventures…

And as always, thanks to you. Our loyal supporters keep us here doing what we do best. Churning out more infotainment for another week! A buck or two dropped in the JHM Amazon donation box really does generate results!

Roger Colton

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading