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Ruminations – No Cigarette Sponsors Here, Either

Racing may be the nation’s fasting growing spectator sports. But Roger has a look at one particular event that you won’t find at a track near you…



Now in a good year, I’d be sending this report from the field from the sagebrush somewhere north of Reno. Yes, the fastest racing event on the planet (okay, about 100 feet above the ground), the Reno National Championship Air Races is once again taking to the skies. Hundreds of thousands of folks will be making the pilgrimage up the 395 to Stead Field. But, as interesting a tale that event will offer to be told, you won’t find it here.

What you will find, instead, is a tale that mixes Hollywood eccentricities, San Francisco socialites and Nevada’s historical Comstock Lode. So roll the dice and check out what comes along!

Patient readers of this space may recall that my first visit to the Silver State came in the summer of 1959. I was likely all of seven months old at the time, having crossed the country in a new Renault station wagon on an odyssey from New York escorted by my parents and a plush tiger named “Remley”, in homage to the drummer, Frankie Remley from the “Phil Harris – Alice Faye” radio show (discs of those shows in MP3 form can be found here — some funny stuff!).

Now Nevada has always been what you would call “rustic” once you left the bigger cities of Las Vegas, Reno or other boomtowns. That was true in 1959, and still remains true today. Part of that lure attracted writer Arthur Miller, along with many other folks. Well, that and easy residency requirements for divorce. Through the Thirties and into the Sixties, it was common for dude ranches to do double duty as divorcee’s-to-be spent their six weeks out of the spotlight to meet the legal requirements. Miller did just that in 1956, but spent his time in a rented shack near Pyramid Lake, some fifty miles northeast of Reno.

That time provided him with the inspiration for the story that ultimately became the screenplay for “The Misfits“(1961). One day during his stay, Miller went (according to the book, “The Story of The Misfits“, by James Goode) out of simple boredom, along with a new friend to visit another shack while one of the previous occupants collected some pots and pans she had left behind during he stay. Miller encountered the new tenant – a woman from the East, also in Nevada for her divorce — and her two friends, ostensibly “cowboys”. His encounter with these folks led to his story and screenplay.

The summer of 1960 saw the production crew and cast for the film come to Reno to shoot the project in the same locations Miller had seen four years earlier. Director John Huston along with his crew and cast of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter, all spent from mid-July into mid-October on locations all over northern Nevada. John Huston often spent as much time gambling as he did directing, and the problems with Marilyn Monroe were the stuff of legends as she proved just how difficult an actress can be on location. Late arrivals on the set were a daily travail she forced the rest of the team to live through. But the tale being told in today’s little effort here involves one of the diversions John Huston took advantage of to ignore those and other problems for a short while.

One of the films locations was the tiny town of Dayton, along the Carson River, east of the State Capital, Carson City. Back then, it wasn’t much; today it still isn’t much. The “glory days” of this town had gone by in the late 1870’s when it was one of several locations where the ores from the Comstock mines were processed at various mills along the river. But as the ores played out, the mills closed one by one and the town’s residents largely went elsewhere. A railroad line along the river heading south into the heart of the state did little to help, even when the big boom came in Tonopah after the turn of the Twentieth Century.

So, when “The Misfits” came to town, it was a real boost. It may have been only for a few weeks, but it put the town back on the map as a minor tourist destination. The bigger attraction then and still today is Virginia City, up the Six-Mile Canyon on the slopes of Mount Davidson. And it was there that John Houston found himself on Labor Day, September 5, 1960.

Telling it from the perspective of someone who was actually on hand as a witness, James Goode relates the full tale of that day in a chapter entitled “Instead of burning sand, there was junk”. I’m sharing that with you because he tells it better than I ever could by interpreting the various accounts.

September 5 – Over a hundred years ago, the United States Army reasoned that the camel was a natural instrument for carrying supplies and troops around the deserts of the great Southwest, and imported a number of them, stationing them as such removed spots as Dayton, Nevada (where a stone camel barn may still be seen), and the Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles. There was even a camel race in the streets of Virginia City, just above Dayton, in 1866, if you have any faith in the historical-promotional studies of Lucius Beebe’s Territorial Enterprise. The U.S. Army, however, did not take into account that you must love a camel to do anything with it, and it is hard to love a camel, unless it is the only thing within miles – as it is for an Arab.

How the enlisted camel drivers felt about it is recorded in an 1857 song, supposedly unearthed by the erudite Enterprise.

“I’ve rid on mean ‘gators in Floridy’s swamps,
Catamounts, bull calfs, and mule critters too,
But each one is a saint to a camel which ain’t
Good for nothin’ but eatin’ and spittin’ at you.”

The Enterprise yearned to bring camels back to Virginia City and sponsored a camel race to be held today, Labor Day, on a 5/8-mile course in the street in front of the county courthouse, in Virginia City. They were offering the winning rider a chalice of Arabian crystal, surmounted by a Comstock silver lid and a silver miniature camel.

Several months earlier, the San FranciscoChronicle and the Phoenix ( Arizona) Gazette had decided to enter camels in the race, and obtained two camels from San Francisco’s Fleishacker Zoo. The Indio ( California) Junior Chamber of Commerce, which has access to local camels, also announced an entry. Casting about for a rider, the Chronicle asked Billy Pearson, ex-jockey and San Francisco dealer in pre-Columbian art, if he would ride. He would, but only against friend Huston. Huston applied for and got the seat on the Phoenix camel. Neither had ever ridden a camel before, nor did they rehearse.

The events today began with a champagne party in the bar at the Reno airport, followed by a ride to Virginia City in Bill Harrah’s fleet of antique automobiles. Huston’s car, a 1914 American Underslung, expired on the Geiger grade going up to the race, and Herb Caen, the Chronicle columnist, said later that Huston shot it in the radiator and took a bus.

In Virginia City there was a parade, with Shriners in Arabian silk trousers bringing up the rear. Then Huston and Pearson dashed for the liquor storeroom of the Sharon House to change into riding clothes. Herb Caen, Pearson’s handler, stuffed Billy into his old racing silks, a derby, and a red kerchief, and Charles Mapes, Jr., Huston’s valet for the occasion, handed John his costume. It began with some ancient and beautiful English riding breeches, and whatever effect these may have had was immediately destroyed by tennis shoes, a mauve shirt, Alice McIntyre’s silk handkerchief, a Faubus-for-President button, and Frank Taylor’s hat, a sennit straw number with a Madras band. Taylor didn’t want to give up his hat, which had been the first and last of a marque at Brooks Brothers, but refusing Huston would have been tantamount to refusing a match to an Olympic torch-bearer.

Huston chided Pearson, who looked apprehensive; “Remember Chantilly. Stop crying. Keep a stiff upper lip. We ride or we don’t get out of town.” Caen: “He can’t smile, for Christ’s sake. He’s seen his camel.” Nancy Camp, Miss Chronicle Camel Keeper from San Francisco, in an abbreviated Gay Nineties costume, gave each of them a drink and they went off to the stables at the finish line to look at their mounts.

Casey Baldwin, director of the Fleishacker Zoo, who had loaned the camels, was trying vainly to get saddles and muzzles on the two beasts. Huston’s, a five-year-old Bactrian (two-humps) cow name Old Heenan, had never been ridden but was fairly tractable. The sight of Pearson’s camel only inspired despair. It was a fifty-year-old dromedary (one hump) named Izmir (Izzy) Kufte that had been retired from all activity twenty three years before. A camel is one of God’s unloveliest creatures anyway, but this was one moth-and-rat-eaten, and there was no visible place where a man might cling. In desperation, Baldwin had wrapped an old tennis net around and around Izzy’s midriff and Pearson was invited to hang on to the net during the race.

The Indio entry, a hot unmilked fifteen-year-old female Bactrian named Sheba, or Deglan Noor, was tethered at the starting line. All of the camels, and Pearson, were in a hydrophobic rage, the camels poking their obscene tongues through the leather muzzles, revealing horrible long yellow teeth, and swinging their insanely quick necks around in attempts to bite their riders. Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg lined up the camels, which were getting up and down endlessly on their splayed legs, in total fury.

Clegg fired the starting pistol shortly before the camels died of rage. Huston’s camel headed like a shot toward the stable on the other side of the finish line, outrunning the horses that were meant to lead the race. Pearson’s crazed camel went in all directions, through the crowd, up, over, and around parked cars, mashing in the trunk of a new Lincoln, narrowly missed a six-year-old girl, and then headed for the open door of Piper’s Opera House, a city block from the prescribed course. Pearson clung like a fly to the hide of a mad elephant, ducking under the hump to miss the doorway of Piper’s, and managed to get off the camel in the lobby of the opera house. He sat for some twenty minutes afterward in a catatonic trance on a windowsill, hugging his knees and crying.

The Indio rider had been thrown at the very start, and Deglan Noor crushed several people against cars in his path, but injured no one. Huston was a clear winner by 234 lengths, and beamed for the photographers as he rode across the finish line, hair flying in the wind. Frank Taylor said that Huston looked like the sign from the George C. Tilyou Steeplechase ride at Coney Island as he swung into the stables.

Huston was brought to the judge’s stand, and asked to say a few words for a national ABC radio show. He said that Old Heenan was the damndest camel he had ever ridden, that he owed the victory to his deep understanding of the camel, and to his handler, Charles Mapes, Jr., and that this was the penultimate moment of his racing life.

The announcer interrupted: “He’s been in training many months…”
Huston: “Many years.”
Announcer: “Many years, pardon me.”
Huston: “All of my life, in fact.”
Announcer: “What kind of a feeling is it up there on the back of a camel, John?”
Huston: “Well, it’s uh, there’s uh, you’re living when you’re up there, there’s no question about that. You know you’re alive. It has it’s ups and downs, but so has life itself.”
Announcer: “How true. I don’t know whether he ought to be the director or the comedian in this movie he’s making. John, how did you get on? Our view was blocked. I didn’t see the start.”
Huston: “How did I get on the camel? Well, the way a jockey is put onto a horse. I was given a leg up. I asked a girl if she’d give me a leg up before the start, but she looked rather shocked, so the job was turned over to someone else… a man.”
Announcer: “And your friend, Pearson?”
Huston: ” Well, he gave his horse, his camel, a lovely ride over several parked cars, a few widows and orphans… there are babies in arms still scattered over these historic hillsides, bloodied. Actually, it’s a scene of carnage, owing entirely to Billy’s mismanagement of his camel… He’s just not, just not camelwise…”
Pearson (seizing the microphone): “My camel was a ***.”
Announcer: “That summarizes the race…”
Huston: “He’s lacking in camel lore.”
Announcer: “Incidentally, how did you ever get across the finish line?”
Huston: “Well, what a question? How do you think I won the race without crossing the finish line?”
Announcer: “Well, the only thing I know is that the Chronicle sponsored this event. You were a Chronicle rider, I understand.”
Huston: “Not at all.”
Announcer: “There was a Chronicle camel and the judges, two of the judges, came from San Francisco…”
Huston: “Your misinformation in unfathomable. No, indeed, I represent the PhoenixGazette. All the Chronicle people are my mortal enemies. I’m polite to them but it was a Chronicle man that just took that shot at me. Herb Caen lost his girl to me at…”
Announcer: “It was just before the race, wasn’t it?”
Huston: “Just shortly before the race. My relations with San Francisco and particularly the Chronicle are at a very low ebb indeed.”
Pearson: “It was a foul start.”
Huston: “Anything to do with camels is foul.”
Announcer: “Thank you, John Huston.”

September 6 – While Huston and Pearson recreated the race at a victory banquet at the Sharon House yesterday, Marilyn Monroe was flying back to Reno. Shooting resumed this morning in the saloon at Dayton.”

Astute readers may recall that I mentioned this event two weeks ago. Well, the 2004 Virginia City Camel Races are now history as are the days of filming “The Misfits” in the Silver State. A search for the results of this year’s race is ongoing, but I’m sure that “a good time was had by all”.

Speaking of a good time, yes that promised saloon excursion tale is coming along nicely. It just needed some first hand research to follow up on a finer pint, eh point, or three. Look for it coming along, soon…

I know I’ve been pushing the American Red Cross for your consideration at the end of my last few columns. I’m doing it again today. There are one heck of a lot of people they continue to help on a daily basis all over the world, but especially in Florida and right now. If you can share something, now is a really good time to do so. ’nuff said!

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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