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Ruminations: Rex Steele & Harry Potter

Roger is back with a few updates for JHM readers. This time around, Mr. Colton shares his thoughts on D-Day, Rex Steele as well as where one can go in Scotland to see some “Harry Potter” related scenery & rolling stock.



This coming Sunday sees the sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy landings of 6 June, 1944. D-day

While I may not have a personal connection to events that took place, I do consider it as the single most important day in modern history. The actions of the men and women of the Allied nations involved in Operation Overlord undeniably did make the difference, and turned the tide against tyranny.

So, if you find yourself with a moment or two, I would hope that you might offer thanks for all of the sacrifices made (and still being made) that we might live in freedom today.

Well, what do you know? Something actually went off as planned! I got the chance to take in some of the events at the 2004 Danville International Children’s Film Festival on Saturday, May the 22nd of. I hadn’t been here since the old days (maybe twenty-five years ago) when it was the Village Theater showing second run films at a cheap price. Hey, it was a great place for that high school date way back when…

Observant readers of this page may recall that among those events was to be two showings of “Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher” . While I didn’t get the chance to view all of the animated (or live action for that matter) entrants, “Rex” was clearly one of the higher quality two-dimensional projects. Another animated entrant was shown before, “Rex”. The minutes spent watching seemed like an eternity; almost painful in length and story. By the time it was done, I felt like I had been through a long viewing of really bad animatics.

However, the highlight of the trip was meeting “Rex” co-creator, Bill Presing . We watched the showing and then chatted over lunch at fine British pub, “The Crown” , just around the corner from the theater.

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks since I first introduced you all to “Rex”. Bill set up a well attended screening at Pixar where it was well received. And the awards seem to keep on coming for this film, too. On May 18th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the winners of it’s 31st annual Student Academy Awards competition . In the Animation category, “Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher” was one of three winners. The awards presentation on June 13th will reveal the placement of Bronze, Silver or Gold Medals with cash prizes as well. Now from their site:

“The June 13 Student Academy Awards presentation ceremony begins at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Clips from the bronze and silver medals will be shown and the gold medal films and Honorary Foreign Student film will be screened in their entirety. Seating is on a first-come basis only and early arrival is suggested as once capacity is reached, no one will be admitted, even with a ticket. To request a maximum of four tickets, call the Academy at (310) 247-3000, ext. 130. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.”

If you’re in the neighborhood, that’s something you might want to consider for a Sunday evening. Free is always good! But if you can’t make it for that event, “Rex” has a few more screenings in store. Try one of these:

2004 Asian Film Festival of Dallas
Date: June 4th-10th, 2004
Location: Dallas, Texas

2004 Boston International Film Festival
Date: June 26th, 2004 9 a.m.-11 a.m.
Location: Heinz Center (BWAY 7 Theatre) Boston, Mass

2004 Fantasia Film Festival
Date: July 8th – 31st, 2004
Location: Montreal, Canada

And check the Woohoo Pictures website for more dates to be added (hopefully)!

Chatting with Bill over lunch, he related some of the tales of how “Rex” came to be. As he had always liked the classic serial films, he had thought about making his own on Super 8 but never got around to it. Later on as a class project, he needed to draw three pages of a comic and that’s where “Rex” finally was born. Matt Peters came on board and took on the writing for those pages. Bill and Matt both graduated from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey in 1996 and then found their way into television animation.

Bill worked on a variety of television projects for Disney, Cartoon Network and won a Daytime Emmy for his work on the animated opening of the “Rosie O’Donnell Show”. He found his way west and into Pixar as a story artist. He owes that (somewhat) to a Christmas card with a hula theme that he had sent to a friend working there. Seems that someone else liked the card enough to photocopy it, and when his portfolio was shown around, that drawing was remembered enough to help him on his way. Bill admitted he liked the change in pace of working on a feature rather than television.

He’s busy doing a new “Rex Steele” stand alone book (that may turn into a three or four issue series), which he hopes to have done in time for the San Diego Comicon later this summer. If all goes well, “Rex” will likely be available on DVD at the same time. As we parted, he was headed home to finish up on the artwork for the cover.

The world’s largest operational steam locomotive is out on tour again, back to Texas for the second time this year. Union Pacific’s #3985 (a Challenger steam locomotive) is headed to Houston to pull trains for several charitable events associated with the George Bush Presidential Library, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and Points of Light Foundation. There is something majestic in watching this locomotive do the job it was designed for. The Union Pacific deserves major points for keeping this heritage program going, year after year.

Currently the only other Class 1 railroad with a steam program is the Canadian Pacific but for the most part that operation has been staying pretty much close to home in Canada. The UP isn’t shy at all about their operation. For a number of years, they have sent their steam locomotives (they have one more — #844 — undergoing repairs in Cheyenne, Wyoming) out touring the nation. Even though the railroad ended passenger operations in favor of Amtrak, the UP owns and operates an impressive fleet of passenger cars and dedicated locomotives . In any given week, it is not uncommon for some of them to be in operation anywhere on the UP system for corporate events. When it is all assembled in one train, it faithfully recreates the railroad’s fabled “Streamliner” trains such as the “City of Los Angeles” .

The 3985 will head home to Wyoming from Houston in mid-June. In July, it will make a pair of round-trips between Cheyenne and Denver to pull the Denver Post’s train to and from Cheyenne’s “Frontier Days”. A tradition for over 60 years, it was revived in 1992 as has been immensely popular with folks in the Mile-High City ever since. The Union Pacific has used both the 3985 and 844 as well as diesel locomotives from it’s historic fleet on these trains every year since.

The paper has tickets available online. A sixteen-car train is planned to leave Denver at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 24 with an approximate 9 p.m. return. The trip is expected to sell out, so if you are interested, make haste! The $225 price is actually quite a bargain for the full day of events and the train ride.

Updating another column from last year, it is again the airshow season. The Collings Foundation continues to tour both it’s Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine-Oh-Nine” and Consolidated B-24 Liberator “All-American”. This particular weekend finds them (and 300 other vintage aircraft) in Merced, California for the Merced Antique Fly-In (at Merced’s Airport). The Merced Chamber of Commerce offered the following info from their web pages:

“The Merced Antique Fly-In is on of the oldest continually running exhibits of antique airplanes in the Western United States. The 2003 show will be the 4th annual event held at the Merced Airport. The Friday night dinner is the one of the highlights of the show and the many fly-bys have the audience’s admiration. The event is always held the first weekend in June. If you would like more information on this event please contact the chamber at 209-384-7092.”

Sadly, all is not well with another Boeing B-17 that was out on tour. The Experimental Aircraft Association’s “Aluminum Overcast” was damaged following a landing at the airport in Van Nuys, California. According to the information on their web page, the landing gear collapsed after the planed had landed and was taxing from the runway. No passengers were aboard during the incident, and the crew was uninjured. If you are so inclined, you might wish to consider a donation to the EAA or purchasing a souvenir of some kind from their online store to help fund the repairs to get this one back in the air…

In case you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, you might recall that the latest “Harry Potter” adventure comes to the big screen today. A tale from the production worthy of mentioning. Seems how the train used in the role of the “Hogwarts Express”, the “Olton Hall” created a somewhat embarrassing moment during filming. Almost taking the title of the latest novel (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) literally, a spark from the locomotive or the train managed to set fire to almost 500 acres of heather and trees on the moors near the famed Glenfinnan viaduct . That was back in February of 2003 during a rather unusual winter drought in the area. Here’s a link from a local newspaper with all the details and a photo.

It’s not unusual for steam locomotives to travel this route as there is regularly scheduled service between Fort William and Mallaig. During the summer months “The Jacobite Steam Train” is a great way to take in this very scenic part of Scotland, even if you’re not a “Harry Potter” fan…

But if you are, well here’s some good news:

Mon 31 May 2004

Hogwarts Express on track to pull in tourists


“POTTERMANIA is expected to fuel a record season for the Highland steam train linked to the Hogwarts Express, as services are launched a week early to meet demand from children – and adults – inspired by the release of latest film in the series.

This year’s steam-hauled trips on the Fort William to Mallaig railway start next Monday, a week after today’s much anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third adaptation from JK Rowling’s books.

The Jacobite, which operates Britain’s only scheduled main- line steam service, carried some 25,000 passengers last year – the highest yet. However, its owners expect the new film will help increase numbers even further during the service’s tenth season, which continues until October.

The National Trust for Scotland said visitors to the Glenfinnan monument, close to the 84-mile line, had also increased. The trust is waiting to see whether more tourists will flock to Glen Coe, where part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was filmed last year.

In the films of JK Rowling’s best-selling books, the Hogwarts Express conveys Harry Potter and fellow pupils to wizard school.

A sister train to the Jacobite was used in the films, but the two have become intertwined after the Hogwarts Express was seen crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct in the last film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

During the making of the latest film last year, a spark from the train is thought to have caused a blaze which devastated about 500 acres of moorland. The Glenfinnan Estate was reported to have lodged a claim for £100,000 because of the loss of thousands of young trees.

The West Coast Railway Company, which operates the Jacobite, said it expected the ‘Harry Potter effect’ to cast its spell on the train’s fortunes again.

Company spokesman James Shuttleworth said: “The films have definitely had a knock-on effect on patronage. We had a very good season last year and had to turn people away for the first time. The Jacobite was originally regarded by tourists as something to do when they were in the area. Now it is proving to be a reason for them to visit in the first place.”

The train will travel from its base at Carnforth in Lancashire – of Brief Encounter fame – later this week. Weekday services will be supplemented by Sunday trips in July and August.

Francoise van Buuren, a spokeswoman for the NTS, said the last Harry Potter film had boosted visitor numbers to the Glenfinnan monument by 25 per cent to about 200,000 a year.

She said: “We expect that after the new film is released even more people will come.”

However, she said that NTS staff were unsure about its likely impact on Glen Coe.

The Scottish Highlands and Islands Film Commission has calculated that the filming of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban enhanced the region’s economy by £3 million, with more than 400 cast and crew involved in the location work.

Visit Scotland said it would be working with Scottish Screen to assess the impact of the film following its release.

Sharon Makepeace, a spokeswoman for VisitScotland, said: “This next film is meant to be Scotland’s big thing, with the country featuring more visually in it, so we expect it to benefit tourism.”

The Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board said the Jacobite and its Harry Potter connection had been included in its accommodation guides.

Dot Ferguson, an economic development official with Highland Council, said the previous Harry Potter films had provided a “very positive spin-off” for the region.

This increased every time they were released in a new format, such as DVD and video. The first two films broke worldwide records, with a combined box-office gross of nearly £1.2 billion.

The Harry Potter books themselves have sold more than 42 million copies in more than 40 countries since the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published back in 1997. “

Looking further into the crystal ball, if the fates are kind, I’ll be joining Jim and the rest of the team during the upcoming series of Disneyland tours later this month. And next week, it’s back again with another look at a Bay Area amusement.

If you’re enjoying these tales from out and about, you can show your support by clicking on the Amazon Honor System for the Jim Hill Media web pages, and making a contribution. Every little bit helps keep the wheels of electronic communication spinning!

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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