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Sherlock Holmes Lives!

Following up on his “Hound of the Baskerville” story, Jim Korkis offers up another column about Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective in literary history and his more more artistic representations.



As early as 1962, actor Basil Rathbone, who had experienced fame as Sherlock Holmes on the screen and on radio from 1939 to 1946 and had supplied voice over narration work for the WIND IN THE WILLOWS segment of Disney’s THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD in 1949, concluded in his autobiography IN AND OUT OF CHARACTER, that “the only possible medium still available to an acceptable present-day presentation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories would be a full-length Disney cartoon.”

Rathbone’s prediction of a Disney cartoon somewhat came true with the release of THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE in 1986 where Basil of Baker Street stood in for the famous detective. Amusing in retrospect, the failure in 1985 of Paramount’s YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES resulted in Disney’s sudden re-titling of the famous children’s story from BASIL OF BAKER STREET to THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE because of the fear that audiences just didn’t care about Sherlock Holmes. Of course, the name “Basil” for the mouse had been inspired by actor Basil Rathbone who had performed as Sherlock.

“He is a gentleman who never lived and who will never die!” declared actor Orson Welles about Sherlock Holmes when he introduced a radio production where he performed the role of the legendary sleuth.

Without a doubt, Sherlock Holmes is the most famous detective in history. The silhouette of the tall, slender, hawk-nosed man with his deerstalker cap and curved smoking pipe is an instantly recognizable image. Holmes’ supporting cast is almost as well known: his ever-faithful companion, Dr. John Watson; his older brother, Mycroft Holmes; his patient landlady, Mrs. Martha Hudson; Scotland Yard’s sometimes bumbling Inspector Lestrade and the “Napoleon of Crime”, Professor James Moriarty.

The world of Sherlock Holmes is a living example of the romance and intrigue of Victorian England. It was an England where the London fog swirled outside gaslit rooms, and the rattle and “clip clop” sound of a horse drawn two wheeler carriage on cobbled streets disturbed the comfortable silence.

Much of Holmes’ London is still very much in existence today from the Bow Street Police Station and Hyde Park to the many exotic sounding railway stations like Charing Cross and Euston where Holmes and Watson began some of their colorful adventures.

Only 221B Baker Street does not exist, nor did it exist during the time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The author purposely chose a real street but a ficticious house number. Numbers 219 and 223 Baker Street (and everything inbetween) today belong to an imposing office building with a receptionist in the lobby trained to handle inquiries about the fabled detective, including routing of letter Holmes still receives from all over the world.

For many people, Holmes is more real and better known than most of the celebrities and political figures who fade so quickly after their brief moment in the spotlight.

In A STUDY IN SCARLETT, Dr. Watson gives the first description of Holmes in the following passage: “His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was over six feet and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing … and his thin hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of decision.” (On the other hand, Professor Moriarty commented in THE FINAL SOLUTION that Holmes had “less frontal development” than the Professor had expected.)

However, it was more than just the striking physical appearance that made Sherlock so unique. Holmes was no superhuman sleuth. He had flaws. While he possessed an amazing mind filled with exotic information, he was almost totally ignorant in areas of more common knowledge like literature, politics, and philosophy. He did however have a profound knowledge of chemistry, British law and the sensationalistic horrors committed by criminals.

His lack of concern for other areas of learning was explained by Holmes himself when he said: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it … It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it, there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge, you forget something you knew before.”

That was one of the reasons that Holmes maintained a library and scrapbooks in his work.

While the image of the intellectual sitting in his library shifting through clues and using the skills of deduction is prominent when people think of Holmes, it is often forgotten that Holmes was quite an athlete with particular expertise in boxing and swordsmanship. Once, when a giant of a man threatened Holmes by bending a poker into a horseshoe shape, Dr. Watson was amazed when using only his bare hands, Holmes was able to straighten it. What is also usually forgotten was Holmes’ addiction to cocaine, an exotic habit he used to relieve depression and boredom and to sharpen his senses. While in today’s society, such a habit would be frowned upon and be a cause for concern, a hundred years ago, it did nothing to dampen Sherlock’s ever-escalating popularity.

“I hear of Sherlock everywhere!” exclaimed Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft in THE GREEK INTERPRETER and that conclusion is even truer today than during those early years of his first appearances. No fictional character has had such amazing success in so many different media for over a century. Films, books, plays, cartoons, tv shows, radio dramatizations, and records continue to be produced featured Holmes and Watson.

For one generation, it was the image of William Gillette that represented Holmes. Gillette, a stage actor, performed frequently as Holmes from 1899 to 1935. It was Gillette who was the inspiration for artist Frederic Dorr Steele who drew the illustrations for the American editions of Doyle’s stories.

Steele often based his drawings on photographs of the actor. It was Gillette who popularized the deerstalker cap that had first appeared in the British editions illustrated by Sidney Paget and it was Gillette who adopted the curved pipe supposedly because it was easier to deliver dialog with it in his mouth.

For a later generation, it was Basil Rathbone who was Sherlock Holmes. Rathbone and Bruce made fourteen films as Holmes and Watson. “There was nothing lovable about Holmes,” stated Rathbone, “He himself seemed capable of transcending the weakness of mere mortals such as myself.”

Conan Doyle had little enthusiasm for his most famous creation and never quite understood Holmes’s continuing public success. “If my little creation of Sherlock Holmes has survived longer perhaps than it deserved,” stated Doyle, “I consider that is very largely due to these gentleman who have, apart from myself, associated themselves with him.” Although Doyle was specifically praising the work of several actors and illustrators of the time, his comments apply to the work of two people who captured the magic of Sherlock for newspaper readers in the mid-Fifties.

Writer Edith Meiser and artist Frank Giacoia produced one of the most greatly admired recreations of Conan Doyle’s work for the comic pages of the daily newspapers. In the Fifties, newspapers were in serious trouble as the public was turning more and more to television as the primary source of entertainment and information. In an attempt to attract and maintain readers, newspapers sought to develop new features. On the comic strip page, this meant the introduction of new strips based on characters from popular detective fiction such as Mike Hammer, Perry Mason, The Saint, and the spiritual father of them all, Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, these strips were short-lived not because of lack of quality but because readers were no longer willing to make the day-to-day commitment to the traditional story strip.

Edith Meiser (1898-1993) is perhaps best know for her work in radio, in particular the Sherlock Holmes radio show which ran three nights a week and was heard live on the East and West Coasts. Meiser graduated Vassar College’s drama department and established a career as a professional actress, writer and producer. (In fact at the same time she was writing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, she found time to perform as Gale Gordon’s wife in an episode of I LOVE LUCY entitled “Lucy’s Schedule”.)

The Sherlock Holmes radio show began as a dream of Meiser’s (who claimed to have been a fan of the detective since the age of eleven) who fought for years to get it on the air. Meiser single-handedly wrote the show for a dozen years and then with the help of some additional writers for another five years. Some stories on the radio show were based on Doyle’s stories (THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, THE COPPER BEECHES, etc.) while others were original tales (THE VAMPIRE OF CADIZ, MURDER IN THE WAX WORKS, etc.) Writers for the series included Leslie Charteris (creator of The Saint), Anthony Boucher and Denis Green.

Meiser received special recognition for how her work emphasized the moodiness of the original source material over excessive physical violence. Meiser’s original stories for the series were so well written that her work was warmly praised by Doyle’s widow and son who declared her work “admirable, absolutely admirable”. The radio show ended in 1950, a few years before the beginning of the comic strip which ran from March 1, 1954 to November 17,1956. The comic strip was officially authorized by the Doyle Estate.

The skills Meiser acquired in radio made her an excellent choice to script the comic strip. She had been used to establishing a scene with a small amount of dialog as well as writing for the distinctive speech rhythms of different characters. Her understanding of the world created by Doyle resulted in the comic strip not only having accurate adaptations of Doyle’s tales but original stories that remained true to the spirit of Sherlock.

A daily continuity strip offers its own unique challenges. The first panel has to recap the previous day’s event, the middle panel has to move the story forward and the final panel needs to be a cliffhanger either in action or dialog to make the reader pick up the next day’s paper to find out what happened. (And the Sunday strip needs to recap the previous week’s action for readers who only got that edition and yet not add anything significant that weekly readers might miss.) Meiser proved more than equal to the task.

Despite Meiser’s very great contribution, one of the key elements that made the strip so memorable was the artwork of Frank Giacoia. Giacoia produced artwork for comics for over forty years. He worked for a variety of publishers including PRIZE, GLEASON, ZIFF-DAVIS, WESTERN, TOWER, SEABOARD, and HILLMAN. However, his most extensive credits were for DC and MARVEL where his versatility was in evidence on books ranging from superheroes to westerns to teen humor and more. (While at Marvel, Giacoia often had to use the pseudonym “Frank Ray” so that he could still produce work for DC at the same time.)

Giacoia received his greatest recognition as an inker. He never overpowered the original penciller but enhanced the work with a vibrant, slick line. Artist Don Heck once confided to artist Richard Howell that “if you’re drawing away, and your anatomy’s a little weak, Frank’ll slap it in just like that. He knows it better than most pencillers.”

Despite effusive praise from his peers, Giacoia remained a polite, self-effacing true professional who continually turned out quality work. Giacoia was not confined to comic books nor to just inking.

When the Sherlock Holmes strip ended in 1956, Giacoia was involved with his own newspaper strip based on the Civil War, JOHNNY REB AND BILLY YANK which ran from 1956 to 1958. In the Eighties, Giacoia also did work on various newspaper strips including FLASH GORDON and SPIDER-MAN. Giacoia’s passed away in early 1989 leaving an impressive body of work behind him.

Unfortunately, like so many classic comic strips of the past (especially this Sherlock Holmes one which was published by a syndicate that has long since gone out of business with no syndicate galleys or proofs surviving), it is difficult for modern audiences to try and track down a complete run of the strips. In 1989, Malibu Graphics announced it was going to print a four volume series which would reprint the entire series of strips thanks to the collection of Comics Historian Bill Blackbeard whose library of old strips have benefited many historical projects.

Unfortunately, Malibu only published one volume in the series with six complete Holmes stories. While this volume is long out of print, Ken Pierce Books, which has an extensive catalog of volumes of comic strip reprints, still has copies of that first volume at half the original price.

An ad for the 1914 film version of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes declared: “It is a story of the supreme cleverness of Sherlock Holmes in which is unraveled a tale of human suffering and in which an innocent man nearly suffers for the crime of the guilty one. The masterful style in which this absorbing plot is told in pictures will hold your audience spellbound. It is a picture with a punch, action, dramatic intensity, romance and cleverness.” Such a description is an apt evaluation for this comic strip of the further exploits of Sherlock Holmes. It is a journey back to a time both familiar and unfamiliar where evil schemes can only be prevented by the cool logic of Mr. Holmes and the good natured enthusiasm of Dr. Watson.

The head of the Baker Street Irregulars once said, “The people who insist he must be dead are the same ones who said he never lived. So we don’t pay any attention to them.”

Jim Korkis

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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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