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The True Story behind “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

No, this isn’t a story about “The Great Mouse Detective.” Jim Korkis returns with a great new column about what many consider to be the very best of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel-length Sherlock Holmes adventures.



“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” exclaims Dr. Mortimer at the end of the first installment of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES that appeared in the STRAND magazine on August 1901. Readers who had waited impatiently for eight years for a new Sherlock Holmes adventure were not disappointed.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is only one of four novel length Holmes’s stories, yet it is perhaps the best remembered and best loved of all the Sherlock Holmes’s adventures. The powers of the supernatural apparently pitted against the cold, deductive logic of the world’s greatest detective stir strong feelings even in today’s readers.

In the August 28, 1964 installment of PEANUTS, Linus just finished reading THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES which Charlie Brown says is one of his favorite books. “It’s isn’t one of my favorite books,” thinks Snoopy, “I don’t care for any story where the dog comes out second best.”

This is one of the few times the famous beagle was wrong. The Hound from Hell became as popular and as well known as Sherlock Holmes himself. In fact, just the mention of one of these characters usually calls to mind the other.

It is an atypical adventure for the Baker Street sleuth. He appears infrequently and does not take central focus in the story. Unknown to many readers is that Doyle’s story was inspired by a true incident that had become legendary. Like many great writers, Doyle twisted the original facts somewhat for dramatic effect and was able to indulge in his own fascination with the spirit world in creating a moody mystery with a thrilling climax.

In the short preface to THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Conan Doyle wrote: “My dear Robinson, it was to your account of a West Country legend that this tale owes its inception. For this and for all your help in the details, all thanks.”

Bertram Fletcher Robinson was a writer who was a friend of Doyle’s. Shortly after his return from the Boer War, Robinson invited Doyle to visit him at Ippleton in Devonshire. Supposedly, Robinson had been working on a story about the moor based on a 17th century legend with a demon hound. Doyle who had killed off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem” was faced with a public outcry to produce more Holmes stories and quickly.

There is speculation that Doyle may have tried to adapt Robinson’s story into a tale of Sherlock Holmes and that would explain why the great detective appears so little in the story. In the late Fifties, Doyle’s son responded to such charges by stating: “Fletcher Robinson wrote not one word of the story. He refused my father’s offer to collaborate and retired at an early stage of the project.”

What all the sources agree on is that Doyle did indeed take a coach ride with Robinson over the moor to get the atmosphere of the place while Robinson recounted the story of Sir Richard Cabell, Lord of the Manor of Brooke. Lord Cabell was a man of well known evil repute. He was a very jealous man and one night he viciously accused his wife of having an affair.

Lady Cabell denied it. Enraged, Cabell beat her mercilessly. Somehow, she was able to break away from him and ran from the house, hoping to escape in the surrounding moors. The moors were a cold, desolate place. Lord Cabell caught up to her and in his enraged state killed her with one of his hunting knives.

Suddenly, a huge hound appeared. It was Lady Cabell’s own faithful dog and it had followed the couple onto the moors. Seeing his mistress killed, the hound savagely attacked Cabell and after a fierce struggle, slaughtered the evil man. However, the hound itself had been fatally wounded by Lord Cabell’s knife and in the morning the villagers found the poor animal lying dead beside his slain mistress.

According to local legend, the ghost of Lady Cabell’s hound still roams the moors on the nights of the full moon, howling mournfully for its dead mistress. Another legend claims that on the night of Lord Cabell’s death, black hounds breathing fire and smoke raced over nearby Dartmoor and howled around his manor house.

Lord Cabell’s death took place in 1677. A small pagoda-like building called “The Sepulchre” was put over his grave to prevent him from returning to cause even more evil. “It is said that he will gnaw your finger if you venture to insert it in the keyhole of the locked door,” wrote the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould.

Shortly after the publication of THE HOUND OF BASKERVILLE, Robinson began an investigation into an Egyptian mummy’s curse and died of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-five. “…That is the way in which the ‘elementals’ guarding the mummy might act,” said Doyle at the time. “I warned him against concerning himself with the mummy. I told him he was tempting fate by pursuing his inquiries, but he was fascinated and would not desist.”

In 1959, Harry Baskerville who was then eighty-eight years old caused a minor stir by claiming that THE HOUND was primarily the work of Robinson. Adrian Doyle, Conan’s son, disputed this claim by producing correspondence from Robinson. “It was Robinson who told my father about a West Country legend, but that was just about the extent of his contribution,” said Adrian.

In Sir Arthur’s preface to THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES, he wrote, “Then came THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. It arose from a remark by that fine fellow whose premature death was a loss to the world, Fletcher Robinson, that there was a spectral dog near his home on Dartmoor. That remark was the inception of the book, but I should add that the plot and every word of the actual narrative was my own.”

It has generally been assumed that the events of the story take place from Tuesday September 25th to Saturday October 20th, 1888 in the life of Sherlock Holmes.

When Conan Doyle had supposedly killed off Holmes in “The Final Problem” in 1893, there were people who wept openly and others who went to work wearing mourning bands. Readers implored Doyle, editors cajoled him, publishers tried to bribe him and some people even threatened him but Doyle refused to bring back the famous detective he had grown to loathe because those tales eclipsed everything else of value Doyle felt he was doing.

When he finally relented after eight years and released THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, he was careful to make sure the dates of the adventure took place before Holmes’s death at Reichenbach Falls. He wanted it to be not a resurrection of his hero but merely a previously unpublished adventure.

The circulation of STRAND magazine which published the story in installments soared an additional 30,000 copies an issue beginning with the first installment in August 1901. The magazine could not print enough copies fast enough to meet the demand. Long lines formed so that people could purchase copies straight from the presses. (Those issues also had H.G. Wells’s THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON also appearing in installments but it was apparent that it was the Holmes’s story that was generating the extra readership.)

When THE HOUND was brought out in book form in 1902, it was issued in both England America at the same time and Holmes’s fans again pressured Doyle for more adventures. Doyle finally surrendered and in 1903 released the first short story in a series of thirteen that would make up THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.

THE HOUND was a success everywhere. In 1907, a stage version of the story was performed in Germany with great acclaim. Even the Kaiser attended a performance. In 1916, a Spanish stage version was produced. On screen, the first movie based on THE HOUND was released by a German company in 1914. It was titled DER HUND VON BASKERVILLE and was so popular that six sequels were made. However, the sequels had nothing in common with Doyle’s original story.

The first English language film based on THE HOUND was produced in 1921. When the hound of hell finally made his appearance, there was flickering hellfire bursting from him. The effect was achieved by scratching the flames on the negative of the film, frame by frame. There was another German film version in 1929 and another English version in 1932. Germany remade the film a third time in 1937 and a copy of this film was found in Hitler’s private film library at Berchtesgaden.

For modern audiences, perhaps the best version was the American made production in 1939. Twentieth Century Fox brought together for the first time the acting team of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. It was considered the first Sherlock Holmes film that placed the character in the proper Victorian context. Although there are minor variations in the film from Doyle’s original story, it captured the spirit of Sherlock with amazing accuracy resulting in another film made by Fox, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, also featuring Rathbone and Bruce. The acting team would later recreate the HOUND story on a radio show.

Twenty years later, Hammer Films in England presented the story in color for the first time. With Peter Cushing as Holmes, the Hammer version added needless additions including a ruined Abbey with a sacrificial slab and a webbed hand on Sir Hugo and on Stapleton. By the way, this was the very first color film that featured the famous detective. (Peter Cushing later appeared in a television series on the BBC where he again played Holmes and in a two part episode again battled the hound from hell.)

In 1972, a made for television version for American television featured Stewart Granger as Holmes battling the demon dog. This version is little remembered by most film fans. Jeremy Brett as Sherlock struggled with THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES in an extended version of the 1988 Granada’s television series.

Just recently in December of 2002, the BBC premiered a special version of the story with Richard Roxburgh (from MOULIN ROUGE) as Sherlock and the fabled hound done in CGI. U.K. based Crawly Creatures did the conceptual design and built the animatronic. The actual computer animation was done by Framestore CFC (who worked on DINOTOPIA) after they scanned in the animatronic and built the CG model from that scan. Scott Griffin, visual effects producer of Framestone, told Ryan Ball for ANIMATION MAGAZINE that “I would say that 90% (of what you see on screen) is actually animated digitally. There’s lots of mauling and that was done using the animatronic head close-up where you need to get that interaction. But then all the chase work and menacing growling and all that we did digitally. We worked hard on the digitally animated fur, especially with the thing meant to be in ill health with sort of bloody and matted hair from falling in mud-just to give it that look of a sort of worn dog instead of having a nice fluffy poodle type thing … It’s big. It’s very big. Very vicious looking, big teeth. If I saw it coming around the corner, I’d run a mile.”

As the most physically action packed episode of Holmes and certainly the one that offers the most opportunity artistically, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES has been a favorite of comic strip and comic book writers and artists who have tried to adapt the story. From CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED to William Barry’s short lived comic strip, MR. HOLMES OF BAKER STREET, it was the most frequently adapted Holmes story. In the Sherlock Holmes’s comic strip of the mid-50s (written by Edith Meiser, a writer on the Sherlock Holmes radio show and drawn by Frank Giacoia a well known comic book artist who did some work for Marvel in the Sixties among numerous other credits), the adaptation is obviously inspired by the 1939 film in terms of visual staging. The newspaper strip was authorized by the Doyle Estate and had the input of the Baker Street Irregulars, the reknowned Sherlockian scholars. Before Malibu Graphics was absorbed by Marvel Comics, the company was planning reprinting this fast moving comic strip adaptation and I was going to provide an introduction to the collection.

There are many more stories to tell about THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES from the 1983 Australian animated adaptation (68 minutes long and available on video and DVD) which showcased Peter O’Toole as the voice of Sherlock Holmes to all the animated parodies like “The Hound of the Arbuckles” (1990 from GARFIELD AND FRIENDS) where Garfield the Cat dreams he is Sherlock Holmes after watching the film THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES on television. CHIP AND DALE RESCUE RANGERS had the episode “Pound of the Baskervilles”(1989) which was loaded with Sherlock Holmes references. Even Scooby Doo and the gang got involved with “Hound of the Scoobyvilles” (1983). SHERLOCK HOUND, the Japanese animated series from Japan where the regular Holmes’s characters are actually canine characters deserves a separate column.

But for now, it is best to return to the library shelf and pull down the classic story itself and re-read how the demon hound is stalking the innocent Sir Henry Baskerville whose only salvation lies in the skills of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson. It is a story worth re-reading and will obviously inspire many more film and animated adaptations in the future.

Jim Korkis

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Paul R. Spiring

    January 15, 2024 at 1:44 pm

    Great article. I love the references to the HOUN, Robinson and popular animated children’s shows. I think it is fair to say Adrian Conan Doyle was rather disingenuous about Robison contributions to his father’s work. My own research reveals that Arthur Conan Doyle paid Robinson £550 for his contributions to the plots of both the HOUN, and also a second story, ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder’. Your readers can learn more by visiting the Wikipedia page for Bertram Fletcher Robinson. Bw, Paul R. Spiring.

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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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