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As rumors continue to circulate about the pending closure of WDW’s “Carousel of Progress” attraction, Jim Hill asks: Would it kill the Mouse to at least give this tired old Tomorrowland attraction a half decent send-off?



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Tired of continually getting hammered by the company’s critics, Disney CEO Michael Eisner went on the offensive earlier this month.

A PR offensive, that is.

With the hope that he might be able to get some positive buzz going about his beleaguered corporation, Uncle Michael has reportedly been speaking with influential business analysts. His message for Disney stockholders? “I understand your concerns. I hear what you’re saying. And I and the rest of the senior staff at the Walt Disney Company are doing everything we can to turn this unfortunate situation around.”

According to several unnamed sources who’ve heard Eisner’s spiel, Michael supposedly starts out by talking up Disney’s recent accomplishments: The 21 million viewers who tuned in to ABC last Tuesday night to catch the “sneak preview” of John Ritter’s new sitcom, “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.” The 5 million units of “Monsters, Inc.” that were sold in a single day last week – the new one-day-sales record for the home video & DVD industry.

Uncle Michael then allegedly goes on to identify some of the Mouse House’s trouble spots, but – in each case – immediately identified what Disney is doing to address these problems.

The business world’s concerns about Disney’s far-too-cozy board of directors? Eisner reportedly outlined the tough new governance rules that he and the Board are about to adopt. By cutting back on the number of actual voting members as well as upping their independence, Uncle Michael hopes that Disney will soon have one of the best Board of Directors in Corporate America.

As for ABC’s rating woes, Eisner supposedly insists that a “process is in place” to turn the troubled network around. (To his credit, Uncle Michael has reportedly told business analysts that they shouldn’t expect all of ABC’s programming ills to be cured overnight. That it may take a number of months before the currently fourth-place network to claw its way out of the Nielsen cellar.)

And that alleged 10% fall-off in advance bookings for the Walt Disney World resort (In comparison to September 2001’s advance bookings)? Eisner reportedly admitted that things were softer than he would have liked down at Lake Buena Vista. But Uncle Michael then attributed this fall-off in advance bookings at Disney World to a number of outside factors. I.E. Tourists – in the wake of the September 11th attacks – still being afraid to fly. The world’s continuing economic woes. Not to mention continuing international unease as a result of the U.S. threatening to go to war with Iraq. All of which have a continuing dampening effect on people’s travel plans.

Eisner then reportedly said that recent WDW guest exit polls revealed that most people still believe that visiting Walt Disney World is a great vacation value. And – once this cloud of uncertainty lifts – tourists will undoubtedly come flocking back to Orlando. Particularly once Epcot’s “Mission: Space” attraction gets up and running.

Those who’ve actually heard from Eisner say that Uncle Michael gave a masterful performance. That Eisner eloquently puts across the message that “Things aren’t as bad as our critics would like you to think they are. Disney’s stock price may be depressed right now, but we’re poised for a comeback.” In short, Disney’s CEO supposedly told these business analysts: “I hear what you’re saying. I understand your concerns. Trust me.”

Well, forgive me if I’m a wee bit skeptical here. But – as nice as it is to hear that Eisner is reportedly trying to repair his relationship with Disney’s stockholders – I can’t help but offer up a somewhat awkward question. As in: Is Michael Eisner REALLY listening to what shareholders (who have been among his most vocal critics lately) have to say about what they think has gone wrong with the Walt Disney Company? Or is Uncle Mikey just saying what he hopes we want to hear?

I mean, historically, the higher ups at Walt Disney Company has had a bit of a hearing problem. Particularly when it comes to criticism. Even criticism that comes from INSIDE the organization. You wanna work at a place “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word”? Never mind about a “Home on the Range.” Get yourself a job in the executive suite at the Team Disney building in Burbank.

Take – for example – ABC’s over-exposure of its former ratings powerhouse, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” ABC’s own programming department reportedly warned Eisner & Co. that even the most sedentary of couch potatoes wasn’t going to sit still for four nights of Regis Philbin. Yet Disney’s executives – anxious to cash in on this incredibly-inexpensive-to-produce game show (More importantly, to cut back on the cost of developing new programming for ABC) – ran “Millionaire” right into the ground. A show that could have potentially run for years yet to come got burned out, its audience totally turned off, in just over two seasons.

Never mind that TV critics – in addition to ABC staffers – decried this programming decision as soon as ABC originally announced it back in May 2000. Disney executives downplayed the controversy, insisting that they knew what they were doing.

Those uninformed nay sayers who were criticizing the Mouse’s programming decision? They couldn’t see the bigger picture. The tens of millions of dollars that ABC saved at the start of the 2000 – 2001 season by making more episodes of “Millionaire” rather than ordering up new sitcoms or dramas that could potentially have ridden Regis’ coat tails to ratings success.

But those ABC senior programming execs (And – more importantly – the Disney Company executives who hired them) didn’t (or is it “wouldn’t”?) listen to their critics. Which is why they all seemed so stunned when “Millionaire”‘s ratings suddenly tanked in early 2001 … And why – even to this day – that network is still struggling to fill huge gaps in its schedule. All because Disney execs couldn’t bring themselves to heed their critics. The ones inside the company as well as outside.

But – hey – it’s not like the Walt Disney Company’s hearing problem is a recent occurrence. Senior Imagineers will tell you (off the record, of course) that they repeatedly tried to make the folks in the Team Disney building (Both the Anaheim as well as the Burbank branch) aware of their concerns about “Disney’s California Adventure.” But Mouse House execs just refused to listen to them.

“I mean, think about it, Jim,” said one unnamed WDI guy to me just the other day. “Eisner & Co. wanted to change Anaheim into Orlando. A destination resort where people could come and stay & spend money for three or four days at a time.”

“Which is all well & good. Except that Anaheim isn’t Orlando. The out-of-state versus locals mix down there is roughly 85% out-of-state visitors, 15 % Florida residents. Out here, the locals to out-of-state visitors ratio is more along the lines of 65% Southern California residents, 34% out-of-state tourists.”

“You see what I’m saying here, Jim? The Walt Disney Company relies on regular visits from Southern California residents in order to keep attendance levels high at the Disneyland Resort. So what does Disney do when it tries to turn Anaheim into a destination resort? It builds a California-themed theme park – a place with limited appeal to SoCal residents. DCA – at least in its original incarnation – was doomed, Jim. Virtually from the moment that Disneyland opened its preview center.”

“And we tried to warn them, Jim. We argued ’til we were blue in the face. But the suits wouldn’t listen to us. They just seemed to think that giving Southern Californians the opportunity to eat Wolfgang Puck’s pizza while looking out at the lights of Paradise Pier was going to be enough to put that place over the top. That the locals would have no choice but to love DCA.”

Well, we all know how THAT decision turned out, don’t we? (To be fair, it should be noted here that the Walt Disney Company does appear to have learned from the mistakes it initially made with DCA. That the corporation did move fairly quickly to try and turn this troubled theme park around. And that – with next month’s official opening of “Flik’s Fun Fair” – “Disney’s California Adventure” is taking a big step toward ridding itself of its kid unfriendly reputation.)

It should also be noted here that – according to some of the Walt Disney Company old timers that I’ve spoken with – that the Eisner regime has historically had a bit of a hearing problem. That almost from the moment that “Team Disney” came to power back in September 1984, that these “Hollywood hotshots” didn’t want to listen to what their more experienced, Mouse House elders had to say.

To my knowledge, the most extreme example of younger Disney executives ignoring the advice of the company’s senior staffers is associated with the Disneyland Paris Resort. Back in the early 1990s, a friend of mine – the editor of an unnamed Disney history magazine – was interviewing Admiral Joe Fowler, the guy who actually oversaw construction of the Walt Disney World resort back in the 1960s. The interview seemed to be going great until my pal brought up the subject of the then-floundering Euro Disney resort.

Admiral Joe turned crimson, then told what’s-his-name to turn off his tape recorder. Fowler then leaded forward and said “I could have told those dumb bastards that building a Disney theme park just outside of Paris was a bad idea. Do they think that we pulled the location for Walt Disney World out of our ass? No, sir. We traversed the globe looking for the exact perfect spot to build another Disneyland. Including Marne la Vallee.”

“I could have told those idiots that it gets too cold there, that the wind’s just too fierce there for an outdoor entertainment venue. But those arrogant SOBs … They probably didn’t even looked at all the research that we did back in the early 1960s. I’m sure that all that stuff is still in a filing cabinet somewhere in Glendale. But those new guys … They just think that they know it all.”

“Building all those hotels, right outside of Paris. What a bunch of idiots!”

Think of the millions that the Walt Disney Company would have saved (not to mention all the aggravation that they could have avoided) if they had just bothered to listen to Admiral Joe Fowler. If someone had just gone down into the basement at WDI and pulled out the appropriate file.

You see I’m saying here, Mr. Eisner? A TV show could have been saved. A theme park as well as an entire resort could have avoided massive problems. All if Disney’s executives had been willing to listen – REALLY listen – to its critics. And not just the very vocal people that you’ll find outside of your corporation. But the critics that you have INSIDE the Walt Disney Company.

So Mr. Eisner … If you really ARE trying to turn over a new leaf here, trying to prove to the world that you’ve become that rarest-of-rare things – a CEO who actually listens … NOW might be a good time to strap on an extra big pair of mouse ears. So that you can really hear what people outside of the corridors of power at the Team Disney Burbank building are actually saying.

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.

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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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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