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What inspired the Imagineers to build the Tower of Terror? Would you believe an attraction at a Six Flags theme park?

Jim Hill’s back with an old favorite from the archives. Which details how Magic Mountain’s Freefall ride eventually led to the creation of one of the more terrifying attractions ever to appear in a Disney theme park



I know, I know. JHM hasn’t exactly been playing its A game lately. For which I apologize.

You see, this past 10 days or so, I’ve been on divorced daddy duty. Which first involved flying from Manchester, NH all the way to Honolulu, HI, so that I could collect my beautiful 12-year-old daughter, Alice. Then she & I reversed that process. Flying all the way back to New England just so that Alice could then spend the next two weeks reconnecting with various members of the Hill clan.

As you might imagine, what with all the traveling that’s involved with doing something like this, the large chunk of time that I normally devote each day to writing and/or researching new stories for JHM has shrunk down to almost nothing lately. Now add to this mix some rather challenging houseguests who’ve been visiting with Alice, Nancy and I this past week or so as well as a death in the family … What was once a little free time that I could then use for writing has now turned into less than nothing.

Which is why — rather than hurriedly slapping together a new piece for today — I’m going to follow a suggestion that longtime JHM reader Frank just sent me via e-mail. His note (which Frank sent me yesterday) reads as follows:

Just a quick note from a long-time reader. Seeing that I’m really fond of Jim’s stories of rides that never make it of the drawing board, I’ve spent the last week digging through the JHM archives. I happened to stumble across a series of articles on the original Tower of Terror, which are externally hosted at Seeing that Disneyland Resort Paris will soon welcome its own version of the Tower, I was quite interested in this tale of the creation of the original. Unfortunately, the website appears to be offline.

Do you happen to have those articles lying around somewhere in a dusty and dark archive? If so, I would love it if you could re-publish them on the site.

Let me just add a short thank you to this quick email, because I’ve spent many interesting hours at the JHM website reading about the Walt Disney Company’s theme parks history, present, future and future that never was.

Thanks folks! As an industry insider, I really enjoy reading about “the competitor”. Keep up the great work!

Yours sincerely,


Per Frank’s request, here’s a lightly rewritten version of one of those articles that I did for back in 2002.  

Falling in France

Just ask the bellhops who work at Disney-MGM Studio theme park. They’ll tell you all about the weird questions that guests ask them about this amazing attraction. “Is this really a ride?” “Can I go up partway, but get out before the final drop?” and (my personal favorite) “How come Disney hasn’t repaired the hole in the front of the building yet?”

But the big questions, the really important questions — like “How did the Imagineers ever come up with the concept for such an outrageous show?” — these same tourists never seem to find the time to ask. Maybe it’s because their brains are still scrambled by the time they reach the off-load area. Or maybe it’s just because these folks are already trying to figure out what they want to ride next at Disney-MGM.

Well, I know you Tower of Terror fans. You’re definitely a different breed of cat. You guys are always itching to learn more about your favorite theme park attraction. Which is why — today — we’re going to begin an exploration of the REAL origins of this attraction.

And — believe it or not — this story doesn’t actually begin where you thought it might. Not inside those non-descript warehouses that house Walt Disney Imagineering and/or inside the mind of Rod Serling. No, the tale of Disney-MGM’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror actually gets underway inside a theme park. Just not a Disney owned one.

Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company

To really understand how this ride came about, you need to come back with me to the summer of 1982. That’s when Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. unveiled its latest thrill ride: Freefall.

Back in those days, Freefall (which was developed by Intamin AG, by the way) was considered pretty cutting edge stuff. Immediately upon boarding the attraction, Magic Mountain guests would strap on a safety harness. Their four-passenger car would then slide backwards into the drop tower before zooming up 87 feet. Then their vehicle would slowly slide out to the edge of the drop tower, when suddenly…AIEEE! These guests would be plummeting straight toward the ground at 55 MPH. The next thing they knew, these folks were flat on their backs as their ride vehicle tipped backwards as it zoomed out toward the end of Freefall’s L-shaped ride track.

The total length of their trip? 20 seconds. The amount of time that guests typically stood in line before getting their chance to ride Freefall? Sometimes as long as 2 to 3 hours. But Magic Mountain visitors seemed happy to do it. Putting up with the overly long lines, I mean. All for the chance to experience that one-of-a-kind feeling of free-falling through space.

Of course, these impossibly long lines full of happy theme park guests didn’t go un-noticed by Magic Mountain’s competitors. Particularly the folks at WED (AKA Walt Disney Imagineering). At the time, the Imagineers were just buttoning up their work on Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland. And these guys were itching for some new challenges.

Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company

And here was this then state-of-the-art technology that Magic Mountain guests were obviously going ape over. So the Imagineers began to wonder: “How could we adapt this Intamin technology for use inside a Disney theme park?”

You see, the real problem was (at least back during this era in the company’s history) that Disney didn’t do bare bones rides like Freefall. The time honored Disney tradition called for all of its theme park shows to have strong overlays of story elements built into each attraction to enhance the guest’s experience.

Take — for instance — Space Mountain. To be perfectly honest about it, Space Mountain at both Walt Disney World & Disneyland is a fairly tame steel coaster. Were you to ride the Tomorrowland attraction while its work lights were on, you’d be amazed at how slowly you appear to be moving.

Ah, but Disney doesn’t allow its guests to ride Space Mountain while the attraction’s work lights are on, now do they? Which is why– as you zoom through the darkness aboard this Tomorrowland thrill ride, never quite knowing when the next dip or turn is coming — it really is quite thrilling.

Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

But to hear the Imagineers tell it, the real key to Space Mountain’s continued success with theme park guests isn’t because you get to ride around on a roller coaster in the dark. It’s because of all of that space-themed material that you get to walk by as you make your way to Space Mountain’s boarding area. These are the elements that actually set the stage for the guests. Placing them inside the story. Making them aware that they’re about to embark on this out-of-this-world experience.

This — in a nutshell — is what the Imagineers consider the Disney difference. Taking a Plain Jane steel coaster like Space Mountain and — by placing the ride inside a darkened show building as well as inserting space themed elements into the attraction — you end up with a coaster-plus. An evergreen attraction that guests never seem to get tired of riding. Why For? Because — for a few moments at least — they’re taking part in this exciting story.

That’s what the Imagineers were looking to do with Intamin’s Freefall technology. To take this then state-of-the-art ride system and — by folding in a few crucial story elements — create a one-of-a-kind ride experience for Disney’s theme park guests.

But given that Freefall’s most memorable moment — the drop — goes by in just the blink of an eye, how could WDI ever use this technology to try and tell a story? The Imagineers explored all sorts of scenarios. The most obvious choice was to pass off the Freefall technology as something that a mad scientist had cooked up. Some infernal device that was used to…well…frighten people.

Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

This is why — for a while — Freefall actually played an important part in the Imagineers’ plans for Euro Disneyland (AKA Disneyland Paris). You see, the original design for that park’s Discoveryland section called for a large-scale version of Captain Nemo’s secret lair to be built INSIDE of Space Mountain/Discovery Mountain. The third, fourth and fifth floor of the show building would have been where the steel coaster would be located. Whereas the first & second floor (as well as the sub basement area) of the show building …

How should I describe this? Do you know the story of Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island”? By that I mean the film version that Ray Harryhausen did back in 1961? Well, according to that movie, Captain Nemo and the Nautilus somehow managed to survive the cataclysmic events that came at the end of Disney’s 1954 live action version of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Nemo then took his crippled ship and hid it in a grotto under a smoldering, somewhat dormant volcano.

This is what the Imagineers were hoping to recreate as Discoveryland’s centerpiece. Guests would walk into the cave-like entrance to what-was-then-called Discovery Mountain and — after their eyes adjusted to the darkness — they’d spy…a full-sized recreation of the Nautilus! Anchored in this secret lagoon that was located right inside Discovery Mountain.

Had this version of Discoveryland actually been built, guests could have had a variety of experiences to choose from while exploring Nemo’s secret lair. They could have walked down a ramp that seemingly took them below the surface of the lagoon and into the Nautilus itself. Here, they would have had the option of touring the sub itself (this — of course — is very similar to the “Mysteres du Nautilus” walk-through attraction that eventually opened at Disneyland Paris in 1994) or dining in high style inside the Grand Salon.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Guests who were looking for something a bit more exciting than a walking tour of a submarine and/or French cuisine would have been well advised to head over to the far side of the lagoon. Why? Because that’s where Nemo’s secret lab was supposed to have been located.

Here, the Captain had supposedly been attempting to harness the power of the volcano. (Oh? Did I forget to mention that — at least in this version of Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland — that Space Mountain / Discovery Mountain was supposed to have been built right on top of a somewhat dormant volcano? The Imagineers were thinking that Nemo had been using the super heated steam that came up through underground vents to power the Nautilus, all the equipment in his lab, maybe even those spaceships that were supposedly zooming around upstairs inside of “From the Earth to the Moon” AKA “Space Mountain.”)

Anyway… For those guests who were feeling somewhat adventurous, they could board a bare steel elevator that was supposed to take them up to the uppermost rim of the volcano. Once there, these visitors would supposedly have been able to see some unique features of Discovery Mountain (as well as get a great view of the rest of the theme park).

But then — of course — in the grand Disney tradition, once the guests get to the top of Discovery Mountain aboard their rickety steel elevator…SOMETHING GOES HORRIBLY WRONG! Supposedly, there’s some seismic event…which knocks the elevator off its track. Which then sends your ride vehicle hurtling down back into the darkness, reportedly missing giant rock formations and hissing steam vents by mere inches.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Sounds like a pretty fun way to bring Intamin’s Freefall technology on board at a Disney theme park, doesn?t it? Well, the only problem was that this version of Discoveryland was that — with all its bells and whistles — it was going to be hugely expensive. And given that the Walt Disney Company was already pouring hundreds of millions of Euros into the creation of the rest of the Euro Disneyland Resort, there just wasn’t enough money in the budget to cover the creation of a secret indoor grotto for Captain Nemo. Which is why the Nautilus eventually ended up parked outside of Discovery…er…Space Mountain.

And — since Nemo’s secret lab was no longer a featured attraction in Discoveryland — there was no reason for the Imagineers to go forward with their plans to build a Freefall-like ride as part of the opening day attractions at the Euro Disneyland Resort.

But that’s okay, gang. Because great ideas never die at WDI. Particularly when there are places like Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park that are (as of the early 1990s) woefully short on thrills.

And that part of the story … We’ll save for another time …

FYI: For those of you who enjoyed all of the Discoveryland concept art that was used to illustrate today’s article, all of the images were cribbed from Didier Ghez’s excellent book, “Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality.” If you’d like to pick up a copy of your very own, you can do so by dropping Didier an e-mail at this address:

Beyond that … Alice and I will be flying back to Hawaii this coming Wednesday. Once I hand my daughter off to her mom (The Fabulous Shelly Smith), I then start the trip back to New Hampshire on Thursday morning. Allowing for a slight case of jetlag as well as some post-parental depression, things should start to get back to normal at JHM on or about Monday, July 31st.

Again, my apologies if the pickings have seemed rather lean at this website for the past week or so. I promise that — by the first week of August — JHM will be back to offering its usual selection of big, meaty stories about the Walt Disney Company.

That’s it for today. Now — if you’ll excuse me — I have to go finish packing for the family camping trip that Alice, Nancy and I will be taking tomorrow.

Have a great weekend, okay?

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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