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When Good Attractions Happen to Bad Movies

Dinosaurs stomping down Main Street U.S.A.?! Giant mechanical sea monsters menacing guests in Tomorrowland’s submarine lagoon?! Jim Hill reveals some of the great Disney theme park shows that we could have gotten … If only the films that they were based on had made a few more bucks.



Katie from Milford, MA. writes:


Did you see that “Disney’s Imagineers” special that ran on the Travel Channel last month? I was particularly struck by that “autonomous walking platform” that they showed in the final minutes of the program. As they showed that huge robot lurching about, the show’s narrator said something like “Don’t be surprised if you see a dinosaur walking around during your next visit to a Disney theme park.”

Is this true, Jim? Are the Imagineers really going to turn loose some giant walking robotic dinosaurs and let them walk through the theme parks? If they did … That would be so COOL!!

The truth is, Katie, if Disney’s big Summer 2000 release – the computer animated “Dinosaur” – had been a bigger success, that massive mechanical creature would have been strolling down Main Street U.S.A. months ago.

All too often, this is what happens at WDI: The Imagineers come up with a great idea for a brand new show / ride / attraction that’s based on characters from a forthcoming Disney film. They develop all of these wonderful plans, then patiently sit by & wait for that movie to be released to theaters and prove itself to be a huge success … Only the film ISN’T a huge success. Sometimes it’s an outright flop. Other times, it’s just an under-performer. A would-be blockbuster that barely ends up covering its production and promotional costs.

Either way, Disney Company management suddenly doesn’t want anything more to do with this ill-fated movie. Which is why all talk about spin-off TV shows, direct-to-video sequels and – of course – theme park rides that are based on that movie immediately ceases.

This most recently happened with the company’s Summer 2001 release – “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” The Imagineers were so certain that the Walt Disney Company had a huge hit on their hands with that film that WDI had already drawn up plans for an “Atlantis” themed attraction that they wanted to quickly drop into Disneyland.

This ride (which was actually supposed to have been a somewhat ambitious retheming of Tomorrowland’s extremely tired “Submarine Voyage”) was supposed to have taken Disneyland visitors down into the depths to visit the graveyard of lost ships. Once there, guests would actually have been able to use a mechanical arm (that extended right out into the water from their sub window) to grab at the gold coins & gems that lined the sea floor.

Of course, all of this undersea activity would have awakened the Leviathan, that massive mechanical lobster-thingy that destroyed the “Ulysses” during “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” As its giant, crab-like claw closed around the ride vehicle, its sides would bow inward and water from pinhole leaks in the hull would start spritzing the guests inside. (This particular moment in the attraction bring to mind the slogan that the Imagineers had supposedly cooked up for the show: “Don’t waste your breath screaming.”)

How did these Disneyland guests eventually escape the clutches of the Leviathan? Sorry, but that would be telling. Let’s just say that – in spite of the severe shaking that their sub was supposed to have received – that they still made it back to the surface. Unfortunately, most of the booty that the sub’s crew had hauled in with their mechanical arms had been lost during the high speed return trip to the surface. Even so, a few coins did remain in the collection basket…

Which is why – as they exited the sub – each Disneyland guest was to have been handed a genuine plastic coin with the stylized Atlantis “A” stamped on it. To remind them of their fateful trip to the bottom of the sea and their far-too-close encounter with the deadly Leviathan.

Sounds like a fun ride, doesn’t it? WDI sure thought so. The Imagineers were counting on this particular attraction to lift the pall that had fallen over Disneyland’s new Tomorrowland (following the public’s lackluster response to this land’s misbegotten 1998 makeover).

Unfortunately, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” wasn’t the box office behemoth that Disney had hoped it would be. During its domestic release, the film only pulled in $84 million – which didn’t even cover “A:TLE”‘s negative costs, let alone the ten of millions more that the Mouse had poured into promotion of the picture. Which is why – not wanting to throw good money after bad – Disney executives decided to deep six WDI’s plans to drop an “Atlantis Expedition” attraction into Disneyland’s new Tomorrowland.

Kind of a sad end to the story, right? Wait. It gets sadder. Walt Disney Television Animation also thought that “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” was going to be a huge hit. Which is why they put TWO “Atlantis” follow-up projects into production: A direct-to-video sequel to the film as well as “Team Atlantis.”

What was “Team Atlantis”? “TA” was actually probably the bigger loss of the two projects. Why for? Because “Team Atlantis” was supposed to have been this ambitious animated series that would have heralded a return to epic storytelling by Walt Disney Television Animation. Something that this division of the Walt Disney Company hadn’t attempted since “Gargoyles” stopped production ‘way back in 1996.

So what was the story arc for “Team Atlantis”? Due to events that had occurred during the climax of the direct-to-video sequel to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” Milo and Kida were now trapped on the surface. Their return route to Atlantis has somehow been sealed off forever. Which means – in order to return to the “Lost Empire” – Milo & Kida must now travel the globe. With the help of the Shepherd’s Journal as well as their old friends from the Whitmore Expedition, they must seek out a new route back to Atlantis.

“Team Atlantis” story arc – as Disney Television Animation’s writers had mapped it out – would have been ambitious, to say the least. Each episode, Milo and Kida would journey to another far-flung corner of the globe where they would be re-united with Moliere (or Vinnie or Audrey or Mrs. Packard or Dr. Sweet). Then the intrepid explorers would have to deal with some paranormal phenomenon (Be it the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, the Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas, or strange lights in the night sky over Roswell, New Mexico) as they sought out yet another rumored entrance to the “Lost Empire.”

Now here’s the really sad part of the story … During interviews that she did as part of the pre-opening publicity for “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” Cree Summer (the actress who provided the voice of Princess Kida) revealed that she and the rest of the “A:TLE” vocal cast (sans Michael J. Fox, who had opted out of the TV series) had already begun recording dialogue for a few episodes of “Team Atlantis.”

Cree described working on the weekly “Atlantis” TV series as “a lot of fun. When you record dialogue for an animated feature, you usually work alone. But – when you’re working on an animated TV series – everybody’s there in the booth at the same time. So it’s a lot more fun. I love the people that I do voice-over work with.”

Unfortunately, within days of this interview, Disney realized that “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” wasn’t going to be the big box office “Wow!” that everyone had thought it would be. Which is why the company quietly shut down production on the “Team Atlantis” TV series.

So does this mean that all those recordings that Cree & Co. made for “Team Atlantis” will now never see the light of day? Actually, no. You see – even though Disney had lost interest in doing a spin-off series based on “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” – the company was still committed to doing a direct-to-video sequel to the film.

But – rather than go ahead with the “A:TLE” sequel that Disney Television Animation had already scripted – Mouse House execs elected to take the two or three episodes of “Team Atlantis” that Cree and Co. had already recorded dialogue for and (With the help of a few additional scenes) pass that off as the direct-to-video sequel to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.”

Of course, one wonders how the writers at Disney Television Animation are going to explain away Milo & Kinda being trapped on the earth’s surface – unable to return to Atlantis. After all, it was the events that occurred during the climax of the original version of the “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” direct-to-video sequel that lead to up the dire situation that these two found themselves in as the “Team Atlantis” TV series got underway. Now … Who knows how Disney intends to deal with this gaping hole in the plotline?

I guess we’ll all have to wait ’til the direct-to-video sequel to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” hits store shelves next year to learn how Milo & Kida got themselves in this predicament. More importantly, how they get themselves out.

Of course, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” wasn’t the only recent animated feature that Disney had high hopes for. The Mouse also allegedly thought that “Dinosaur” had franchise written all over it. Which is why there were reportedly plans in place for WDFA to do at least two “Dinosaur” sequels in the direct-to-video format. (Disney executives reportedly had visions of “Dinosaur” becoming their company’s answer to Universal Studios’ highly lucrative “Land Before Time” series. Which – by the way – Episode No. 9 in the “LBT” series hits store shelves this coming December.)

Anyway … Disney execs supposedly felt that “Dinosaur” was going to be so popular with movie-goers that they forced the Imagineers to fold the starring character from that film – Aladar the iguanodon – into Disney’s Animal Kingdom Big “E” Ticket attraction, “Countdown to Extinction.” Which means that Aladar has been on the job, rescuing WDW guests from that vicious Carnotaur, ever since April 1998. A full 25 months before “Dinosaur” would finally reach theaters.

Of course, to capitalize on what Disney execs felt sure was going to be a huge box office hit, Walt Disney Studio also forced the Imagineers to change “Countdown to Extinction”‘s name on the very same day (May 19, 2000) that “Dinosaur” opened in theaters nationwide. And what was the new name of this Disney’s Animal Kingdom attraction? The not-terribly-original-sounding “Dinosaur – The Ride.”

The only problem was … “Dinosaur” wasn’t really such a monstrous hit. Oh, sure. The film grossed $137 million during its domestic release. But the film reportedly cost an astounding $200 million to make. (In an attempt to get a handle on all the negative publicity that had begun swirling around the film and its high price tag, then Disney studio head Peter Schneider insisted that “Dinosaur” had actually “only” cost $135 million.)

So why didn’t the huge audience that Disney had been expecting turn out for “Dinosaur”? Some pointed to the film’s all-too-predictable storyline. Still others suggest that the Discovery Channel’s “Walking With Dinosaurs” mini-series (Which – just like Disney’s “Dinosaurs” – took computer generated prehistoric beasts and cleverly inserted them into film footage of real scenery) had stolen much of “Dinosaur”‘s thunder. Particularly since “Walking with Dinosaurs” had aired in the US in early April, a full six weeks before “Dinosaur” was due to hit theaters.

Whatever the case … “Dinosaur” had not proven to be as success as Disney executives had hoped it would be. Which is why they began backing off on all plans to fold additional “Dinosaur” related shows and attractions into the Disney theme parks.

Chief among these was Danny Hillis’ “autonomous walking platform.” Which – had it been perfected (More importantly, fully funded) – would have allowed a live sized Aladar, Eema and Baylene to have strolled down Main Street U.S.A. Which – you’ll have to admit – would have made for one hell of an exciting finale for any Disney theme park parade.

But – as I said earlier – “Dinosaur” didn’t make all the kind of money that Disney had thought it should. Which is why studio execs decided to cut funding for any direct-to-video sequels to the film as well as any additional theme park attractions that were tied to the “Dinosaur” mythology.

Of course, when Mr. Hillis heard about this, he immediately opted to bail out of WDI’s R & D department. I mean, what was the point of hanging out in Glendale if Disney wasn’t going to get serious about going forward with something as ground-breaking and amazing as the “autonomous moving platform.” (For those of you who’d like to learn more about what’s involved with this cutting edge development, check out this article from the March 2001 edition of “Discover” Magazine – “Pushing the Envelope on Robots” – by following this link.)

Mind you, even though “Dinosaur” tanked, the Imagineers still had hopes that – if the right film were to come along – that they’d still be able to find a logical way to fold the “autonomous walking platform” technology into one of the company’s theme park setting. For a while there earlier this year, WDI had thought that “Reign of Fire” might be that movie. Given that that Touchstone Picture featured fire breathing dragons, the Imagineers felt that it really wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to take the robotic skeleton that had been built as the core component of a full-size walking, roaring dinosaur and use it to build a fire breathing dragon.

But then – of course – “Reign of Fire” got snuffed out at the box office this summer and … Well, you know the rest of the drill by now, don’t you?

Jeese …This is a really depressing way to end this story, isn’t it? Okay, how’s about I try to find a happier way to wrap this article up?

How’s about this exciting tidbit? … Those of you who also saw the “autonomous walking platform” sequence in the Travel Channel’s “Disney’s Imagineers” TV special may recall catching a glimpse of a miniature Cinderella’s Castle that seemed alive with color. This castle was plainly visible behind Eric Haseltine (Executive vice president in charge of research & development at Walt Disney Imagineering), as Haseltine spoke enthusiastically about how much fun it was to work at WDI.

So, what’s the deal with that castle? Well, those fluid color changes come as a direct result of all the fiber optics that had been installed in that miniature version of Cinderella’s Castle. This model was a test for … Well, I don’t really want to spoil the whole surprise. But let’s just say that Hong Kong Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle will seem that much more magical after dark.

More to the point, provided that Cynthia Harris can actually get Disney Company management to approve the funding, the original Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland may take on an extra special sheen after dark too during its 50th anniversary year … But you didn’t hear this from me.

There. Is that a better ending?

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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