Here is a little something special for those of you who might be visiting Walt Disney World and want to try something a little different.
For the Magic Kingdom Annual Passholders, I created a special 100 question experience to encourage guests to search for elements of storytelling that they may have missed in the past as they rushed to attractions or frantically sought out merchandise or food and drink. It was tremendously successful even if the final version replaced a handful of my more challenging questions.
When I was asked to prepare this special adventure for Walt Disney World cast members to help put the “Walt” back in “Walt Disney” for the 100 Years of Magic celebration, I used that “sketchbook” as my model to create an opportunity to re-discover Walt’s kingdoms of magic and to find those Walt tributes that may have been missed in the past and which can be shared with others in the future.
The Magic Kingdom certainly has elements of Walt’s childhood from his experiences at the turn-of-the-century including his first introduction to the great stories of adventure and fairy tales. The Disney-MGM Studios seems to reflect Walt’s adult life as a successful motion picture producer of both animation and live action films. Epcot is obviously Walt’s vision of the world of tomorrow where technology and international understanding contribute to an ideal future.
You will be following in the footsteps of Walt’s life as you search for the references to Walt that are scattered throughout these three parks that represent Walt’s life.
Don’t get frustrated at trying to answer all the questions. The fun is in the journey of discovery. Read signs and posters. Press your nose against windows and display cases. Look around corners and up on the shelves and walls. Search out photos. Go into shops you might not have visited previously. Look up.
These are questions designed for sorcerers rather than apprentices. You won’t find the easy questions like “Where is Walt’s window on Main Street?” but more along the lines of “Where in the Disney-MGM Studios would you find the photo of Walt standing in front of the Russian poster for THE THREE LITTLE PIGS?” (It’s in one of the display windows of the DARKROOM.)
If you need to ride an attraction to discover an answer, I made sure it was a low impact experience instead of a thrill ride so that is something everyone would be able to ride. You may need to visit food and beverage or merchandise locations to find an answer.
You do not need to climb over fences or any other barriers or stand on anything. You do not need to venture backstage to find the answer. Even cast members may not be able to help you find certain answers or they may unintentionally give you the wrong answer.
All the information and all the locations you need to find the answers are clearly visible and easily accessible for all our guests.
This adventure may prove to be challenging but it was designed to get you to explore the parks and to discover those Walt references you may have missed in the past as we celebrate a hundred years of magic.
I hope you will see that Walt Disney is still very much a presence in our parks but never more so than in our cast members and guests. They are the living legacy of Walt Disney. Every time you create happiness for a guest or a cast member then that is truly where the spirit of Walt is in our world.
If you have half as much fun tracking down these Walt references as I did putting it together, then I had twice as much fun as you!
The Walt Disney World cast members who participated in this experience through the Centers of Excellence (now officially known as the Disney Learning Centers) which are eight locations on property that are similar to an employee exclusive library received a special 100 Years of Magic pin. The top scorers were invited to bring a friend with them to a special two hour presentation I did where I shared some rarely seen audio, video and handouts that related directly to the life of Walt Disney. Unfortunately, we don’t have prizes for the readers of JimHillMedia other than the fun and satisfaction of re-discovering the parks. And, yes, unlike the cast member experience, I have also included the answers at the very end.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS WALT?
A SPECIAL ADVENTURE CREATED BY JIM KORKIS
1. Besides being a personal friend of Walt Disney, Art Linkletter was one of the television hosts for the opening of Disneyland. He wrote a book that was entitled KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS, which featured an introduction by Walt and artwork by Charles “PEANUTS” Schulz. A copy of this book is on display next to the original black-haired Barbie. What is the color of the tie that Mr. Linkletter is wearing on the cover of the book? (Main Street)
2. Animator and Imagineer Bill Justice did the artwork for this colorful scene of Disney animated characters (including ones from the BLACK CAULDRON) which surrounds a Walt Disney quote about what provided Walt “a lifetime satisfaction beyond all value”. According to this quote, what exactly provided Walt such satisfaction? (Main Street)
3. If you know where to look for the “Public Lives and Personal Memories,” then you will discover a photo of Walt Disney hosting a 1964 television special. How many buttons are visible on Walt’s sweater in the picture? (Liberty Square)
4. An elaborate, fully operational model of Walt Disney’s original vision of Epcot was housed on the top floor of Carousel of Progress at Disneyland for many years. A very small part of that model was rescued and is visible when you take the Blue Line. But on top of the Cosmopolitan Hotel which was the tallest building in the model is there one flashing beacon, two flashing beacons or no flashing beacons? (Tomorrowland)
5. According to this sign, who were the four individuals who helped Walt “create a 1/8 scale steam train that would travel along 2,600 feet of track around Walt’s backyard?” Another sign has a similar quote but does not provide the answer so be careful. (Main Street)
6. Walt Disney provided the voice of Mickey Mouse in the early cartoons like “Mickey’s Good Deed” and “Mickey’s Nightmare.” Where exactly are those two framed cartoon posters located in the Magic Kingdom? (Toontown)
7. Between which two three-digit numbers does Walt Disney show off his Carolwood Pacific engine to his two young adult daughters Diane and Sharon? (Include the letter as well and make sure you are picking the numbers that on the same level as the photo.) (Main Street)
8. Roy O. Disney sits on a bench with Mickey Mouse (not Minnie) near a picture of Walt wearing a white coat and a construction hat clearly labeled with what word? You may have to walk slowly by this picture more than once to get the answer. (Main Street)
9. Charlie Chaplin was an early inspiration for the young Walt who won contests imitating the comedian. In the Magic Kingdom, there is only one photo of this comic actor but the photo shows Chaplin in how many different poses? (Main Street)
10. Ray Kroc was a teenage volunteer in the same ambulance unit as Walt Disney in World War I. In fact, when Disneyland opened in 1955, he wrote a letter asking if Walt was interested in having Ray’s new business be part of Disneyland. Well, it was many years later but his business finally made its appearance on Disney property and the sign says it has been in the same location “since 1855.” But what was the original date which has been crossed out? (Frontierland)
11.This location has an authentic signature of Walt Disney on a Bank of America check for the amount of $200. Walt must have had some old checks to use up because it has the Hyperion Ave. address on the check but the date is (month, day, year) and at that time Walt had relocated to the new studio in Burbank. What is the month, day, year on the check?
12. The Holly-Vermont Realty Office was Walt’s first studio. Walt inquired about the office rentals at a real estate office, declaring he could pay $10 a month. The only place at that price was a room at the back of the real-estate office. He operated there from October 1923 until he moved to the Kingswell Studio location in February 1924. According to the Holly-Vermont logo on the door, Holly-Vermont serviced which two cities?
13. Our recreation of the Dopey Drive sign that intersected with Mickey Avenue lists “Post Production, Soundstages and Special EFX” as the areas on Dopey Drive. However, the photo of Walt and actress Rosalind Russell standing right next to the actual sign (which was originally installed for the film RELUCTANT DRAGON) clearly shows that at the Disney Studios in Hollywood the three locations on Dopey Drive were actually what?
14. This group of three pictures shows Walt involved with three different athletic activities. (One picture has Walt’s wife, Lillian, and another picture shows one his daughters but not even the Disney Archives know who that young man with Walt and Lilly is.) What are those three athletic activities?
15. The Carthay Circle Theater was where SNOW WHITE premiered in December 1937 and was one of only two theaters fitted with Fantasound for the premiere of FANTASIA. This theater on San Vicente was torn down in 1969 because it was not earthquake safe. It was also the theater that premiered another Disney “first”and the star who made his first appearance in that series is featured on a nearby poster reproduction. What was that historic Disney first that premiered at this theater?
16. Artists Hank Porter and Roy Williams (the Big Mooseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club) designed the insignia for the Flying Tigers unit during World War II. It was the first Military insignia designed by the Disney Studios and Walt insisted it be done free of charge for military. The Disney Studio eventually created over 1,200 logos. Which building is decorated with this famous insignia?
17. That beautiful display of Academy Awards for animation showcases twelve statuettes from 1932 to 1969. But which year is represented by two Oscars?
18. Walt Disney was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame in 1986 along with Mary Tyler Moore, Jackie Gleason, Burr Tillstrom, and Steve Allen. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducts up to seven individuals (or programs) each year into its Hall of Fame at the Academy’s home in North Hollywood starting in 1984. They have a Hall of Fame plaza. The one here at Disney/MGM Studios opened in 1993 and the bust of Walt was sculpted by Blaine Gibson in what year? ( Blaine also sculpted the Partners statue and the Roy O. Disney statue in the Magic Kingdom.)
19. There are lots of Walt photos that decorate the display windows on Hollywood Boulevard. This large photo doesn’t appear normally and shows Walt sitting next to a live action motion picture camera with two other gentlemen in the picture who both wear hats and glasses. What is Walt wearing on his feet? Mud-caked boots, shoelace-tied shoes, fuzzy house slippers, two different shoes, or barefoot.
20. Imagineer Herb Ryman created the first map of Disneyland with Walt in a marathon session but in this photo Herb is sketching a famous Hollywood celebrity from 1938. It appears at an even more famous Hollywood location where Walt Disney often went with his wife on those rare occasions the Disneys went out on the town. Who is the famous celebrity that Herb is sketching? (If you are nice at this location, they may even show you the book with Walt and Lilly’s photo at this famous Hollywood location.)
21.Yes, that is Walt’s actual handwriting in this picture surrounded by so many other images of Walt and it lists the only ride Walt had planned for Walt Disney World property. What was the name of that ride written in Walt’s own hand? (Future World)
22.These two large pictures (one black and white and the other color) show Walt using a pointer. They are located in a display window. In the black and white picture, what is Walt pointing at? (Future World)
23. As Walt stands in front of the map for the Disney Florida Project, the legend at the lower right lists the following: Property Boundary, Swamp, Lakes, Scale Feet and what other category? (Future World)
24. Inventor’s Circle at Epcot is missing the name of Walt Disney who in the year 2000 was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame for Patent # 2, 20l, 689. Fortunately, Epcot does have a large photo of Walt standing in front of the invention (the exact same photo exists inside a building at Disney-MGM Studios on Hollywood Boulevard). What is Walt holding in his right hand while he stands in front of the invention? (In his left hand is something considered disposable after they had been filmed in the 1950s but are very valuable in today’s collector market.) (Future World)
25. To the right of Jane Addams is what Walt Disney quote? (World Showcase)
26. Where exactly does Walt Disney’s name come after Johnny Carson and right before Albert Einstein? (World Showcase)
27. Walt looks on with delight at the delicious treat being held in front of him in this photo. (That’s Walt’s wife sitting to the left and his daughter Diane to the right in the photo.) But what is that word in the center of table? (World Showcase)
28. You can see in this photo that Franz is excited discussing with Walt their new product that they are going to release in 1955 and is still being produced reasonably expensively today. Which Disney character does Walt hold in his hand? (World Showcase)
29. The model of the Nautilus submarine from 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA was designed by Imagineer Harper Goff who went against Walt Disney’s original wishes that it should look more sleek and modern. This model with the lighted portholes hangs next to a reproduction of a poster for the film. Is it a reproduction of the original film poster or a reproduction of one of the re-releases? Fortunately the answer is on the poster. (Future World)
30. The animated feature FANTASIA has a memorable battle between two dinosaurs: a T-Rex and a Stegosaurus. That classic moment was recreated in audio-animatronics at the 1964 World’s Fair on the Ford Skyway and later found a home in the Grand Canyon Diorama at Disneyland. Here at Epcot, we have an homage to that classic scene but with some significant (and more historically accurate) differences. The coloring of the Epcot dinosaurs now reflects the more colorful spectrum of birds rather than the greens and grays of lizards. And it is now an Allosaurus rather than a T-Rex battling what kind of dinosaur? (Future World)
DON’T LOOK AT THE ANSWERS. DON’T YOU WANT THE FUN OF DISCOVERY??
1. Red (This paperback copy is located in the Kodak Exposition Hall in the display case on the right hand side just past the entrance to the Walt Disney Theater showing the cartoons.)
2. “To translate the world’s great fairy tales, thrilling legends, stirring folk tales into visual theatrical presentations and to get back the warm responses of audiences in many lands…” (At the exit of the Walt Disney Theater, right behind the Mr. Toad car is the big mural with the quote right in the middle.)
3. Three (3) buttons (Located in the Hall of Presidents attraction. As you enter it is the second photo on the left. The tv special is about the 1964 World’s Fair.)
4. One flashing beacon (The model is located in the Alien Encounter building second floor and you can see it on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover.)
5. Roger E. Broggie, Ed Sargent, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnston (This plaque is in the Main Street Train Station on the bottom floor. It is the plaque honoring Roger Broggie.)
6. On the ceiling slats inside Mickey’s garage in Toontown Fair.
7. Between locker numbers B183-B219 (This is between the first two lockers in the Main Street Train Station on East side.)
8. Disneyland (This photo is at the exit of the Walt Disney Theater near the model of the castle.)
9. Seven (7) (This photo is located in the Main Street Cinema. It is on the wall immediately to your left as you enter the shop.)
10. ’53 (This is the McDonalds French Fry wagon near Pecos Bill. The sign with the information is on the righthand side of the wagon.)
11. March 19, 1941 (This check is in Sid Cahuenga. It is on the wall separating the two entrance doors.)
12. Hollywood and Beverly Hills (This doorway is next to the Peevey’s Concotion in the Echo Park area. The doorway is to the right of Peevey’s.)
13. InBtween, Special EFX, Layout (The signpost and photo is right next to the Mickey meet and greet soundstage right next to the giant Coke bottle.)
14. Ice Skating, Tennis and Swimming (These photos are in Mouse About Town shop on Sunset Blvd. As you enter the shop, the photos are on the immediate right wall.)
15. The first Silly Symphony, SKELETON DANCE, premiered there in 1929. (The poster of Donald Duck who premiered in the Silly Symphony series is on the left hand side of the Carthay Circle Theater. Hunters will also need to come into the COE to do some research. This information is on page 100, second paragraph of the paperback version of the Bob Thomas book WALT DISNEY AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL.)
16. On the side of Rosie’s All American Café. (It is on the side where the cast only entrance is.)
17. 1941 (These Oscars are located in the exit area of the Animation attraction. The exit area is also accessible through the Animation Gallery shop.)
18. 1991 (The date is on the back of the bust. The Hall of Fame Plaza is on the left of the ABC Theater.)
19. Shoelaced tied shoes (This is in the display window of the last shop on the left hand side of Hollywood Blvd.)
20. George Jessel (This is inside the Brown Derby. As you enter, it is on the left hand side of the large wall in front of you, near the phones.)
21. Swamp Ride (This is in the Innoventions East building near the exit on the big wall with all the photos of Walt innovations.)
22. A concept sketch of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland (This is in the window of the Art of Disney Gallery near the front of the park across from Spaceship Earth.)
23. Cypress Groves (This is the last Walt photo in the Heritage Hallway in the old Pasta Piazza building. The hallway is at the exit of Ice Station Cool.)
24. A pair of glasses (This is the second Walt photo in the Heritage Hallway in the old Pasta Piazza building. The hallway is at the exit of Ice Station Cool.)
25. “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.” (This quote is in the rotunda of the American Adventure. As you enter, it will be in the middle of the big wall on your left.)
26. On a poster in the rotunda of the American Adventure (This poster is located right at the entrance before you go up the escalators.)
27. CINZANO (This photo is in the lobby of Alfredo’s in Italy. The photo is located to the right of the big plaque telling the story of Alfredos.)
28. Goofy (This photo is in the Goebbel and Sons Hummel shop in Germany. It is on the wall directly across from where the Disney Hummels are displayed near the side exit door.)
29. Re-release (This poster is in the pre-show queque of Living Seas.)
30. Stegosaurus (This is in the Universe of Energy attraction just past the brontosauruses.) Yes, a trick question to make you double check your memory.
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!
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.
From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be
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.
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.
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