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Why For are the ride vehicles for Luigi’s Flying Tires being retooled



Pirate Pete wrote in this weekend to say:

Have you been following what's been going on with the
Luigi's Flying Tires ride at DCA's Cars Land? Why exactly did they remove the
balls from that attraction? Was it a safety issue?

Photo by Paul Hiffmeyer. Copyright Disneyland. All rights reserved

Pirate Pete —

The balls weren't removed from this reimagining of
Disneyland's classic Flying Saucers ride because of safety concerns. But —
rather — because they were slowing down the load / unload procedure for what
was already a very slow loading / low capacity attraction. And given the large number
of Guest complaints that this newly-retooled theme park was getting from people
who've literally spent hours in line on to then have a two minute-long
experience aboard Luigi's Flying Tires … Well, the Imagineers knew that they
had to do something.

Mind you, what's kind of ironic about this is that the Spring
2012 decision to add all of those beach balls to Luigi's — give this new DCA
attraction a colorful, kinetic element (which was then supposed to distract Guests
from noticing that the Flying Tires don't exactly zoom around. That this
supposedly thrilling, interactive ride is really more of a mild, slow-moving
experience) — came very late in the game. With the Imagineers reportedly drawing
their inspiration from a piece of archival footage that they'd discovered of Disneyland's original
Flying Saucers attraction which showed this Tomorrowland attraction filled with
colorful balloons. Which were then knocked into the air as Guests deliberately
drove their Flying Saucers through those piles of balloons that were scattered
around the floor.

Of course, what the Imagineers didn't initially realize was
that this archival footage of Disneyland's Flying Saucers attraction had come
from a 1960s era episode of "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color."
And because the film crew which had been tasked with filming this then-still-new
Tomorrowland attraction had decided that the Saucers were (all of their own) a
little too slow-moving & bland-looking to give them the sort of colorful,
dramatic footage that they really needed for this TV show … Well, that's when
the decision was made to pour hundreds of balloons to the air cushion pen that
Disneyland's Flying Saucers floated around in.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So as you can see, even back in the early 1960s, Disney
insiders were looking for ways to make this floating-on-air attraction appear to be far
more exciting & colorful than it actually was.

Anyway …  Now that
all of those beach balls are gone, what are the Imagineers going to do to try
and improve the ride experience that Guests have once they climb aboard one of
Luigi's Flying Tires? Given all of  this
attraction's safety protocols (i.e. each vehicle must be individually visually inspected
to make sure that all occupants are restrained by a safety belt before the Cast
Members are then allowed to fire the underground engines which then provide the
cushion of air that these oversized tires ride on), it's always going to be a
very-slow-to-load attraction. So what WDI is now concentrating on is trying to
make Luigi's Flying Tires an overall far more satisfying ride experience.

"And how exactly are they going to pull that off?,"
you ask. Well, you have to understand that — during the initial test phase of
Luigi's Flying Tires — each of these Flying Saucer-like ride vehicle was equipped
with a joy  stick-type control mechanism.
Which — depending on what direction you pushed this joy stick in — sent your
Flying Tire floating off towards that side of the attraction.

John Lasseter in an early promotional video for Luigi's Flying Saucers. Please note
— directly to the left of Lasseter — the original joy stick / ride control mechanism for
this DCA attraction. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The only problem was the Disneyland Resort Cast Members who
were recruited to take part in the early, early onsite tests for Luigi's Flying
Tires found this joy stick-like ride control system confusing / difficult to
use. And the Imagineers figured that — if Cast Members (some of whom literally
spend 8 hours a day dealing with the balky ride control systems on various DCA
& Disneyland attractions) couldn't figure out how the ride control system
on Luigi's Flying Tires actually operated … Well, what chance did members of
the general public have?

So during the test-and-adjust phase for this new Cars Land
attraction, the Imagineers actually removed these joy sticks from all of the
control consoles on the Luigi's Flying Tires ride vehicles. Though — that said
— there's still 20 pounds of hardware hidden deep  down inside of each of these Tires which was
supposed to respond every time you pushed that joy stick.

The Imagineers are hoping that — if they remove the rest of
that joy stick hardware (and thereby decrease the weight of each of these ride
vehicles by 20 pounds) — that single change will make Luigi's Flying Tires that
much more satisfying an attraction. That — because all of these ride vehicles will
soon be lighter — they'll then be able to zoom around the air cushioned floor of this
Cars Land attraction that much quicker. Which will make for a far more
satisfying Guest experience.

Tony Shaloub at Uptempo Studios earlier this year recording the
audio components for Luigi's Flying Tires. Copyright Uptempo

That's WDI's hope, anyway. But let's remember that these are
the same folks who brought Tony Shaloub back in at the last minute to record
all of these "Cars" – inspired Italian parody songs. With the hope
that this new musical element would then add an additional layer of fun to this
DCA attraction.

But the hard fact of the matter is — no matter how many
beach balls WDI adds and/or Italian-inspired comical songs they play — there's
just no getting around the fact that Luigi's Flying Tires (just like the
classic Disneyland ride which inspired it) is always going to be a slow loading
/ low capacity attraction with a short ride time which is also short on thrills.
Which means that DCA's Guest Relations staffers are pretty much guaranteed to
be getting a steady stream of complaints about Luigi's Flying Tires from people
who feel that they spent far too much time in line to then experience such an
underwhelming attraction.

Mind you, there used to be people who worked at Walt Disney
Imagineering who knew things like this. Veteran Imagineers who had actually
worked on the original Disneyland version of  Flying Saucers and who could speak at
great length about how difficult it was to operate & properly maintain this
particular Tomorrowland attraction. Which is one of the main reasons that the
Flying Saucers only operated at 
Disneyland from August of 1961 through August of 1966 before Walt
himself pulled the plug on this problematic ride.

John Hench and Walt Disney onsite as the demolition
of Disneyland's original Tomorrowland gets underway
in September of 1966. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

You get that, right? That Walt Disney himself — when he was
putting together his final plans for 1967's New Tomorrowland — deliberately
decided not to include a revamped version of the Flying Saucers as part of his
Disneyland redo because — even back then — this ride for slow to load,
difficult to operate and didn't deliver all that great a Guest experience.

Which perhaps explains what I witnessed on the night of June
13th of this year. Which was the night that the Disneyland Resort's PR staff held their big
Cars Land Media Party.

Let me take a moment to properly set the stage here: I'm in
line for Luigi's Flying Tires. And as I'm making my way through this
attraction's queue, I realize that there's something very  familiar about the older gentleman who's
directly ahead of me in line. Eventually I realize that this guy is Disney
Ron Dominguez.

This obviously isn't how it actually went down. But — rather — its Charles Boyer's fantasy
of how young Ron Dominguez learned about what Walt Disney had in the works for the
orange groves that his family opened in Anaheim. Boyer painted this image for the
cover of the Disneyland Line (i.e. that theme park's employee newsletter) which
was published on July 17, 1980 for the 25th anniversary of this theme park.
Walt Disney Company. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

For those of you who don't know: Dominguez literally is a
native Disneylander. His family actually owned 10 acres of the land that Walt
Disney had to purchase in Anaheim in order to build the Happiest Place on
Earth. And to hear Ron tell the story, the Dominguez family manse (which had
been built in Orange County back in the 1880s) was originally located in New
Orleans Square, somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean and Cafe Orleans.

Anyway, given that Ron was looking for a summer job back in 1955, four days
before Disneyland opened to the public, Dominguez took a position as a ticket
taker at this theme park's front. And Ron then stayed on at the Disneyland
Resort for the next 39 years, eventually rising through the ranks to become
Executive Vice President of Walt Disney Attractions for the entire West Coast.

So you get what I'm saying here, right? If there's ever a
person who knew his early Disneyland history, it's Ron Dominguez. By that I mean,
this guy lived it firsthand.

Ron Dominguez (on the right, wearing the dark tie)
rides the Tomorrowland Skyway with his then-boss
Dick Nunis in the Fall of 1980 as they discuss the
upcoming reimagining of Disneyland's Fantasyland
section. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Which is why — when Ron finally made it to the part of the Luigi's
Flying Tires queue where you can actually look out  and see the ride vehicles — I just had to
laugh. Dominguez took one look at those Flying Saucers-like ride vehicles and
then loudly said "Oh, God. Not these things again." And with that,
Ron turned around and — after saying "Come on. We're getting out of
here" to the pair of women he was traveling with that night —
Dominguez quickly exited the queue.

Okay. I know. That's the reaction of a single individual.
But you gotta remember that — back in 1962 — Ron Dominguez was actually named
supervisor of  Tomorrowland. So if
there's ever been a person who's intimately aware of how difficult Disneyland's
Flying Saucer attraction was to operate, it's this guy. So the fact that Ron
would immediately turn tail and run at the mere sight of Luigi's Flying Tires
… Well, that doesn't exactly bode well for the future of this Cars Land

I'm told that — after all of the ride vehicles for Luigi's
Flying Tires have been lightened up (which should be completed sometime later
this month) — DCA's going to commission yet another Guest survey to see if the
lightened-up versions of these tires are delivering a better Guest experience.
And if not … Well, it'll be interesting to see what the Imagineers do next
here. Whether they do what WED did back in the mid-1960s, replace this Flying
Saucers / Flying Tires ride with something that's easier to operate / more of a
Guest satisfier. Maybe take that nearby expansion pad (which has been set aside
for the DCA equivalent of DHS's popular Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater restaurant) and
combine it with the property that Luigi's Flying Tires currently occupies to
create a Cars-themed attraction which has a far higher theoretical hourly ride
capacity as well as being a better overall Guest experience.

The interior of the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Does that answer your question, Pirate Pete? I hope so.

And just in case you're wondering, folks: Yeah, we're doing
a little experimenting with JHM's content. Seeing how this site's readers might
respond to Why For being a daily — rather than weekly — column. So if you've
got any Disney or theme park-related questions that you'd like to see answered
as part of this week's experiment, please send them along to

Your thoughts?

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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