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Why For did Aerosmith wind up as the hosts of Rock’n’Roller Coaster?

Jim Hill returns with even more answers for your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim goes on and on about how the Rolling Stones almost hosted Disney-MGM's "Rock'n'Roller Coaster," why DCA seems somewhat schizophrenic, reveals the origins for WDW's Port Orleans hotel … then asks for your help in chasing down a making-of-DCA book as well as some dough.



First, Noel Aronson writes to ask:


It’s a little belated, but let me add to the list of people congratulating you on getting your own web site. The only problem is — whenever I lose track of whatever site you happen to (be) writing for / on — I always manage to find your new home just as I’m getting ready to go bed.

Yes, Mr. Hill, you cost me sleep. A lot of it.

My question for you today is fairly straight forward. (It) regards the Rock’n’Roller Coaster: Why Aerosmith? …

If you could dig up some dirt, or offer any insight, I’d be very appreciative.

Thanks a lot,

Noel Aronson

Dear Noel:

Thanks for your kind words. And I’m honestly sorry to hear that reading all of my long winded stories here at has been causing you to lose sleep. (Your complaint is kind of ironic, actually. Given that Nancy keeps telling me that my constant jabbering about the Walt Disney Company is what actually PUTS her to sleep … But I digress …)

ANYWAY … Regarding your question as to why Aerosmith ended up with that “Rock’n’Roller Coaster” gig, Noel: I don’t suppose that it would surprise any of you long term Disney Company watchers to learn that Steve Tyler & Co. weren’t actually WDI’s first choice for the rock super group to “host” this MGM thrill ride.

Truth be told, the Imagineers had initially hoped that they’d be able to land the most famous rock’n’roll still working today for this WDW attraction. And that act — of course — was the one and only Rolling Stones.

So — in the Spring of 1998, even as construction was well underway on the coaster — Disney discreetly approached Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and asked if they’d be interested in getting involved with the Mouse to do a thrill ride down in Florida.

As it turns out, the Stones WERE interested. The only problem was that the group’s asking price was much too high for Mickey’s taste. According to WDI sources that I’ve spoken with, Mick and Keith’s representatives asked for an enormous licensing fee (something along the lines of $7 – $10 million per year) for the rights to use the Stones’ likenesses as well as excerpts from several songs as part of the theming for this new Disney-MGM thrill ride.

Well, given that a licensing fee of that size was ‘way outside of WDI’s operating budget for the construction and completion of this particular attraction, I guess “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” when you’re an Imagineer. Which is why WDI began looking at second tier rock and roll acts. Groups that still had some name recognition, but weren’t so well known that they could demand top dollar for the use of their likenesses and music.

Which brings us to Aerosmith. After more than a decade of being off the charts, this ’70s era Boston-based band had a huge resurgence in the late 1980s / early 1990s. Wracking up a series of hit singles like “Love in an Elevator” and “Livin’ on the Edge.” Song titles that the Imagineers felt would make a perfect counter-point to the attraction they were creating.

So WDI quietly approached Steve Tyler, Aerosmith’s frontman, about the veteran rock group possibly getting on board with the “Rock’n’Roller Coaster” project. (Mind you, this actually wasn’t all that hard to do at the time, given that Aerosmith was already in bed with Disney. Tyler & Co. had just been signed by Touchstone Pictures to perform “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” the song that Disney Studios execs had hoped would be the hit single from the “Armageddon” soundtrack.) Luckily, Tyler just loved the idea.

More importantly, the Imagineers were thrilled to discover that Aerosmith was infinitely more affordable than the Rolling Stones. Though I don’t have access to the exact figures, I’m told that Disney acquired the rights to use Tyler & Co.’s likenesses — as well as six hit songs from the Aerosmith catalog — for about a 10th of what the Rolling Stones were reportedly asking.

So — given that the Stones were supposedly asking $7 – $10 million to be part of the “Rock’n’Roller Coaster” project — well, you do the math, okay?

Anyway, that explains how Aerosmith ended up “starring” in this Disney-MGM thrill ride.

Next, B. DeCaires of Pacific Grove, CA drops by to ask:

Jim –

Why was the theme and design of Tokyo Disney Seas theme park (so much) more successful than Disney’s California Adventure? Weren’t they produced by the same company?

Well, sort of.

Look, let me explain. The design and construction of Tokyo Disney Seas was paid for by the Oriental Land Company. A corporation that still adheres to the principles of Walt Disney Productions circa 1983. (I.E. You should always give the customers more than they were expecting. Cost doesn’t count. But always delivering a quality product does.)

Which is why OLC has no problem greenlighting high-ticket items like Tokyo Disneyland’s “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” and — indeed — the entire Tokyo Disney Seas theme park. They know that they’ll eventually get a handsome return on every investment they make in their theme parks.

Whereas Disney’s California Adventure was built under the direct supervision of Paul Pressler, the former head of Disney Parks and Resort (and now the CEO of the Gap retail chain). And the principles that Paul Pressler adhered to … I’m sorry. It just feels weird to use the word “principles” and Paul Pressler’s name in the same sentence. It’s almost like those two should be mutually exclusive. Sort of like “military” and “intelligence” and “jumbo” and “shrimp.”

Okay. Enough with the “borrowing” of George Carlin’s material. Let’s get back to B. Decaires’ answer … already in progress.

ANYWAY … right from the start, Paul Pressler’s goal was to keep cuts down on DCA. Which is why — for a while, anyway — Pressler tried to circumvent WDI entirely on this project and just have Disney’s California Adventure be designed by some old Disney Development vets (AKA the folks who designed all of the non-theme park elements — I.E. the shops, hotels, and restaurants — that you find around the various Disney resorts).

Of course, once the Imagineers heard about this, they raised holy hell. WDI vet Chris Carradine (best known for his work on WDW’s Pleasure Island) even circulated a petition that demanded that this sister park to Disneyland — arguably the crown jewel of the entire Disney theme park chain — be designed by actual Imagineers. Not Imagineer wanna-bes.

When Disney CEO Michael Eisner heard about this WDI rebellion, he immediately told Pressler to quash it. Do whatever he had to to make the Imagineers happy again.

Toward this end, Paul agreed to let veteran Imagineers design some of the areas in the company’s newest theme park. Which is how an old WDI hand like Tim Delaney (best known for his outstanding design work on Disneyland Paris’ delightful Discoveryland) ended up in charge of DCA’s Golden Gateway, Sunshine Plaza, and Paradise Pier areas. And how Rick Rothschild (a 22-year Walt Disney Imagineering vet, best known for Epcot’s “American Adventure” and WDW’s “The Extra Terrorestrial Alien Encounter”) ended up directing “Soarin’ Over California” as well as riding herd on the teams of Imagineers that produced Condor Flats and Grizzly Peak Recreation Area.

But as for the other parts of the park … well, Pressler was eventually able to find ways to backdoor some of his old Disney Development cronies into the DCA project. Folks who had lots of experience designing shops, hotels and restaurants … but little or no practical experience when it came to building theme parks.

This explains Disney’s California Adventure’s somewhat schizophrenic nature. As you walk through that theme park, you’ll find areas that are just loaded with great design. Where all the elements work together to create a coherent, cohesive story. And then you’ll walk into a park of the Park like the Pacific Wharf area or whole stretches of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot … where the story just falls apart.

Mind you, it’s not because the designers for those particular sections of the Park didn’t try. But rather, it’s because they just didn’t have the practical experience when it came to designing a successful section of a Disney theme park.

Which brings us to the obvious question: “What would Walt have thought of Disney’s California Adventure?” Its good parts as well as its bad parts? That … I can’t tell you.

But I can tell you what several veteran Imagineers — folks who actually worked with the Old Mousetro as he was building Disneyland as well as mapping out his plans for “Project Florida” — said about the DCA model when they first saw it back in the late 1990s.

Okay. Picture this if you will: Ward Kimball, Alice Davis and several other members of WED’s “Dinosaurs Club” were on a tour of WDI one day. They had dropped by Imagineering’s Glendale headquarters for some anniversary luncheon. And — after the festivities broke up — someone offered to take Ward, Alice & Co. into the model shop to show them what the Imagineers were currently working on.

Their first stop was the room where the model for Tokyo Disney Seas was kept. This rendering was greeted with much enthusiasm, with Kimball and Davis loudly “Ooohing” and “Aaahing” about all of the obvious skill and artistry that had been poured into the creation of this particular theme park.

Then their Imagineering hostess / tour guide took Ward and Alice over to see the DCA model. There was an awkward pause as the Imagineering veterans peered down at what was going to be built in Disneyland’s parking lot.

Finally, Alice Davis broke the silence: “A ferris wheel?! Walt would have hated that.”

Kimball then said something to the effect of “Okay. Joke’s over. Show us the real model now.”

When their WDI hostess / tour guide insisted that this really was the model for Disney’s California Adventure theme park, Ward cracked: “That’s not a Disney theme park. It looks like Six Flags Magic Knotts Berry Land.”

Obviously embarrassed, their Imagineer handler herded Kimball and Davis out of the model shop … then hoped and prayed that this story would never, ever make it out of that room.

Well, so much for the power of prayer …

Next, Jason Merrill writes to ask:

Back in the early ’90s, I had seen a concept painting for a proposed Haunted Resort hotel for WDW. Years past and nothing ever got built. When I asked around later, I understand that it had morphed into Port Orleans. I can kind of see the reasons not to go ahead with such a project, but I was kind of wondering if you knew any details.

Just found your site and was up ’till 2 a.m. catching up on things.

Jeese, here’s another JHM reader that I’ve been keeping up ’til all hours. I gotta start writing shorter stories.

Speaking of keeping things short … let me see if I can do the Reader’s Digest version of this particular story. According to WED Enterprises plans that I’ve seen from the early 1980s, WDW’s Port Orleans hotel complex was actually originally envisioned as a resort complex that was supposed to have been built right next door to the Shopping Village at Lake Buena Vista (better known nowadays as WDW’s “Downtown Disney” complex).

The backstory for this 800 room resort (which would have occupied the site where WDW’s Pleasure Island was eventually built) was supposed to have built off of the theming and atmosphere that the Empress Lilly created.

To explain: this faux paddle wheeler wouldn’t just look as if were sitting at the edge of a WDW shopping village anymore. Now it would look as if the Empress Lilly had stopped at the dock of this colorful riverfront town to off-load some supplies.

As for that town … well, that would have been the Port Orleans resort. A series of structures that would have looked like something straight out “Gone With the Wind.” Picture lots of ornate buildings with tall white columns, covered with elegant iron work. Wisteria and magnolia trees in full bloom.

The hotel’s check-in area, lobby, shops, and restaurants were to have been centrally located inside a classic Southern mansion (think Tara on steroids.) The guest rooms were to have been elsewhere around the resort. Tucked away inside highly themed buildings all over “town” that were supposed to be places like the cotton mill, the boatwrights shop, etc.

Then-WDW resort head Dick Nunis pictured the Port Orleans hotel complex as being a moderately priced but still highly themed resort that (hopefully) would add a lot to the Shopping Village at Lake Buena Vista’s bottom line. As in: people who stayed at the Port Orleans would be that much more likely to take advantage of the convenience of the shopping village. (I.E. Do most of their vacation shopping and dining there.)

Unfortunately, like so many of Nunis’ 1980s era ideas for the Disney theme parks (I.E. a Matterhorn for WDW’s Magic Kingdom which the steam train that circled the theme park would have actually rolled through, a flume ride for Disneyland that would have built off of the theming of that park’s “Bear Country” area), his Port Orleans hotel idea never made it off the drawing board. Whether this was because then-Disney Productions Chairman Card Walker was just too cautious or because the company had all of its capital committed to the creation of EPCOT Center — who can say?

But this idea went back into the drawer at WED until Michael Eisner & Co. came on board at the Mouse House in September 1984. Then — once Eisner announced that he seriously wanted to up the number of hotels that the Walt Disney Company had on property at Walt Disney World — the Imagineers immediately pulled out those plans … and the rest of the story, you know.

And as for the Disney Haunted Hotel idea … that concept has been floating around Walt Disney Imagineering for at least 15 years now. The Imagineers actually floated this story idea as a possible theming overlay for the hotel on board the Queen Mary (back when the Walt Disney Company was giving very serious though to creating a waterfront theme park / hotel / shopping / dining / entertainment complex right at the edge of Long Beach harbor). When that project didn’t pan out, WDI also toyed with using the Haunted Hotel idea as a way to make the Disney-MGM Studio’s “Tower of Terror” attraction that much more financially feasible.

As in: help recover some of the cost of constructing a theme park attraction of this size which was loaded with extremely expensive cutting edge technology and effects by having a limited number of WDW guests pay top dollar to actually stay in the hotel.

I could explain further … but to do so wouldn’t be fair to Kevin Boles, who’s still waiting for me to finish up my “Tower Tales” series over at his own wonderful website,

So — until I finally get around to handing off those last few chapters to Kevin, Jason — I guess that’s all I can say WDW’s Haunted Hotel project.

Sorry about that, guy.

Okay, I’ve answered some of your questions. Now it’s time for all you Disneyana fans to try and answer one of MY questions. Like … whatever became of Lorraine Santoli’s making-of-DCA book?

Some of you may recall — in the Spring 2001 issue of “Disney” Magazine — that there was actually this small story which hyped the upcoming publication of that book. Here’s a brief excerpt of that article:

“What does it take to build a Disney theme park? Blood, sweat and Imagineers. In her new book, “Disney’s California Adventure” (Disney Editions), Lorraine Santoli traces the evolution of the Anaheim must-see from its humble roots as an idea jotted down on a notepad in Aspen, Colorado, to its becoming the long-awaited 55-acre sister park for Disneyland.

Behind-the-scenes accounts from the Imagineers include plenty of historic tidbits, such as the importing of greenery to create authentic-looking Golden State vistas and revelations about the staggering complexities involved in fashioning an entire theme park out of a parking lot.”

Sounds like a pretty intriguing book, doesn’t it? I certainly thought so. Which is why — back when I was attending DCA’s opening press event back in February 2001 — I went from store to store at the Disneyland Resort, repeatedly asking “Do you have Lorraine Santoli’s book about the creation of Disney’s California Adventure theme park?” And — to a man — the Disneyland cast members that I spoke with had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

Even when I’d pull a copy of that issue of “Disney” Magazine off the shelf and actually pointed to the article that promoted Santoli’s book, no one at the DL Resort could tell me what had happened to this Disney Editions publication. “This just doesn’t make sense,” said one puzzled but very polite cast member at DCA’s “Greetings from California” gift shop. “We’ve got dozens of Disney’s California Adventure pins in stock. Several different variety of DCA T-shirts and sweatshirts. Postcards. Posters. Plush. Even a souvenir CD with music from the Park. But no DCA book. I wonder what’s holding that up.”

Well, it’s been two years now … and — just like that very nice cast member — I’m also wondering what’s holding this publication up. Every time I get to DCA, I continue to ask around for Lorraine’s book. Only to be greeted with puzzled looks and/or bemused sighs.

Mind you, I’ve heard rumors about Santoli’s “Disney’s California Adventure” book. That, on the heels of the press and public’s underwhelming reaction to the theme park, Disney suddenly decided to cut its losses. And that — even though Disney Editions had already started promoting the project — Mouse House managers still opted to cancel publication of this making-of-DCA book.

Now where this gets interesting is that a portion of Santoli’s original “Disney’s California Adventure” manuscript supposedly emerged last year. But not as a full-blown, full-color book. But rather, just as a 30+ booklet that was handed out to all the Imagineers who actually worked on the DCA project. Allegedly on the one year anniversary of Disney’s California Adventure’s grand opening.

Or so I’ve been told.

ANYWAY … I’ve actually seen a few “Disney’s California Adventure” booklets similar to this description pop up on eBay every now and then. And I’ve even bid on one or two, with the hope that maybe they’ll help me finally clear up the mystery that surrounds Lorraine Santoli’s making-of-DCA book … only to have my bibs get sniped seconds before the auction ends (Rats!)

So now, I’m forced to turn to you, my loyal JHM readers. Surely some of you must work at Walt Disney Imagineering. Or Disney Editions and/or Hyperion Press. Or maybe one of you actually knows Lorraine Santoli. So could someone (please!) tell me what actually happened to that “Disney’s California Adventure” book? More importantly, is this long awaited (at least by me) full-length version of this publication ever going to see the light of day?

Speaking of hitting up JHM readers for stuff … my apologies. But it’s that time of the month again. My ex-wife, the wise and ever-patient Michelle Smith (AKA the Fabulous Disney Babe) wants me to remind you all that still needs your green if we’re to stay in the black.

I know, I know. It’s really annoying that I have to keep hitting up you guys for cash. If it’s any consolation … I don’t like asking anymore than you like giving.

But think about it: where else on the Web are you going to go to find brand new hyper-detailed Disney-related stories like this week’s “Khrushchev at Disneyland” piece or last week’s “Project Gemini” expose?

And then there’s all that great stuff that I’ve got waiting in the wings … the remaining installments of the revised version of my “Remembering Light Magic” series. Plus a trip to Walt’s version of “Project Florida” (which will hopefully give you a real sense what Disney would have done with all that land outside of Orlando if Walt had lived long enough to develop WDW the way he wanted it to be developd). As well as an in-depth look at all the other storylines that Pixar had considered for “Monsters, Inc.”

Plus new epic length series on the “Disney’s America” debacle, those winter-time resorts that Walt Disney Productions wanted build in California’s Mineral King and Independence Lake area, Westcot and the “Disney Seas” theme park for Long Beach, CA …

So — as you can see — we’re really just getting started here at JHM. There’s lots of great reading yet to come … if we can just keep the wolf away from the door.

Okay. Enough with the nagging and the noodging. You do your part (aka throw a few bucks in that honor box that you’ll find on JHM’s home page or buy some books from by clicking the links at the end of the articles each day) and I’ll do my part (aka throw a couple of new hyper-detailed stories up on the site every week) … and everyone will be happy.

Especially my ex-wife.

Anywho … that’s it for this week, folks. I’ll see you all next Monday, when I finally get around to posting Part Two of the revamped version of my “Remembering Light Magic” series.

Til then … have a great weekend, okay? jrh

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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