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Why For haven’t the Imagineers built more rides, shows and attractions around the Disney Villains?



Chris B. wrote in on September 10th to say

Hi Mr. Hill,

Great website and so appreciate how you share your Disney

With the opening of the New Fantasyland Disney has installed
a statue for Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston. Disney villains have typically only
been out and about for the Halloween events. Is Gaston’s statue and tavern the
first Disney Villain to get a permanent statue and “attraction”?

The statue outside of Gaston’s Tavern in the Fantasy-
land expansion area at WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

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Thanks for your kind words. As for Gaston’s Tavern being the
first permanent Disney Villain statue / attraction … Well, that kind of
depends on how you define villain, statue and/or attraction.

After all, Monstro has been swallowing Guests at Disneyland ever
since June 16, 1956. Which is when that theme park’s Canal Boats of the World
ride re-opened with its new Storybook Land overlay.

And those who are fans of early Disneyland concept art will
no doubt recognize the below image. Which shows Monstro as the central
character of his very own theme park attraction. Which drew its inspiration
from the Shoot the Chutes, that early amusement park thrill ride which was
originally introduced back in 1884 at Watchtower Park in Rock Island, IL.

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This proposed “Pinocchio” -themed attraction was
to have first taken Guests a series of dioramas which then recreated memorable
moments from that 1940 Walt Disney Productions release. Then — as these
Disneyland visitors had been towed to the top of this ride’s load hill — they
were to have escaped being eaten by that whale by sliding down Monstro’s tongue
into a splashdown area that was supposed to be known as Pinocchio Harbor.

And Monstro wasn’t the only villainous Disney character who
almost made his debut at Disneyland Park’s opening day back in July of ’55.
Check out this cool of piece of concept art for a step-down-into aquarium
attraction (which was part of a suite of water-themed exhibits & rides that
were originally proposed for Fantasyland. Among the other items that never to
Disney’s Anaheim theme park was a Donald Duck Bumper Boats ride and an Old
Mill-themed ferris wheel). Where the only way you made it down below water
level so that you could then see all the fishies was to enter the mouth of the crocodile
from “Peter Pan.”

Unfortunately neither of those two Disney Villain-ish
attractions ever made it off of WED’s drawing board. Mostly because — back in
the late 1950s — Disneyland Park was still trying to recover its initial
construction costs (You have to remember that — until he bought ABC /
Paramount & Western Publishing  out in
the early 1960s — Walt was still obliged to split whatever profits his theme
park made with those two companies who had invested in / underwritten the costs
of building this project back in 1954). So money for any additional rides,
shows and attractions was kind of tight back then.

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More to the point, it was Frontierland & Tomorrowland
that were perceived as lacking attractions back in the 1950s. Whereas
Fantasyland was seen (by the public, anyway) as a being a hit right out of the
box.  Which is why Walt chose to
concentrate whatever free funds he had on expanding those parts of his theme
park. While labeling Fantasyland as something that he’d eventually get around
to fixing (Disney was never entirely happy with the tournament-style show
building that he’d had to build to house the dark rides in this part of his
theme park. Walt always felt that the exteriors of these Fantasyland
attractions made it a little too obvious that Disneyland’s construction budget
could only go so far. Which is why Walt had been forced to abandon his original
concept for Fantasyland. Which was to have this part of the Park be a
picturesque recreation of a European storybook village).

Speaking of which … When it was decided that — on the
heels of adding a second theme park to the Walt Disney World Resort (i.e. EPCOT
Center, which opened in October of 1982) — that Disneyland Park deserved a
little TLC, the Imagineers dusted off Walt’s picturesque-European-storybook-village
idea and decided to redo Fantasyland at that theme park.

Which brings us to what some might argue is the first real Villain
statue in a Disney theme park. That Evil Queen who stands in the window
directly above the entrance to “Snow White’s Scary Adventures.”  Every minute or so, a mechanized series of
drapes opens, revealing a statue of Snow White’s nemesis glaring down at all of
the Guests who are queuing up below.

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Interesting side note here: “Snow White’s Scary
Adventures” (to be specific, the revamped version of this attraction which
opened on May 25, 1983 as part of Disneyland’s New Fantasyland) was the first
dark ride whose “Scene One” perhaps did too good a job of setting the
scene for the attraction that follows.

For those of you who haven’t been on Disneyland’s “Snow
White’s Scary Adventures” for a while (or at all), let me refresh your
memory as to how the queue for this attraction is set up. Before you can get to
your ride vehicle, you actually pass by a Reader’s Digest version of the Evil
Queen’s secret laboratory. And as longtime Fantasyland cast members will tell
you, the skull that’s on display on the Evil Queen’s work table has been known
to really frighten small children. Forcing many a parent at that point to turn
around and carry their screaming kid backwards through this queue. Which — on
a busy summer day when the Park is especially crowded — can really make life
difficult for all of the other Guests standing in the “Snow White’s Scary
Adventure” queue.

In an effort to mitigate this situation / let
especially-easy-to-frighten kids know as early as possible that “Snow
White’s Scary Adventures” really is scary, the Imagineers had a very
clever idea. They put a bronze version of the poison apple that the Evil Queen tricked
 Snow White into biting right outside the
entrance to the Fantasyland attraction. And given that the people in line just
couldn’t help themselves, they just had to touch that apple … Well, imagine
their surprise when — as soon as they touched that bronze apple — they’d hear
a crash of thunder OR the cackle of the Old Crone (i.e. the form the Evil Queen
took after she drank that potion).

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And that crash of thunder / evil laugh is usually enough
(all by itself) to spook skittish children. Who then turn to their parents and
say “I don’t want to go on this ride. It sounds like it’s going to be
scary.” And since these kids are now culled out of the line before they
then encounter the genuinely frightening portion of the queue for “Snow
White’s Scary Adventures” … Well, that then significantly cuts down on
the number of parents who now have to carry panicking toddlers backwards
through the line for this Fantasyland attraction.

And given that this bronze touch-sensitive apple is an
entirely appropriate piece of theming to be found at the entrance to this
attraction … Well, you have to admit that WDI came up with a pretty smart
solution for “Snow White” ‘s perhaps-too-scary queue problem.

Anyway … Getting back to answering your original “Why
For” question now, Chris B. … Once the Walt Disney Company began
recognizing that there was legitimate Guest interest in the Disney Villains as
characters unto themselves, in addition to Disney Consumer Products embracing
this loosely grouped brand / franchise (Witness that Disney Villain Designer
Collection of dolls that the Disney Store began rolling out earlier this month.
The second doll in the series — a high fashion take on the Evil Queen from
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — hits store shelves on Tuesday),
the Imagineers began toying with the idea of building some Disney
Villains-themed attractions.

The Horned King AA figure that appeared in the finale of Tokyo
Disneyland’s Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The first such effort — Tokyo Disneyland’s Cinderella
Castle Mystery Tour (which opened in July of 1986) wasn’t considered entirely successful.
Perhaps because WDI chose to build the finale of this walk-thru attraction
around the Horned King, the now all-but-forgotten villain who drove the story
of one of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ less-successful efforts, “The
Black Cauldron.”

And since the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour (which closed
in April of 2006 to be replaced by a Disney Princess-themed walk-thru
attraction, Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Hall) ‘s
“Let’s-pay-tribute-to-all-sorts-of-Disney-Villains” approach was
thought to be a  bit of a bust, the
Imagineers then decided to adopt a less-is-more approach. Designing a single
ride around a specific Disney Villain. Take — for example — that Ursula the
Sea Witch spinner was supposed to added to Paradise Pier as part of the
expansion plan that WDI put together for the original version of Disney’s
California Adventure theme park.

This spinner (which — according to at least one site plan
that I’ve seen for this “Little Mermaid” -themed ride — was supposed
to be built in that open plot of land inside of California Screamin’ near King
Triton’s Carousel. Maybe you know the spot that I’m talking about? It’s off to
the left just before the load / unload area for this coaster?) had a pretty
witty design. Guests were supposed to sit in these flask & bottle-shaped
ride vehicles which were designed to look as though they were being held in the
Sea Witch’s tentacles. And as this oversized version of Ursula began to spin
around, this “Little Mermaid” -themed ride would have — of course —
played a creepy calliope version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

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Speaking of California Screamin’ … As the Imagineers were
prepping Version 2.0 of DCA, one of the ideas that was proposed as a way to
bring more Disney characters into this then-troubled theme park was to turn
this coaster into a Disney Villains-themed ride.

The way that WDI was going to do this was actually pretty
clever. What the Imagineers wanted to do was create these enormous iconic props
that would then represent various Disney Villains. You know, Captain Hook’s
hook, Maleficent’s staff, the Evil Queen’s crown? And then these oversized
props would then be placed in and around California Screamin’s ride track. So
that a ride aboard the rethemed version of this DCA coaster would then be seen
as a celebration of all forms of Disney villainy.

I know, I know. The core concept for this California
Screamin’ redo is a bit in the abstract side. 
But the argument back at 1401 Flower Street was  1) people scream when they ride roller
coasters AND 2) people scream when they see the Disney Villains in their
various movies. So why not combine these two forms of screaming with a Disney
Villains-themed coaster?

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All rights reserved

Mind you, this wasn’t the first time that the Imagineers had
toyed with the idea of an attraction that would incorporate some (if not all)
of the Disney Villains. And — no — I’m not talking about Cinderella Castle
Mystery Tour again. I am referring to one of the greatest ride concepts to
never quite make it off of WDI’s drawing boards, Villain Mountain.

I have this friend who used to work at Imagineering who —
just before he left the Company in the early 2000s — made a point of getting
color copies of all the concept art for Villain Mountain. The various show
scenes that the Imagineers had dreamed up for Villain Mountain. And given the
quality of the art that was churned out for this proposed Walt Disney World
attraction, it’s easy to see why this former Imagineers wanted to make a few
copies before he headed out the door.

But you know what was particularly nifty about this flume
ride (which — at one time, anyway — was envisioned as the replacement for the
Magic Kingdom’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” attraction. Basically
occupying the exact same footprint as that Fantasyland favorite)? That if you
knew how Disney theme park attractions typically operated, this ride was then
going to use that knowledge against you.

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To explain: The ride vehicle that was supposed to be used in
WDW’s “Villain Mountain” was the multi-passenger bateaux which Guests
know from the multiple trips that they’ve already made on “Pirates of the
Caribbean” and “it’s a small world.” Which means that — as
people stepped down into these flat-bottomed boats on “Villain
Mountain” — they immediately had certain expectations. That their bateaux
— as it moved through this show building — would be pushed along through a
trough via a combination of waters jets & belts. More to the point, that
their “Disney Villains” ride vehicle would never, ever leave that

Which was true. For the first half of this proposed
Fantasyland addition at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. But as your ride vehicle reached
the top of Villain Mountain, you were to enter Maleficent’s lair. And this
unexpected intrusion clearly upsets the Mistress of All Evil. For — with a
wave of her magic staff — Maleficent blasts a gaping hole in the wall directly
opposite where your bateaux is now floating.

And even though you can already see into the very next show
scene that you’re supposed to be floating through while journeying through
Villain Mountain, which lies just beyond where the AA version of Maleficent is
now standing, your boat now breaks out of its nice, safe tough. And as Sleeping
Beauty’s nemesis laugh manically and talks about how she’s now sending all to
Hell, your boat now lurches dangerously toward that gaping hole in the wall as
you’re seemingly sucked into the abyss.

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Now at this point, it’s important to remember that
“Villain Mountain” was supposed to be filled with fun tributes to /
cameos by various Disney Villains. So after your boat slipped through that hole
which Ursula supposedly blasted in that wall at this Magical Kingdom show
building … Much in the same way that the logs used in Splash Mountain zoom
through all of those over-sized thorn bushes on their way to the bottom of the
briar patch, your Villain Mountain boat was to have slipped through Ursula’s
giant writhing tentacles.

Then — as you splashed down at the very bottom of Villain
Mountain — for a very brief moment, you were actually supposed to think that
you were in Hell as flames and eerie shadows surrounded you. But then an AA
version of Hades from “Hercules” was supposed to appear. And with
fire extinguisher in hand, he’d have quickly snuffed out all of the flames
before then introducing himself. “Hades, Lord of the Dead. How ya
doin’?” And as your bateaux floated away from this AA figure, Hades was to
have called after you, offering all sorts of tempting treasures if you’d just
agree to sign your soul over to him.

Doesn’t that sound like 
a fun ride? Ironically enough, in at least one version of the site plan
that the Imagineers had put together for getting “Villain Mountain”
added to WDW’s Magic Kingdom, this proposed flume-type attraction was to have
been the anchor of an entire Disney Villain Village. Which was to have occupied
much of the same piece of property that the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland
expansion is currently being built on.

Construction of the Beauty & the Beast portion of the Fantasyland expansion area at
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

“And what other rides, shops and attractions would this
Disney Villains Village supposedly featured?,” you ask. Well, the way I
heard it, the Ursula spinner was part of the proposed line-up. As was an early,
early version of Gaston’s Tavern. Which — in the end — actually did wind up
getting built at WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

But that’s the way things are at WDI. Ideas that are
originally proposed for one specific theme park project are often resurrected
for an entirely different theme park in slightly mutated form.

Still, it’s kind of interesting to see Gaston’s Tavern
(which was originally pitched to WDW management in the mid-1990s) finally made
it into the Magic Kingdom. Though — that said — one wonders if Disney World’s
Entertainment is still going forward with production of that outdoor stage show
which was once such a big component of the fun that would eventually be
associated with this new Fantasyland venue.

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To explain: The original version of Gaston’s that the
Imagineers pitched had this outdoor biergarten. Which — while it wasn’t
immediately obvious — also doubled as a stage.

Anyway … Every day around 4 p.m., WDW’s Operations Team
would begin shooing Guests out of this outdoor biergarten. They’d keep it up
until this open air stage was completely empty and then block this area off to
public access.

And then — right at 5 p.m. — the magic would begin. A
rather depressed looking face character version of Gaston would exit his
Tavern. Nursing a beer, he’d cross over the outdoor biergarten and sit down.
And Gaston would soon be joined by a downbeat face character version of Captain
Hook, sipping from a flute of champagne. And then Hook would be followed by a
somewhat sad-looking face character version of the Evil Queen from “Snow
White.” Who … No one knows what exactly is in the goblet that this
Disney Villain is holding. But it’s bubbling & foaming. And the Evil
Queen  is 
followed by a morose-looking face character version of Maleficent, who
… Well, you get the idea.

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So eventually, this outdoor biergarten / stage is filled
with Disney Villains who are all nursing drinks. You see, they’ve all come to
Gaston’s Tavern for (Wait for it) “Unhappy Hour.” Over the course of
this 10-to-15 minute-long show, we’ll eventually discover that this is a daily
ritual among the villainous characters who live & work in WDW’s Magic
Kingdom. They gather together each day at Gaston’s to grab a quick drink before
heading home. And here — among their evil equals — these Disney Villains
finally have peers that they can commiserate with. I mean, who else in the
world is going to lend a sympathetic ear when you moan about how you almost
defeated Peter Pan, or tricked Snow White into eating a poison apple or
convinced Briar Rose to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel.

In the original outline for the “Unhappy Hour”
show at Gaston’s Tavern, there was a suggestion that the Disney Villains could
perform a number similar to “Cell Block Tango” in
“Chicago.” Where these characters — in song — would complain about
how frustrating it was to always lose to the hear. To have good continually
triumph over evil.

But then — in a tune that was supposed to have drawn its
inspiration from “Annie” ‘s ever-optimistic anthem,
“Tomorrow,” the Disney Villains was to sing about how maybe tomorrow
will be the day when they finally triumph. And then — with their thirsts
quenched & their hopes renewed — these characters were to have all raised
a glass and toasted villainy.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

After that … Well, this being a theme park and all, the
Disney Villains who were taking part in this outdoor show at the biergarten
portion of Gaston’s Tavern were to have made themselves available to the public
(albeit briefly) for photos & autographs before they then ducked backstage.

But doesn’t “Unhappy Hour” sound like a fun idea
for a new outdoor show at WDW’s Magic Kingdom? Mind you, I have no idea if this
is still in the works for the Fantasyland expansion which  is supposed to open on December 6th of this
year. Near as I can figure, the current configuration of Gaston’s Tavern
doesn’t have an outdoor biergarten that could double as a stage. But that
doesn’t meant that this performance space couldn’t be added at some point in
the future.

I mean, wouldn’t it be cool if Gaston’s Tavern eventually
become the designated hangout for the Disney Villains? The place at the Magic
Kingdom where — whenever you dropped by there — you’d always find a few evil
characters lurking about?

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Anyway, Chris B … That’s my epic-length answer to your
rather short Why For question (My apologies for this story taking more than a
few days to finally get posted on JHM. But given that this column is  over 3,500 words long and I spent much of last
week traveling, just finding the time necessary to type up this sucker took a
lot of extra effort).

And — with that — I’ve finally delivered those 5 Why For
columns I promised you guys earlier this month. I know, I know. I didn’t get
them all written in a week. But hopefully the stories that I’ve shared here
have made the often-several-days-long wait worth it.

Going forward now: Given the strong response that this
series of columns has gotten from JHM readers as well as from the online
Disneyana fan community, I’m thinking now that Why For will become at least a
twice-a-week feature here on this website.

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So if you’d like to have one of your Disney-related
questions answered as part of an upcoming Why For column, please send your
queries along to and I’ll then see if I can chase down
an answer for you.

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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