Connect with us

Theme Parks & Themed Entertainment

Why For isn’t WALL•E rolling around the Disney theme parks yet?

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about what’s going on with the Living Character Initiative program, why it may be a while before DAK’s Yeti gets repairs and all the stuff that the Mouse almost did in New York



First up, Cameron writes in to say:

Hi Jim,

Last year when Wall-E came out I was looking forward to
visiting the park(s) and getting to meet an actual Wall-E.  I thought this would be part of the Living
Character Initiative and would be a grand opportunity after seeing Dr Bunsen
Honeydew and Beaker.  I saw some
publicity of Wall-E on the red carpet and making visits to the studios and
science museum appearances, but so far haven’t seen him at the parks.  Any chance I might see an actual rolling, talking
and interactive Wall-E on my next visit?

The Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E hit the road last year, at one point stopping in Seattle to visit that city’s science museum. Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Thanks very much.

Have a happy!


While Lucky the Dinosaur, Muppet Mobile Labs and the Living
Character Initiative version of WALL•E may
make for great photo ops … From an
operational point of view, these incredibly complicated machine are kind of a

Take – for example — WALL•E. The Imagineers really did an
amazing job of recreating the title character of this Academy Award-nominated
Pixar film. The only problem is … Because of all of the machinery necessary to
run the thing, the Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E weighs 700 pounds. So were WDI to send this cute little robot out into the Parks
to do meet-and-greets with the Guests and were WALL•E’s tread to accidentally roll over some child’s foot … Well, we now exit the Magic Kingdom and enter LawsuitLand.

Then when you factor in how delicate these Living Character Initiative
machines are (more importantly, how truly difficult they are to operate). I was
on the Disney lot late last summer and I remember overhearing this protracted
negotiation between the Studio’s Marketing staff and the folks who run the
Tokyo’s International Film Festival. The people behind TIFF really wanted the
Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E to roll down the red carpet at
this Pixar film’s Japanese premiere.

But before Disney’s PR officials
would allow this to happen … Well, they needed to know exactly what the WALL•E robot was expected to do, who this Living Character Initiative creature would be interacting
with. In short, Disney wanted to see the full script in advance to that it
could then ensure that this cute not-so-little robot didn’t malfunction and/or
misbehave in front of the entire Tokyo press corps.

As you can see by the photo below, WALL•E’s red carpet appearance at the Tokyo International Film Festival back in
October seems to have gone okay.

(L to R) Takahiro Suzuki, “WALL•E” producer Jim Morris, director Andrew Stanton, sound
designer Ben Burtt and Toshikazu Miura at the closing night of the Tokyo
International Film Festival.
Photo by Sarah Cortina

But as for the Living Character Initiative version of WALL•E turning up in the Parks on a regular basis anytime soon and mingling
with the public … I wouldn’t count on that, Cameron. Just the insurance issues
involved here make Disney’s lawyers queasy.

Mind you, there’s been some semi-serious talk lately about WDI creating
a WALL•E–themed attraction for the Parks. Some
sort of ride-thru that would then be dropped into various Tomorrowlands around
the globe. But we’re still a number of years away from that particular Blue Sky
project becoming a reality.

So – until that happens – I guess that we’ll just have to make do with
these WALL•E–themed
photo ops that you find around the Parks.


Next up, Andrew from Phoenix
writes to ask


I loved last week’s “Why For” article. So I
decided to write and ask a question of my own. All of us Disney dweebs know
that the Yeti on Expedition Everest has been broken for quite some time now.
But there seems to be no plans on fixing the poor guy. Any idea what’s going
on? (I) can’t imagine (that) Disney is just gonna let its pride and glory that
they hyped so much sit there broken!

Thanks for your time,

Andrew from Phoenix

Sadly, it’s going to be quite a while before this enormous AA figure
takes any more swipes at tea trains.

What’s the problem? In short, the Imagineers – back when they were
designing the Yeti – didn’t take in account what the long term effects of continually
operating an Audio Animatronic of this size might be.

For all your engineers and physics fans out there, let me throw out a
few quick stats. So that you can then get a rough understanding of the issues
that WDI is dealing with here:

  • This 22-foot tall AA figure weighs 20,000 pounds
  • Because of the dramatic positioning of the Yeti (i.e. this fearsome
    creature literally hangs down from the ceiling as it takes swipes at passing
    trainloads of tourists) , in order to keep this AA figure airborne, the Imagineers
    could had to attach a structural boom to its back.
Photo by Jeff Lange
  • Every 40 seconds, the 19 actuators that actually drive the Yeti have to
    move this huge Audio Animatronic 5 feet
    horizontally and two feet vertically … and then quickly reset for the next
    trainload of tourists
  • To give you some idea of the amount of power we’re talking about here …
    Just the thrust of the Yeti’s arm has the equivalent amount of force to a 747
    jumbo jet taking off
  • The amount of power necessary to drive this 20,000 AA figure? Slightly
    over 259,000 pounds force

Now picture a heavy-duty yet sophisticated machine like this – the
largest, fastest moving AA figure in history — having to work non-stop 10 – 12
hours each day, 365 days a year. With the vibrations caused by all those pounds
force being used repeatedly resonating up through that structural boom that
supports the Yeti and then down through the sled that actually drives this AA
figure’s back-and-forth movement.

In short, it’s the very force that drives the Yeti that caused this AA
figure to break down. In the Imagineers’ quest to create a machine that looked
& moved like this wild, living creature … Well, they built a robot that was
almost destined to rip itself to shreds.

That’s where the folks at Disney’s Animal Kingdom find themselves
dealing with right now. Expedition Everest’s Yeti has multiple operational
issues. In order to bring this AA figure back on line, get the Yeti once again
performing in A mode (i.e. so that this enormous robot dramatically lunges at
each tea train as it passes, lashing out with his arm at WDW Guests) is going
to take months as well as a ridiculously large amount of money.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And given that “Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain”
is still a heavy attendance driver for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park,
there’s just no way (particularly in this troubled economy) that WDW is going
to be willing to take this thrill ride off-line for a lengthy repair.

I mean, if you’re willing to overlook this one element of “Expedition
Everest,” this DAK thrill ride is still wildly entertaining. As is evidenced by
the 1800+ Guests who whiz around its 4,424-foot track every hour that this
theme park is open to the public.

So sorry if I’m the bearer of bad news here, Andrew. But it could be
quite a while before this AA figure is back in A mode.

And — finally — Madelyn writes in to ask …

Hi, Jim,

I’m Madelyn. You know
how there is a Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida. Will there
ever be a Disney in New York, like a theme park ?


Well, The Walt Disney Company came awfully close in the
past. Perhaps the first time that the Mouse toyed with doing something of size
in and around NYC was back in early 1961. When the owners of Freedomland allegedly
approached Roy O. Disney and asked if Walt Disney Productions would be interested
in taking over the then-troubled theme park. In essence buying these folks out.

As I understand it, Roy O. at least went through the
motions. He reportedly asked to see Freedomland’s books as well as sending a
veteran Disneyland official to the Bronx to go check out the park itself. Though
– given that, at this time, Walt was talking with Robert Moses about possibly doing
something for the New York World’s Fair –
I think that the real reason that Roy O. met with the Freedomland folks was that
he was on a fact-finding mission.

I mean, Roy O. was a numbers guy. Which is why Walt’s
brother wanted to see information on Freedomland’s attendance levels. How much
visitors to that park spent on food and souvenirs. So that he could then share
this information with his brother. So that Walt would then at least have some
realistic expectations as he began working on the ’64 World’s Fair with Moses.

Mind you, Walt himself once toyed with building something of
size in New York State. But this wouldn’t have been in or around the Big Apple.
But – rather – in the westernmost portion of the Empire State. Niagara County,
to be exact.

Based on what veteran Imagineers have told me over the
years, what Walt envisioned building near Niagara Falls wasn’t exactly a theme
park. Sure, it would have had a few shows & attractions. But this project’s
main purpose was to celebrate the natural beauty of this area. To give Guests a
real appreciation of the power & the majesty of the Falls.

So why didn’t Walt go forward with this project? I’m told
that the over-built area around Niagara Falls itself reminded Disney of Anaheim’s
urban sprawl. Which is why – even though
Niagara County already had strong enough tourism numbers that it could have supported
a Disneyland-type park — Walt eventually abandoned this idea and went off in
search of a blank piece of canvas. Which is why he wound up in the swamps of
Central Florida.

Had The Walt Disney Company gone forward with its 1995 era plan, it would have built a 47-story hotel right on this corner

Speaking of urban … Back in the 1990s, Disney’s then-CEO
Michael Eisner once actively toyed with building a resort / indoor theme park
right at the edge of Times Square. At that time, The Walt Disney Company held
the option to build on a piece of property on the corner of 42nd
Street and 7th Avenue. Right next door to the New Amsterdam Theatre.

And the Imagineers … They came up with quite the ambitious
plan for this project. A 47-story building that would have been Disney’s DVC property
for NYC. Guests who visited this resort
would have be able to book special packages that would have then gotten them
primo seats to Disney’s Broadway shows. Not to mention taking special
Disney-hosted tours of the City. And did I mention the smallish coaster that
was supposedly to have rolled along the rooftop before plunging down the side
of the building?

So why didn’t Disney go ahead with construction of this
Times Square structure? The way I hear it, in the wake of Euro Disney
under-performing, Michael got cold feet and eventually allowed Disney’s option
on that piece of land at 42nd & 7th to slip away in
late 1995 / early 1996. Though I have also heard that – given NYC real estate
exploded in the late 1990s / early 2000s – it is now allegedly Eisner’s
greatest regret that he didn’t allow the Company to go forward with this
particular project.

So will Disney eventually do something in NYC? Well, as
recently as last fall, the Company was exploring the idea of building an entertainment
 / retail complex right in the heart of Times
Square. Taking over the space that the Virgin Megastore currently occupies and
then changing it into this weird hybrid of the World of Disney on 5th
Avenue and  the El Capitan & Soda
Fountain on Hollywood Boulevard.

Unfortunately, given what’s going on with the economy right
now, The Walt Disney Company has lost its taste for adventurous &
experimental. Which is why the space that the Virgin Megastore occupies in
Times Square was recently snatched up by the people who run the Forever 21
retail change.

That said, just because that spot on Times Square got away
doesn’t mean that the Mouse isn’t looking for another spot in the City to set
up shop. Especially when you take into consideration that Disney’s lease on its
5th Avenue flagship store is up in 2010 … Well, it’s only a matter
of time ‘til Mickey takes Manhattan. Again.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And speaking of time … I’m out of time for this week. But if
you happen to be down in the City this weekend, be sure and swing by the Jacob
K. Javits Center and check out the third annual New York Comic-Con. Which (as I
mentioned earlier this week) will feature cool Disney-related events like that
preview screening of the first 50-minutes of “Up.”

Speaking of Disney-related crud … If you’d like your
Disney-related questions answered as part of this weekly column, please send
them along to

That’s it for this week. See you next Monday !

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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading