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Why For? : What happened to the Geyser Mountain ride Imagineers hoped to add to Disneyland

Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney related questions. This time around, he gushes about Geyser Mountain, puzzles over what was Disney's biggest missed opportunity (movie-wise) might have been, then offers up suggestions about which Disneyland Paris book to pick up.



Geyser Mountain

First up, DISNEYFREEK writes in to ask:


LOVE the site, man. Great work and I love reading your articles / reports. Next time I go down to the states, I’ll take the (JHM) Disney tour.

I heard a rumor once regarding a geyser ride in Frontierland? Any truth to this?

Keep up the good work!

Yep, “Geyser Mountain” was a really-for-real project. A new thrill ride that the Imagineers had hoped to add to Disneyland a few years back. Out where the now-unused Big Thunder Ranch / the Festival of Fool arena stage area currently sits empty and unused.

So what exactly would this proposed new thrill ride for Frontierland have been like? Well, you know how Epcot’s “Body Wars” is really just a variation on the “Star Tours” simulator attraction? Using the exact same technology to tell a somewhat different story? Well “Geyser Mountain” was supposed to have been done pretty much the same thing with “Tower of Terror”‘s powered drop ride system. Only — instead of sending Disneyland guests screaming down an elevator shaft — GM would have its riders hurtling skyward. Supposedly powered by an unexpected geothermal eruption.

To explain: If “Geyser Mountain” had actually been built out back where Fantasyland and Frontierland meet, your adventure would have begun as you follow a trail out into a rough wilderness area that looked very much like a continuation of Big Thunder Mountain. So think lots more pine trees, scenic buttes as well as Bryce Canyon-like spires.

But bordering the queue of the attraction there would have been several steaming hot springs, many bubbling mud pots and some small sputtering geysers. So — as you moved deeper into the woods — you would have automatically thought: “Gee, there’s a lot of geothermal activity back in this part of the wilderness. No wonder they call this area ‘Geyser Mountain’.”

Finally, you come to a clearing in the forest. There — in front of you — is a tumbledown cabin with a barn attached. And behind this … the craggy peak of Geyser Mountain. Which would rumble ominously every now and then. And what’s that you hear in the distance? Could that be … people screaming?

Okay. Out in front of the cabin is a yard full of weird machinery. Which fills you in on a bit of the back story for this new Frontierland attraction. How the house that you’re about to enter is the home of this eccentric inventor. The guy who actually built the amazing mining rig that was used to dig all those tunnels through Big Thunder Mountain (so the miners could go in and harvest all that gold).

Once you enter the inventor’s house, you’ll learn that — prior to tunneling through the mountainside over at Big Thunder — this guy tried out his new invention by digging dozens of test holes in the side of Geyser Mountain. And — while he was testing his mining rig — this guy discovered many strange and wondrous things under the ground.

To re-enforce this idea, the inventor’s study would have been full of colorful crystals and enormous geodes that he’d recovered while tunneling under Geyser Mountain. There are also black and white photographs of some truly impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations that he must have encountered (and photographed) while exploring the underworld.

But the most intriguing (or should we say foreboding?) decoration in the inventor’s study is a hand-drawn map of the interior of Geyser Mountain. Which is pinned up to one wall and clearly shows the networks of tunnels that crisscross through the mountainside. There — at the very center of the map — is a drawing and description of this extremely fierce, totally unpredictable but extremely powerful geyser that intermittently erupts from deep down inside the mountain.

Also on this hand-drawn map is a note that the inventor has written to himself, reminding him about a certain bridge that he’d installed at the very heart of Geyser Mountain. The note reads: “Reminder to self: Temporary bridge has been taking an awful pounding from geyser eruptions. Must remember to make repairs.” The only problem is … this note is dated back in the early 1920s.

Okay. Exiting the study, we now find ourselves in the barn. Where — surprise, surprise — Disney officials have recently found the amazing mining machine that our eccentric inventor used for digging all those tunnels over at Big Thunder Mountain. Now the Mouse invites us to climb on board this lethal looking machine (remember the rig that Gaeten Moliere drove around in while he was tunneling under the Earth in “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” … well, this new Frontierland ride vehicle was supposed to look a lot like that) for a trip over, around and under Geyser Mountain.

So we do. And — with a teeth rattling rumble — we roar out of the barn for a trip that promises to replace BTMRR as the NEW “wildest ride in the wilderness.”

Okay. So how many of you out there remember the Rainbow Caverns sequence in Frontierland’s old “Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland” ride? Well, the initial portion of your trip through Geyser Mountain would have been a lot like that. Your vehicle rumbling through several very colorful sequences done with black light. Rolling by giant glowing crystals and fantastic underground waterfalls.

And — as your ride vehicle moved further and further up the side of Geyser Mountain — you would have encountered other little tributes to DL’s “Mine Train to Nature’s Wonderland” ride. Clever recreations and/or tributes to various vignettes from that late, great Frontierland attraction.

But as you reach the very top of the mountain and — after admiring the view from up there — begin to make your descent back to the inventor’s cabin … a recent landside has blocked our return route. The only way back down Geyser Mountain now is to go across that rickety old bridge. (Remember the one that we were shown back in the eccentric inventor’s study? That one that was shown in that hand-drawn map that was pinned up on the wall? That extremely old, in-really-rough-shape bridge that was in need of repairs?)

So our mining machine slowly starts across the rickety old bridge. The ancient span of timbers creaks ominously as this heavy piece of equipment chugs across the darkened chasm. The only light in this entire area is the sunlight that’s coming pouring in from above. (As further proof that this area is geologically unstable, the top of Geyser Mountain appears to have been blown off in some previous eruption. So think of this section of the ride as being set inside of the cone of some sort of dormant volcano)

As our vehicle reaches the center of the bridge, the span suddenly starts to sag in the middle. As the amazing mining machine tilts to one side, we all think we’re all about to fall to our deaths. Once the bridge collapses, we’ll be impaled on all those lethal looking stalagmites below. It all seems so hopeless. But then …

What’s that rumbling sound? Oh, no! This situation couldn’t get worse. Or could it? Geyser Mountain is about to erupt!!

And — with that — seemingly heaved up off the collapsing bridge and into the air by the power of the geyser, our mining rig is thrown straight up into the sky. We literally seem to bounce up and down on top of this powerful stream of super-heated water. For just a moment, our vehicle pops out of the top of Geyser Mountain itself. We get a brief glimpse of the Rivers of America below us. The top of Splash Mountain off in the distance.

Luckily, the force of that geyser has heaved us out of the chasm, away from that collapsing bridge. We land safely on the rim of Geyser Mountain, then quickly rumble back down to the barn. We climb out of our ride vehicle and stumble into the nearby gift shop. Happy to have survived our recent brush with death.

So do you get the idea here, DISNEYFREEK? Where “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” uses powerful elevator motors to send guests hurtling toward the ground at faster-than-gravity speeds, “Geyser Mountain” would have used this same technology to send you soaring into the sky. Supposedly bouncing in a super-heated stream of water that was being expelled by this massive geyser.

Sounds like a neat ride, doesn’t it? Well, the Imagineers certainly thought so. Which is why they had models made of Geyser Mountain. (I just saw one — not too long ago — when I was visiting friends at WDI.) Then they talked to Team Disney Anaheim reps about how this project was the obvious way to re-energize DL’s tired old Frontierland. Which has gotten increasingly tame (and lame) over the past 10 years. Not to mention being a way to take the “Tower of Terror” incredibly-expensive-to-develop ride system and using that technology to create a whole new attraction for the corporation’s West Coast sort for about a 1/3rd of what the original TOT attraction cost.

But — of course — cost ended up being a decisive factor in the Mouse’s decision to ultimately hold off on adding “Geyser Mountain” to Disneyland’s roster of rides. Mind you, GM did look like it was going to get greenlighted. At least for a little while.

That’s why DL officials let the Imagineers do some prep work for the project. Which is why Cascade Peak (which had been a Frontierland landmark since 1960) got pulled down in October of 1998. Because WDI had hoped that — once this aged structure was out of the way — it would be that much easier for Walt Disney Company management to officially greenlight construction of this new DL thrill ride.

Sadly, that never happened, DISNEYFREEK. Had everything gone according to plan, “Geyser Mountain” would have been up and running at Disneyland by this past summer. It was supposed to have been the attraction that would have lured visitors away from the wonderful new theme park that had been built next to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Disney’s California Adventure.

But since it turned out that DCA was going to need all the help it can get in order to lure DLR guests to come through its turnstiles, that’s why the Walt Disney Company ultimately decided to bag the idea of building a “Geyser Mountain” in Anaheim and opted instead to bring a clone of that already-established-hit-thrill-ride, “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” to California Adventure instead. With the hope that a Southern California version of this Disney-MGM favorite might help DCA from going DOA.

But — by doing that — Disneyland officials pretty much snuffed out any chance of a version of “Geyser Mountain” will ever get built in Anaheim anytime soon. After all, you don’t want to build too many attractions that use the very same technology too close together at the same time. Otherwise, they undercut the effectiveness of one another.

I mean, look what happened over at DCA when “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” and “Kermit the Frog Presents Jim Henson’s Muppetvision 3D” opened up on the very same day in the same park. While both of these shows — which skillfully mix 3D film, in-theater effects and Audio Animatronics to create some memorable entertainment — were huge hits in Central Florida at their respective theme parks (I.E. “Muppetvision” in MGM, “Tough to Be a Bug” in DAK), these two show were greeted with a collective shrug when they both opened at DCA in January 2001. Too much of a good thing. Or should I say “Too much of the same thing?”

Anyway … with construction of “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” now nearing completion at Disney’s California Adventure, it now seems quite unlikely that “Geyser Mountain” will be erupting from out behind Disneyland’s Frontierland and Fantasyland area anytime soon. Which is a shame.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that this ambitious sounding thrill ride is totally dead in the water. After all, good ideas never really die at WDI. So — with luck — this proposed Frontierland ride could (several years down the line. Once the Mouse stops being so stingy about what the corporation is willing to spend on new theme park attractions) could be resurrected as a possible addition for WDW’s Frontierland. Or DLP’s Frontierland. Or TDL’s Frontierland. Or even HKDL’s Frontierland. You get the idea, right?

Me personally? I remain ever hopefully that — someday, somehow — this dynamite-sounding ride will actually make off the drawing board and out in the real world. In a theme park near you very soon.

And I’m guessing the Imagineers feel the same way too. Otherwise, why would they keep that “Geyser Mountain” model out in the open on display? If not to remind themselves that, occasionally, they can still come up with killer ideas for new Disney theme park attractions.

Now if the Mouse House managers would allow WDI to actually get around to building these things.

Next, Loose Eel Ball (Funny pseudonym there) writes in to ask:

Dear Jim:

Since your site seems to love to celebrate all the really bizarre and obscure things that the Walt Disney Company has tried to get off the ground over the years, I was wondering: What’s your favorite lost cause? The Disney project that you wish with all your heart had actually been realized as it was originally planned?

Dear Loose Eel Ball:

Jeese, that’s a tough question to answer. I mean, there are literally dozens of intriguing ideas that never made it off Disney’s drawing boards for one reason or another. Or truly promising projects that wound up being botched for one reason or another.

Take — for example — Disney’s live action version of “Babes in Toyland.” This 1961 Walt Disney Studios release is generally regarded as one of the company’s lesser features. But still, I can’t help but wonder how differently this film would have turned out if the picture’s original director — veteran animator Ward Kimball — had actually been allowed to helm the project. Sadly, Ward and Walt had a falling out just before the start of production on that picture. So Disney replaced Kimball with Jack Donohue. And the end result was one fair-to-middling film fantasy.

Given Ward’s wonderfully weird wit and imagination, I’m fairly certain that any version of “Babes in Toyland” that Kimball had ended up directing would have been infinitely more entertaining that the one that we ended up with. But I guess we’ll never know now.

Disney history is littered with projects like this. So you have to wonder if “The Rainbow Road to Oz” (that Oz picture that Walt tried to get off the ground in the mid-to-late 1950s, which was to have starred the Mouseketeers) would have been any good if Walt had actually put the thing into production. Or — for that matter — if “Return to Oz” (Walt Disney Pictures’ 1984 attempt at revisiting and revitalizing the colorful world that L. Frank Baum so carefully mapped out in his series of “Oz” books. If you haven’t seen this much maligned Walter Murch film for a while, make an effort to do so. Disney’s “Return to Oz” doesn’t deserve the reputation that it has. The movie really is quite entertaining and much more faithful to the actual style and the tone of the Baum books than its more acclaimed predecessor, MGM’s 1939 Academy Award winner, “The Wizard of Oz”) hadn’t had $5 million cut out of its production budget just weeks before shooting was due to begin by then-Disney execs who were suddenly getting nervous about “Oz”‘s enormous price tag.

Even today there are Disney projects that seemingly miss greatness by inches. I may be one of the only people on the planet who actually liked “Geppetto,” that Stephen Schwartz musical that the Mouse presented on “The Wonderful World of Disney” back in May 2000. But even I admit that this made-for-TV project would undoubtedly been infinitely more entertaining if the Mouse had been able to land the actors that they originally wanted for this film.

I mean, instead of Drew Carey in the show’s title role and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Blue Fairy, how about Dick Van Dyke as Geppetto and Julie Andrews as the magical creature that gave Pinocchio life. That’s right. The stars of “Mary Poppins” reunited some 35 years after the fact. Wouldn’t that casting coup have made “Geppetto” appointment television during the May 2000 sweeps period?

Sadly, Disney offered this role to Andrews just months after she had had that surgery that had so badly damaged her vocal cords. So Julie reluctantly had to take a pass on the project. Dick Van Dyke, however, was supposedly very interested in playing the part of Geppetto. So much so that — for a time — the Mouse tried to convince Dick’s other famous co-star — Mary Tyler Moore — to come play the Blue Fairy in this made-for-TV musical.

Unfortunately, this “Dick Van Dyke” reunion (for some reason or another) fell through. Which is how we ended up with Drew Carey and Julie Louis-Dreyfus in “Geppetto.” Which was a lot of fun with a number of very charming songs. But it wasn’t really as good as it could have been.

Yeah, the history of Walt Disney Pictures is littered with stories like this. What if “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” had starred Julie Andrews and Ron Moody instead of Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson? What if “The Watcher in the Woods” (in its original form) hadn’t been so rushed during the final phases of its production? Would this suspense thriller have been more of a success if it had just stuck with its original out-of-this-world ending.

It’s so hard to choose just one story, Loose Eel. So I guess I won’t.

Mind you, when it comes to choosing just one Disney history book, I never have that sort of problem. Particularly when it comes to the Disneyland Paris resort. To explain: Claire T. wrote in this week to ask:


I’m please to see that you’re looking to expand your website’s coverage. In particular to start doing stories about both Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. And I’ll look forward to reading those articles whenever they turn up on your site.

My problem is … I’m heading over to DLP sometime in the next few weeks. So I’d like to be able to read up on that resort. Learn more about the history of its two theme parks and their back story.

So is there a book that you could recommend me? Something that would allow me to get up to speed quickly? Or should I just wait ’til those DLP articles start popping up on JHM?

Thanks in advance for your help here, Jim. Keep up the great work at your site.

Dear Claire:

Well, those articles about Disneyland Paris SHOULD start popping up on in a week or so. But — until then — if you’d really like to read a great book about Disneyland Paris, then I suggest you pick up a copy of Alain Littaya and Didier Ghez’s “Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality.”

This full color, 320 page volume is something that every serious Disneyana fan should have in their library. Profusely illustrated, this book is filled with dozens of never-seen-outside-of-WDI drawings and paintings which reveal many abandoned ideas for the Parisian theme park. Including a late 1920s / early 1930s version of Main Street U.S.A. where gangsters and flappers would rubbed elbows with DLP’s guests.

There’s lots of great stuff like that to be found in “Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality,” Claire. Early concepts for the castle (including an art deco whatchamacallit — which is topped off by a Sorcerer Mickey — that has to be seen to be believed). Numerous peeks at Nemo’s hidden base (back when the bottom floor of what-was-then-known-as Discovery Mountain would have featured a secret lagoon where a fullscale version of the Nautilus would have sat). Littaya and Ghez’s book is just loaded with stuff like this.

Speaking of Didier, I just heard that Ghez is selling off some of the collector’s editions of “Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality” at reduced prices. Given that this version of the book features four reproductions of concept paintings that were done for this theme park, now might be a great time to take Didier up on his offer.

For more information about how you can pick up a copy of the collector’s edition of “Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality,” Claire T., I suggest that you get ahold of Ghez by sending an e-mail to this address: He’ll then pass along the particulars about how you can got about picking up an autographed copy of his great DLP book.

Trust me, Claire. This is the one you really want to read before you head out for that theme park.

Speaking of heading out … that’s it for this week, folks. I hope you enjoyed the assortment of stories that we had up on JHM over the past five. Our aim is to amuse and inform you. If we just ended up annoying you … sorry about that. We’ll try to do better next week, okay?

Til then, you take care, okay?


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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