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Welcome to Mickey's ToonTown

Rating: 2 votes, 4.50 average.
by , 08-31-2011 at 05:47 PM


I admit I just love Mickey’s Toontown. It is one of my most favorite immersive environments at Disneyland. This is not to be confused with the Toontown Fair out in Florida. I do not shed a tear about the removal of the one in Florida but I would lie in front of the bulldozer if the one in Anaheim were threatened. Well, maybe not go that far, but I would write letters. Frequent Samland readers will note that I have been so obsessed about the organization of this part of the park that I applied the urban planning tool called an urban transect to analyze the qualities of the various land uses (I know…major geekville…welcome to Samland, right?).

So where did Toontown come from? Some say, it goes back to the earliest days of Disneyland. Now this isn’t the official line but is reconstructed from bits and pieces that may be true or most certainly embellished.

When Walt Disney decided to build a theme park, he wanted to find the perfect location. So he turned to his most trusted partner for advice. No, I am not talking about his brother Roy. Instead, I am referring to Mickey Mouse.

Back in the early 1930s, Mickey was really feeling the pressure from fame. So he decided to build a secret getaway for himself and his Toon friends. He called this place Toontown and would become the place where Toons could sneak away from the Hollywood limelight, let down their hair (or whatever), and just be normal (for a Toon).

Mickey realized that Disneyland would serve as a retreat for Walt and decided to help out. He suggested that Disneyland could be a good neighbor to Toontown. So Walt decided to open his park in rural Orange County, far away from the madness of Los Angeles and Hollywood.

Negotiations between Mickey and Walt went on for a while but the two would inevitably come to an agreement. Mickey demanded that Walt build a large earthen berm to shield the Toons from Disneyland visitors. Walt liked the idea so much he decided to copy the concept and build a berm around Disneyland to shield the visitors from the rest of Orange County as well.

By 1993, the Toons had seen enough and decided to the take the brave step of letting visitors come to town. A tunnel was dug under the berm right next to it’s a small world and the rest is history. Today, there is a sign that states that Toontown will be closed earlier than the rest of the park “due to fireworks.” The real reason is the Toons have had enough of us by this point that they want to get back to their normal (for a Toon) lives.

At least that's the story as I'd like to believe it.

The reality is they cleared out three acres north of the railroad tracks and the berm that surrounds the park, which used to contain the pony farm, a storage facility, and a narrow road. It is tiny. The entire area measures about 500 feet wide and 200 feet deep. The team from Imagineering who worked on the project included Don Carson, Joe Lanzisero, Hani El Masri, Andrea Favili, Marcelo Vignali, Maggie Parr, Chuck Ballew, Jim Shull, and Judy Chin.


According to the book Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance, the Imagineers realized that the Toontown project “was an effort to rethink the relationship between architecture and fantasy, between animation and the theme park.” There is a lot going on that is worthy of a closer look.

Disney historian and MiceChat partner, Alain Littaye, talked with Don Carson, Senior Show Designer, to learn more about the area design. Carson said that the rolling slope of the main street was supposed to be much steeper. After considering mobility issues, that idea was dropped. He also talked about the original concept for Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin, which was supposed to be a two-story attraction.






Toontown is divided into three sub-areas: Downtown (the Industrial area where the Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin attraction is located), Toontown Square (the food court area), and a residential area called Mickey’s Neighborhood. Oddly, Mickey’s Toontown is one of least changed areas in the entire park. For the most part, it is the same as when it opened in 1993.

As you look around, you notice that the architecture does not seem to contain any straight edges. When the Imagineers were doing the research, they took a long hard look at the world that Toons lived in. What they noticed was the architecture had a familiarity to it but did not mimic real physics. They wanted to reproduce this effect in three-dimensions so they borrowed an animation trick called Squash and Stretch.

Squash and Stretch is the effect that keeps the volume of a structure constant while it is "squashed and stretched" in seemingly unnatural ways. Or as former Disney animator Preston Blair explains, "When a sandbag moves through the air, it will "stretch" in the direction of the movement. Then when its progress is arrested, it will "squash" out." Blair adds, "If it were alive (anything can happen in a cartoon!), it would also squash from anticipating the action in which it stretches. The proper use of Squash and Stretch will strengthen an action. It is essential in creating a feeling of weight in characters." As Imagineer Don Carson said, "No one has ever built buildings that look fat and inflated with air with no right angles." Not only is the architecture exaggerated but also so is the super bright color palette.







As wonderful as Toontown is from a design perspective, it was a strategic business need that drove the project. Ever since Mickey Mouse first appeared in 1928, fans have clamored to meet the star. Never before had a cartoon character had such a strong and identifiable personality. Walt toyed with ways where fans could interact with the mouse. He took a hard look at some property adjacent to the movie studio. He thought this would be a perfect spot for his “Mickey Mouse Park.”

When Walt applied for the necessary permits, the Burbank City Council turned him down. They did not want a permanent carnival in their city. One lawmaker proclaimed, “We don’t want the carny atmosphere in Burbank! We don’t want people falling in the river, or merry-go-rounds squawking all day long.” Walt knew better. He assured them, “A word may be said in regard to the concept and conduct of Disneyland’s operational tone. Although various sections will have the fun and flavor of carnival or amusement park, there will be none of the ‘pitches’, games, wheels, sharp practices, and devices designed to milk the visitor’s pocketbook.” Over time, the park concept would evolve into Disneyland.

The same problem confronted the Walt Disney Company in 1988. Where could fans reliably find Mickey Mouse and get his autograph, especially as his 60th birthday was drawing near? Until now, finding Mickey was one of the guest’s biggest complaints. The solution was to open a “temporary” area called Mickey’s Birthdayland at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. For the first time, guests could enter a cartoon world and meet their favorite characters. Mickey’s Birthdayland turned out to be a great success and that meant Disney needed to find a way to milk the concept. The area was upgraded in 1990 and renamed Mickey’s Starland.

It was the success of the 1988 feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit that would really make the difference. The movie provided the Imagineers an architectural design language of a world where Toons and humans could interact. Toontown could play by a different set of rules and allow for inanimate objects to became animated. Guests would be encouraged to touch everything and they would be rewarded by pleasant little surprises.





With the success in Florida, Disneyland decided it wanted to get into the act. Design began on Mickey’s Toontown and the land opened in 1993. This would be a place based a different reality. The new addition was an immediate success and it became clear that the Florida version needed a makeover once again. First came Mickey’s Toyland, just in time for the 1995 Christmas season. Then work continued and the area became Mickey’s Toontown Fair in 1996.

Throughout all of the changes, only Mickey’s house has remained in Florida. Now, even that structure has been torn down as part of the Fantasyland expansion.

One of the great strengths of Toontown is all of the “gags” that are used throughout Mickey’s Toontown. A gag is a comic story, action or situation performed by actors (or in this case, buildings). Everything seems to come alive in Toontown.

Most of the gags are pretty obvious to all, especially children. But there are some adult touches as well. For example, if you look closely, Toontown echoes other structures that exist throughout Disneyland. Both have City Halls, Fire Stations, treehouses, pocket parks, houses, trolley cars (well at least they still work in Disneyland), boats, car driving experiences, roller-coasters, and an emporium.However, the best gags are the ones activated by the guests. Take your time and you will see how this area can really suck you in. See those boxes sitting on the Warehouse dock? Go ahead and take a peak inside. This is one example of how you can judge a book by its cover. Open up the box for spare train parts and you have the sound of locomotives. The box destined for Clarabelle's Yogurt shop moos. And be careful if you try to open the box for assorted springs. The boxes vary in heights and everybody in the family can get into the act.

Be sure to push every button you see, twist every knob, and pull at every door. A tug on the Toontown Power Company's front door will result in a jolting discovery. Didn't get a chance to stop by the gym on the way to the park? You might want to try working out at Horace Horsecollar's gym. Be careful, as things may be heavier than you first think. Take time to listen to the talking mailbox, manhole cover or water fountains. This is a very playful environment for young and old.




The fireworks factory explodes with fun



There is even more fun to play with. Just in case you get into trouble you can always call the cops. However, somebody is probably already talking on the phone. Push down on the plunger in front of the Fireworks Factory and see if you get lucky or gather 3 other friends to play with the musical fountain in Mickey’s Neighborhood. Each person steps on a metal plaque embedded in the sidewalk to play their instrument that is in front of them in the fountain.

If you look closely enough you will even find a small tribute the Old Mousetro himself, Walt Disney.

The old Jolly Trolley barn and loading platform is still there. Once upon a time you could catch a ride from one end of Toontown to the other with this fun little train. It added a level of kinetic energy that is sadly missing today. There is still one trolley station at the old depot. The other one was sold off on eBay a few years ago.

Do you enjoy Toontown as much as I do? If so, what are your favorite bits?

My New Book
In October, my new book, WALT and the Promise of Progress City, will be available. Just in time for your holiday gift list!




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Comments

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  1. lock shock barrel's Avatar
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    first!
    great post once again, sam!
  2. indianajack's Avatar
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    So glad to see that you love Toontown like I do. It's one of the best themed areas of the park and a perfect setting for meeting Mickey and the characters. I feel sad when other MCers propose it be torn down since it's so immersively themed, and not just fun for kids.
  3. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Great article Sam! I can see how you'd be attracted to the urban planning details built right in to the land.

    However, I'm afraid that I'm one of those people who isn't a big fan of ToonTown. Yes, it is well themed and one of the more immersive environments in the park. But it has some serious flaws.

    The biggest problem is a lack of things to do. If you are going to make people walk all the way to the back of the park, something spectacular should be waiting for them. But all that can be found is one solid dark-ride, a 30 second kiddie coaster and a couple of meet and greets.

    The other major problem is that this land is a dead-end. There is only one entrance/exit. That makes it feel like a chore to visit as you have to backtrack to exit.

    Without an E-Ticket to draw people in, with terrible crowd flow and lack of changes and additions, ToonTown has become stale and really only a place for the very young to go meet Mickey Mouse.

    I say fix it or tear it out! But don't worry Sam, if they let me drive the bulldozer I promise not to run you over.

    Dusty
  4. NetteNutt's Avatar
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    I love Toontown. We never miss it. I usually find a spot by the fountain after we go on Roger and wait as the kids explore.
  5. rwsmith's Avatar
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    I hate Toon Town with an unhealthy passion. I don't know why, but it makes me feel uncomfortable visually. Not to mention Dusty's reasoning...
  6. angeltheone's Avatar
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    "Although various sections will have the fun and flavor of carnival or amusement park, there will be none of the ‘pitches’, games, wheels, sharp practices, and devices designed to milk the visitor’s pocketbook.” Over time, the park concept would evolve into Disneyland."

    Mike the visitor's pocketbook? Oh I think Disneyland does plenty of that. I work for a rather large company and we get alot of east coast transplants that I work with. It's sad to hear some of them say, "I've never been to Disneyland, it's too expensive for a family of four" which one day alone on tix comes out to $400. This is truly sad. Greed at it's finest.

  7. bamato's Avatar
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    While I appreciate the points made in Sam's article, I agree with Dusty on his points. Toontown has some very major flaws unfortunately. And when people like us MC'ers see an area of the park that holds a large bit of real estate that is essentially a dead end and unattractive to most people, we want to see it utilized for something more inviting.

    Don't get me wrong, the thematic elements of Toontown are nothing short of brilliant, but that doesn't mean much when the pull of an E-ticket is non-existent. If Disney could remodel a bit, I'm sure Toontown could easily stay. That way, the "Sams" of the world could keep their favorite corner of the park, and it may become just that for some of the rest of us .
  8. jaxbistro's Avatar
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    I think when it opened Toon Town was great...the bounce houses and other physical attractions to let the kiddos go wild as us parents took a break for a bit. Unfortunately, the hazards that come with physical activity made the lawyers shut it down and now we have a vast space with unused occupancies. I can't recall the last time I saw the trolley run either. I'm with Dusty, the place needs to go. My biggest qualm is that the rides don't even fit into the theme. Mickey's Toon Town has two rides...'Gadget's Roller Coaster' and Roger Rabbit. But every thing else is all Mickey and pals. It's somewhat confused IMO.
  9. mickeyfan4ever's Avatar
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    i love mickey toon town i licke roger rabbbrot cartoon spin
  10. DisnyFnatk's Avatar
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    I don't get there on every visit, but I've always absolutely loved the architecture of Toontown! When I was a teenager it struck me so strongly that I decided I must build myself a Toontown-styled house someday, with rounded door openings, storybook styled roof, no frames hanging straight on the wall, etc.. It hasn't happened yet, but now even in my 30's I would love for that to become a reality in my life. I've always loved Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. It's a definite must anytime I make it to Toontown. A couple of updates is all Toontown needs imho. Several years ago I used to put coins on the Jolly Trolley track to get smashed by the Trolley. Since the cars weren't very big, it took a few times to get the job done. I hope I didn't break it!
  11. jpg391's Avatar
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    Great article usual.
  12. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    I visited ToonTown for the first time back in June, and was absolutely blown away. I was so used to the subpar version in Florida that this one absolutely took me by surprise. Everything about this place, they got right, I feel. It looks and feels like a living, breathing town that Toons inhabit.
    If they ever decide to expand Florida's Magic Kingdom again, a version of ToonTown much like this would be very appreciated.
    I agree with Dusty on some of his points, though...the deadend-ness of it all annoyed me a bit, and it was kind of low pay-off for an area away from everything else. However, if you truly take the time to walk around and really appreciate what it has to offer, you can wander around in there for hours!
    Great post, and glad to see you love it as much as I did. I can't wait to go back and experience it again!
  13. gpiltz's Avatar
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    Great article, as always, Sam. Many thanks.

    While Disneyland, and other Magic Kingdom style parks no doubt take us away to many other places and times, and tell us many stories, I always find it a challenge to understand the continuity of the park as a whole.

    So, what is the overall theme of Disneyland or MK?

    Epcot is a World's Fair, Hollywood Studios is a 'movie studio', and Animal Kindgom is an International Animal Safari. Even DisneySea is the Seven Seas.

    Walt certainly shared that it was a land of past, future, and fantasy adventures, and it no doubt fulfills the chance to live out many of our idealized wishes.

    But, I propose that Disneyland style parks are "Main Streets in Time" that take us to the town squares of the past, future, and fantasy. This seems to align with ToonTown as well.

    Suspend Your Disbelief,

    Geren
  14. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    In the past year, I was able to see quite a few of Hani's concept sketches for Toon Town on the Disney and More site. I was very impressed with his architectural details. Kind of reminded me of the New Fantasyland days and the architectural facades and elements that were being created from that team. PD
  15. disneydancer76's Avatar
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    I truly enjoyed the urban legend theme of this piece. I was optimistic when I heard about the opening of ToonTown, especially after watching and loving "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". I will agree with Dusty that this part of the park needs some improvement but NOT by a bulldozer...tsk...tsk...tsk Dusty.
  16. Princess Victoria's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dustysage
    The biggest problem is a lack of things to do. If you are going to make people walk all the way to the back of the park, something spectacular should be waiting for them. But all that can be found is one solid dark-ride, a 30 second kiddie coaster and a couple of meet and greets.
    I agree with this. ToonTown is very immersive and well-themed, but I rarely go back there due to the lack of things to do. Roger Rabbit doesn't have a lot of repeatability either, though it is a good ride. The gags and all throughout the land are great, but again, the repeatability factor plays in. If there was a great E-ticket ride back there that made it more worth the trek to the very back of the park, perhaps I'd be in there more often. I hope that someday they find a way to add attractions to ToonTown. If not, as neat as the land is to look at, I can imagine other uses for it.
  17. bee1000's Avatar
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    I'll have to pay more attention to Toon Town the next time I visit. I love Car Toon Spin, but the rest of the land seems like just a jumble of oddly shaped buildings. That said, when I went with my preschool-aged nephew he loved the place and I think that's a perfectly valid reason for its existence. The dead-end design of Toon Town combines with the lack of major attractions to create a less-traveled, safe place for young kids to explore and play in ways that they just can't in the rest of the park. For all its foundation on imagination and creativity, Toon Town and Tom Sawyer's Island are the only places where kids can enjoy unstructured play at Disneyland.
  18. salfraher's Avatar
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    I agree with Sam, Toontown is great. While it might be seen as tired and out of the way for some (adults), it is always loaded with young kids. When my kids were 5 & under, it's the only place they wanted to be in the park. It caters to that demographic, and appears to be very successful in that sense. Young kids truly feel that they are in a happy cartoon world, and it's less frightening than some of the darker Fantasyland rides.
  19. Swisskapolka's Avatar
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    Toontown is a favorite stop of my kids to this day -- my 17 year old took her first steps there in 1995! We miss the play structures of its early days -- especially Donald's Boat -- there was plenty of safe things under a parents' supervision that are now blocked off.

    I do agree that it could stand to be updated and/or enhanced though to make up for some of the lack of interactive structures that are now roped off or removed for kids' "protection."
  20. DLRaddict's Avatar
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    Great Article.
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