Mickey Mouse will forever be immortalized as the iconic founding Character behind Walt Disney Entertainment. Even with the Company’s growth and incorporation of many other beloved Characters over the last century, Mickey Mouse remains the very face—and ears—of what we all immediately think of when we think about Disney. Therefore, it only seems fitting that Disney Parks and Resorts the world over would make it a special point to give Mickey a more honorary presence than what we are all now seeing today. I’m not saying that Mickey and his Friends have been shoved entirely onto the back of the shelf. But there have been times when Classic Disney Magic has been reduced in favor of focusing on some of the more modern, lucrative emerging brands.
This is arguably more of the case at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida than it is at Disneyland Resort in California. Perhaps it is because Disneyland is, and will forever be, the original prototype that started all Disney theme parks. There’s just a more authentic classic vibe here than even Disney World, which many consider to be the more expansive 2.0 follow-up to Disneyland, can lay claim to.
Has Disney World just gotten too big for its britches? Maybe so, because in more recent years, it seems that whenever they attempt to create in-Park expansions or enhanced Guest experiences, they either miss the mark completely or only achieve said end goal at the expense of gutting a former experience that everyone was already content with. Just think back to their decision to scrap Mickey’s Toontown Fair more than a decade ago during their massive expansion to Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park. I consider this to be the beginning of a whole era of bad decision-making trends that have since been on the rise and have only gotten worse at Disney World in recent years. Is it not paradoxical to pose an objective to build up Fantasyland as a foundation that showcases Classic Disney (old and new alike) but then scrap what was essentially one of the truest callouts to its official mascot in the process—Mickey’s Toontown?
In contrast, Disneyland only temporarily closed its Mickey’s Toontown designation as a way to incorporate a massive renovation. Now that it has at last reopened, we get to see firsthand that not only have all the original callouts to Classic Disney been rightfully preserved, but they’ve genuinely succeeded in capitalizing on the authenticity and charm of Disney’s more nostalgic, timeless traditions. And that is why Disney execs should take note of this and seriously consider the potential of bringing Mickey’s Toontown back to the Walt Disney World scene as well.
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A Bit of Toontown History
Even though it is now Disneyland in California that is best known for its display of Mickey’s Toontown (along with a clever backstory to go with it), the first-ever incorporation of a Mickey Mouse/toon-inspired community actually started at Walt Disney World Resort back in 1988. That was when what was formerly known as “Mickey’s Birthdayland” opened in conjunction with Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday. Later on, in 1990, it was renamed “Mickey’s Starland” and then briefly changed to “Mickey’s Toyland” in 1995. Following a major renovation, just in time for the Walt Disney World 25th Anniversary, “Mickey’s Toontown Fair” was established in 1996. It remained under this title until its eventual closure in February 2011.
Disneyland’s Toontown operations officially started in 1993. Just like the Disney World version, the focus has always been on Mickey Mouse. However, Disneyland’s concept of a toon-centric town was also loosely inspired by the hit movie of the day—Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was released in 1988. It was the appeal of an altered Golden Age of Hollywood motif in which classic cartoon characters coexisted in the world of humans while having their own “toon town” that initially drove the overall idea of this new section in the Park. The houses and other buildings comprising this land have a colorful, stylized appearance, like those straight out of a cartoon from long ago. And in keeping things Classic Disney, you have all those direct callouts to beloved iconic Characters like their various homes and even themed rides.
You will find a Toontown presence reflected in other Disney Parks as well. Most notably, Tokyo Disneyland has its own carbon copy of the Disneyland version (before the recent refurbishments). On a far smaller scale, Disneyland Paris has its Toon Studio land at Walt Disney Studios Park.
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Disney World’s Controversial Closure
The fateful decision to gut Mickey’s Toontown Fair in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park came about as a result of a massive in-Park expansion to Fantasyland. Some of the former land’s attractions have been rethemed and welcomed into the new sub-division of the extended Fantasyland known as Storybook Circus. Others, however, did not make the cut. And sadly, those that got axed included many iconic callouts to the Classics, specifically Mickey and Minnie’s Country Houses, Donald’s Boat, and the Toontown Hall of Fame. While it can be argued that these were lesser attractions (as they were not rides), many still feel that they represented the very heart of Mickey’s Toontown—especially Mickey’s House. Leveling the home of the one and only Mickey Mouse is nothing short of sacrilegious, to say the least.
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A Needed Mickey Presence
The demolition of Mickey’s Toontown Fair at Magic Kingdom Park may have sparked a chain reaction of bad decision-making that even directly influenced another controversial closing later on in 2017. That was when the Great Movie Ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios was scrapped in favor of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. There were minor complaints that the Great Movie Ride was getting a little outdated and some of the animatronics were starting to age. Furthermore, with Hollywood Studios beginning to shift its focus away from more obscure classic showbiz references in general, they decided to forgo updating the ride and instead axe it altogether.
According to Disney, one of their primary reasons for ending the Great Movie Ride was to exchange it for an attraction focusing on Mickey and Minnie—an attempt to give them more of a Disney World presence. That’s ironic, seeing how they weren’t so concerned about their presence at Disney World when they were busy destroying their homes at Magic Kingdom Park. But suddenly, they care enough to bring a Mickey and Minnie-themed ride to Hollywood Studios even if it means sacking yet another fan favorite in the process?
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Toontown in Hollywood Studios
What’s done is done regarding the fate of the now-defunct Great Movie Ride. And truth be told, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is actually a cute addition to Hollywood Studios. Perhaps the presence of such a ride even portends the very real potential of establishing an all-new Mickey’s Toontown area at Hollywood Studios.
At one time in the early 1990s, Disney World had big plans to bring several Roger Rabbit-themed attractions to Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM). But due to financial problems with Euro Disney Resort, these plans were eventually scrapped altogether. And while the Disney “Toontown” idea has become increasingly independent of Roger Rabbit ties over the years, the fact that such concepts were once in the works still lends credence to the possibility of maybe coming up with a more Disneyland-like Toontown model that would fit perfectly with the existing Hollywood Studios setting rather than trying to reinvent a carbon copy of the former Magic Kingdom version.
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The establishment of an all-new Mickey’s Toontown at Hollywood Studios may even help to restore some of the Park’s lost theming. Consider the Sunset Boulevard section, for instance. At one time, the motif was a little more defined in replicating the real Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. But that theme has become less defined over the years, as more and more incompatible attractions have sprouted up. For instance, you don’t see the same incongruous disconnect between the attractions in Toy Story Land or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge as you do in the ones comprising Sunset Boulevard. It’s much harder to find an underlining pattern between Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage, and Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.
Perhaps Sunset Boulevard needs a Toontown overhaul, largely where the attractions are concentrated more so than the existing shops and dining. And if you look at the map where they are all centered, there’s even undeveloped land that Disney could use to build onto and add more Mickey/toon callouts. The only issue would be deciding how to work the existing attractions into a newly transformed Mickey’s Toontown. Fantasmic! seems perfect as far as theming and location are concerned, and Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage could also work. It would be hard to change the Tower of Terror, but perhaps if the surrounding area was rethemed accordingly, there could be some callouts to Silly Symphony before Guests arrive at the attraction—a way to tie in Classic Disney creepiness.
Disney denies there will be a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster retheme when it reopens following its current closure. Yet many fans seem to favor the gossip surrounding a “Powerline” retheme from A Goofy Movie (1995). And I must say this would most certainly work well if this section were to be redeveloped into Mickey’s Toontown. As far as Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy goes, I could easily see a Mickey and the Roadster Racers retheme or even a vintage revisit to Benny from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
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Magic Kingdom Is Still the Best Bet
While it’s fun to speculate about all the possibilities for creating a Mickey’s Toontown at Hollywood Studios, I still personally feel that Magic Kingdom Park should serve as the home base for such a reboot. It was, after all, the original Disney World theme park and should therefore present the truest demonstration of a Mickey Mouse presence.
If those tentative land expansions that were teased during D23 2022 are any indication, we all know that there is plenty of existing space Disney could work with on redeveloping a Mickey’s Toontown at Magic Kingdom Park. But instead of considering upping the Mickey presence with such an expansion, Disney is too focused on the more lucrative possibilities connected with establishing new lands inspired by Coco (2017), Encanto (2021), and even Disney Villains. Don’t get me wrong; I think such ideas would be welcome additions to Magic Kingdom Park. However, I do feel that a focus on Mickey Mouse—the very icon of all things Disney—should take precedence before all else.
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I personally believe that it was a huge mistake to reduce what was once Mickey’s Toontown Fair at Walt Disney World Resort into a few surviving, refurbished remnants included as part of Storybook Circus in Fantasyland. Disney would do well to admit their mistakes and remedy them with a rightful reestablishment of a brand-new Toontown redo that’s even bigger and better. It’s completely within their abilities to do so, and would serve as the ultimate Mickey Mouse redemption.