November 18, 1928.
That’s the day that Mickey Mouse was born. After all, it was on that day that Mickey made his debut at the Colony Theater in New York City within the short Steamboat Willie – memorably, the first cartoon to feature a post-produced synchronized soundtrack. Steamboat Willie became the era’s most popular cartoon; it helped to create the art form of “animation” that Disney would become increasingly known for; it was a technological innovation that changed the animation industry forever.
But perhaps most importantly, it introduced the world to Mickey Mouse. From a playful, mischievous, trouble-making, string-tailed mouse bursting with rambunctious personality to a corporate icon and reimagined modern cartoon star, generations of Disney fans have followed Mickey’s journeys… Yet for a generation of Walt Disney World guests, there was no better place to see “the Big Cheese” than Mickey’s Toontown Fair.
For many years, Theme Park Tourist has been assembling an entire In-Depth Collection Library of features that tell the complete and surprising stories behind Lost Legends – closed classics and fan favorites from Disney and beyond. In this case, the first land ever added to Magic Kingdom was also the first to disappear. And today, we’ll step into Walt Disney World to explore the origin of this lost land… After all, our story doesn’t begin in Mickey’s Toontown Fair. It starts in another Mickey-themed land that briefly called Magic Kingdom home. But let's start at the beginning...
Mickey Mouse Park(s)
In 1928, Walt and his team had done the unthinkable: they’d made a cartoon speak.
Less than a decade later, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would re-invent animation all over again. The world’s first full-length, animated feature film, most industry insiders and the public expected that Disney’s foray into feature films would be his last; that mere “cartoons” could never draw the attention of adults, and that children couldn’t sit through a full-length motion picture. It was widely expected that Snow White would crash and burn, decimating the Walt Disney Studios.
Of course, that wasn’t quite the case. Snow White is well remembered as the birth of animation as a modern art form and storytelling medium, kick-starting the Walt Disney Studios and financing their move to a new facility in Burbank, California. As the years passed, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi and more proved the staying power of Disney’s storytelling in this emerging medium, and through it all, Walt consistently received letters requesting tours of the studio.
Young and old alike wrote into the Burbank facility not only requesting a behind-the-scenes look at the movie-making process, but for the chance to meet Disney’s characters, including Mickey Mouse.
While Walt could’ve opened the studio to Hollywood tourists and made extra money, he recognized that the process of animation – old men hunched over sheets of paper sketching with carbon pencils – wasn’t as glamorous or exciting as people hoped.
That’s when he developed the idea of what he called Mickey Mouse Park – a recreation and entertainment park to be built on a vacant lot next to the studio. There, he envisioned crafting environments that would transport guests to a Midwestern town; a frontier village; a quaint European garden. And there in Mickey Mouse Park, guests could finally come face-to-face with Mickey himself.
Of course, plans for this park expanded until they spilled over from the studio lot in Burbank, leading Walt to assemble a team to look elsewhere. Disneyland opened in 1955. And naturally, Mickey Mouse was on hand for the celebration (albeit, looking very different than he does today).
Meeting Mickey continued to be a focus of families at Disneyland, and when the brand new Walt Disney World opened in 1971, the Audio-Animatronic-packed Mickey Mouse Revue was among its opening day attractions! And as year after year passed, Mickey took on many different styles and personalities (both in the parks and beyond), all leading up to his grandest tribute yet…
If you give a mouse a birthday cake…
Disney knows how to celebrate.
From the Year of a Million Dreams to the Millennium Celebration, Disney’s parties are as legendary as the exclusive entertainment, guest giveaways, spectacular parades, and limited-time magic that tend to accompany them. From nightly-giveaways of palatial stays inside Cinderella Castle to Dream FastPasses, Disney cuts no corners when it comes to extravaganzas.
And yet, in 1988, their celebration of Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday was accompanied by something of unprecedented scale: the opening of an entirely new themed land at Magic Kingdom.
On June 18, 1988, Magic Kingdom opened its first new land since the park’s debut. To hear Minnie’s announcement across the park, Mickey’s Birthdayland was an unforgettable surprise party she’d set up for Mickey, and everyone was invited! While you could walk to the narrow 3-acre parcel between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland (cozied up against the park’s Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), Minnie naturally suggests that you stop by the Main Street Train Station, where she has a special train en route just for us!
The Walt Disney World Railroad (temporarily renamed Mickey’s Birthdayland Express) became a musical journey circumnavigating Magic Kingdom with a new stop under the arched-tent train station along the park’s northeastern edge. Disembarking, guests would find themselves in Duckburg, U.S.A. (long-running home to Donald Duck and his waterfowl relatives) decorated for the biggest party in Mickey’s history.
Right in the center of town, Mickey’s House finally answered the age-old question of where exactly Mickey lives, providing guests would a whimsical walkthrough of his cartoon ranch, complete with parked car in the drive. Likewise, Mickey’s Birthdayland contained Duckburg’s Cornelius Coot Commons – a central park constructed around a bronze statue of the town’s mallard founder.
Another of Birthdayland’s memorable moments was at Grandma Duck’s Farm, famously home to “Minnie Moo,” a beloved dairy cow with a lucky marking.
Rising over the cartoon facades of Duckburg, though, are the land’s true monuments: four soaring, striped carnival tents housing Micky’s Birthday Surprise stage show and its exciting post-show featuring the characters dancing on a cake.
From the flat facades to the relatively simple circus tents, it would obvious to most guests that Mickey’s Birthdayland wasn’t meant to be a permanent addition to Magic Kingdom. Rather, it was meant to last the length of Mickey’s birthday celebration (which, in true Disney fashion, was about two years). However, just four days after the land opened, a new film that opened in theaters served as the first falling domino that would trigger Mickey’s Birthdayland to stick around… Any guesses? Read on…
Mickey’s Birthdayland opened on June 18, 1988, finally giving Disney guests a glimpse into the world Mickey Mouse called home.
Four days later, on June 22, 1988, a radical new film was released in theaters… And this is where the long-standing story of the land dedicated to Mickey Mouse takes a surprising and cross-continental turn.
The new big cheese
Long-standing readers of our Lost Legends series will likely know well the story of Michael Eisner, the controversial and cutting-edge CEO whose 1984 entry heralded in a new era at Disney. Eisner – coming to Disney from a time as CEO of Paramount Pictures – knew that the key to reviving Disney’s tarnished and stagnant brand rested in movies, and he set out to end the cinematic slump that Walt Disney Productions had endured in the decade after Walt’s death.
It’s well known by most Disney fans that Eisner kicked-off the so-called Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s, when the art form of animation was revived by hit after hit after hit at the box office including The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas.
Likewise, many of our readers have seen time and time again as Eisner’s cinematic styling served to resurrect Disney’s parks, injecting the parks with the stories, characters, celebrities, and settings that mattered to modern audiences… even if they weren’t Disney stories! That’s how we ended up with Lost Legends: Captain EO, STAR TOURS, Alien Encounter, The Great Movie Ride, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to name just a few.
Eisner drew on his industry contracts to build previously-unimaginable connections with George Lucas, 20th Century Fox, MGM, and CBS, inviting some of the industry’s biggest stars and hottest filmmakers to become part of Disney Parks.
But to grow his burgeoning Walt Disney Company beyond its cartoon origins, Eisner also needed to turn Walt Disney Productions into a powerful name in the traditional movie business, which is why he empowered the Touchstone Pictures label – a Disney-owned production company who could release more serious, adult-oriented motion pictures that the Disney label might otherwise detract from.
And just four days after the opening of Mickey’s Birthdayland, Disney’s Touchstone Pictures released what may be one of its most acclaimed and celebrated films ever… one that would reshape Mickey’s Birthdayland – if only by accident.
Mouse meets rabbit
Eisner was a leader who was thinking big. And as he’d done for Disney’s parks and would soon do to its animation, he was determined to bring Disney back onto the movie scene in a big way. 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was the first step. Based on a 1981 novel by Gary K. Wolf, the film would be very unlike anything Disney had done before for a number of reasons.
First of all, the film (directed by Robert Zemeckis, still fresh off of Back to the Future) would well represent Eisner’s new direction… big names, big stars, and big budgets. Reportedly topping $70 million, Roger Rabbit would be among the most expensive films ever produced.
Second, the movie would be quite unlike Disney’s fairytales of old. Set in a gritty 1940s Hollywood, the film is a comedic mystery detective caper. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? follows the investigation of Roger (a cartoon rabbit), who’s the number one suspect in the murder of inventor and Toontown owner Marvin Acme (who, coincidentally, was caught playing patty-cake – yes, literally – with Roger’s voluptuous wife Jessica Rabbit the night before his demise…). Like all great, pulpy, serial private eye films, the movie was over the top, dramatic, and seemed to barely squeak by with a “PG” rating from the MPAA. Still, the Touchstone label was meant to set this more adult-oriented film apart from its animated brethren.
Third, Roger Rabbit did something no one had quite seen before: it perfectly integrated animation into a live action film. That was necessary given that the movie explored the “real” lives of the animated “Toons” once they leave their Max Fleischer-stylized Toontown neighborhood of Los Angeles and enter our world for their on-screen day-jobs – a groundbreaking synchronization of live action footage and actors interacting with animated characters. The viral appeal of such an unimaginable medium earned Roger Rabbit universal critical acclaim and turned it into one of the top twenty highest-grossing films ever at the time of its release.
Mickey’s Starland (1990)
As Roger Rabbit swept up awards at the 1989 Academy Awards, Disney began tinkering with Mickey’s Birthdayland. Despite the land’s temporary nature, it proved to be unexpectedly popular with guests… popular enough to warrant its extended stay. Of course, with Mickey’s 1988 anniversary two years in the past, Disney decided to integrate the popular characters from their Disney Channel Afternoon programming block. Characters from Duck Tales, TaleSpin, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers (and later, Darkwing Duck and Goof Troop) joined the shows in the circus tents, and the land was re-named Mickey’s Starland.
Since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was the hot new property sweeping pop culture, Imagineers reportedly looked at ways to incorporate Roger Rabbit into Starland. But as tends to happen at Walt Disney Imagineering, plans for the now-blockbuster Rabbit ballooned and migrated...
Hooray for Hollywood
With the release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eisner’s Disney had its first taste of success. For the first time since Walt’s time, Disney had a new, valuable intellectual property of its own! At once, Imagineers were tasked with finding a way to incorporate the zany world of Roger Rabbit into Disney Parks. That’s why the early-90s are marked with numerous concepts involving Roger Rabbit that simply didn’t make it off the drawing board.
The still-new Disney-MGM Studios that opened in 1989 seemed like a natural fit. After all, the theme park portion of the movie studio was dedicated to a Hollywood of the 1930s and ‘40s, and guest feedback suggested that the park needed more to do than the three rides it featured at the time – the Great Movie Ride, STAR TOURS, and the unfortunate subject of a Disaster File: The Backstage Studio Tour.
One of the most well known concepts to come of this era was a planned expansion to the park in the style of Sunset Blvd., recreating the darker side of the Golden Age of Tinseltown. Naturally, this new part of the park would offer a descent into Toontown aboard Roger Rabbit’s Toontown Trolley – a wild and whacky simulator through the animated neighborhoods of Hollywood. (If successful, there were already plans to bring the ride to Disneyland in a new purpose-built Hollywoodland constructed off of the park’s Main Street.)
But the centerpiece of the land – its reason for existing – would be Dick Tracy’s Crimestoppers, a massively-scaled shoot-‘em-up dark ride based on the 1930s serial police detective character and, more importantly, Touchstone’s 1990 live-action adaptation starring Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Dick van Dyke, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, Catherine O’Hara, and a cavalcade of Hollywood stars. As with Roger Rabbit, Disney bet big on this more adult offering released through Touchstone. But unlike Zemeckis’ cutting edge animated film, Dick Tracy was only a moderate hit at the box office and failed to make a lasting impression on the public.
Obviously, Dick Tracy’s Crimestoppers was stopped in its tracks and the expansion of the Disney-MGM Studios was put off until the creation of the Modern Marvel: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
What does Roger Rabbit have to do with Mickey’s Birthdayland, or even the Mickey’s Toontown Fair we’re here to revisit? Across the country, Imagineers in Anaheim were looking carefully at how best to integrate Roger Rabbit into Disneyland and how to capture the success of Florida's Mickey Mouse land. Aha! The ideas coalesced into one singular land that could house both...
Mickey’s Toontown (Disneyland – 1993)
Plans for Roger Rabbit’s Toontown Trolley had been axed from the Disney-MGM Studios since the expansion it was a part of relied on a Dick Tracy E-Ticket. And while Disneyland in California could’ve still gone forward with a standalone Roger Rabbit ride in a purpose-built Hollywoodland as rumored, instead the long-running desire for a Roger Rabbit ride joined with the potential of a Mickey Mouse themed land… and unlike Florida’s, California’s would be permanent.
Disneyland would build a Toontown of its own; a colorful, cartoon cityscape, stretched and squashed as if captured in mid-frame as buildings bounce in Fleischer and Walter Lantz style.
Set into the rolling Toontown Hills, this Technicolor town would finally provide a permanent answer to the question of where Mickey and friends lived. And though Mickey's Toontown might not have much in common with the darker, '40s-inspired Toontown of Roger Rabbit, the land would serve as a fitting home for both.
So in 1993, Disneyland gained its seventh themed land: Mickey’s Toontown. Constructed outside of the park’s protective, tree-lined berm, the land can only be accessed by passing through a portal under the Disneyland Railroad, where the real world melts into a gag-filled animated cityscape.
The city is divided into two regions: the first is a “Residential” neighborhood featuring Donald’s Boat spray-ground, Chip ‘n Dale Treehouse, Mickey’s House and Minnie’s House walkthrough meet-and-greets, Goofy’s Playhouse, and interactive props, gags, photo spots, and Easter eggs throughout. One of the land’s signature attractions is Gadgets Go Coaster, a family roller coaster themed to the inventive mouse from Disney Channel’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers TV series.
Toontown also has a “Downtown” district that includes shopping and dining, the Toontown Trolley (now stationary, but previously traveling between the two regions of town), and the Toontown Cab Company, home to Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin – a black-light, kinetic, clever dark ride through Toontown aboard Lenny the Cab!
On-board, riders control the spin of their vehicle (Mad Tea Party style) even as the dark ride navigates the twisted roadways of Toontown running from the sinister weasels and their attempts to use the toxic “Dip” to erase us. It's a disorienting dark ride that features some spectacular how'd-they-do-that effects that continue to be surprising, even after multiple rides. You can see a video of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin at Disneyland here:
While the Toontown embodied on Roger Rabbit’s dark ride may be the dark, twisted, 1940s underbelly of the more whimsical, timeless world depicted in Mickey’s Toontown outside, it’s interesting to consider the role that Roger Rabbit played in today’s story. Because even though Magic Kingdom has never hosted a Roger Rabbit ride, the Toontown he inspired in California served as the jumping off point for Magic Kingdom’s lost land...
Mickey’s Birthdayland opened in June 1988. It was never meant to last.
After a 60th birthday lasting more than two years, the land was renamed Mickey’s Starland in 1990, simply replacing the Mickey's Birthday Surprise show with Mickey's Starland Show incorporating the Disney Afternoon characters.
Across the country, the 1993 opening of Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland offered a more permanent version of the concept, giving Mickey his own custom-built land that was quite a bit more convincing than Magic Kingdom’s temporary version, if only by way of featuring actual, permanent attractions and a connection to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
Two years after the opening of Toontown, Magic Kingdom’s still-technically-temporary land was briefly renamed Mickey’s Toyland for the 1995 holiday season, still without a ride. But designers were working on a way to make Mickey's Magic Kingdom land feel a little more permanent.
When it re-opened on October 1, 1996 – Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary – it had undergone more than just a name change…
Mickey’s Toontown Fair (Florida – 1996)
“Where does Mickey Mouse live?”
He lives in Toontown, of course…! That’s where you’ll find a bustling town of cartoon stars nestled into the Toontown Hills; it's a metropolis for Mickey and friends, complete with their homes and gardens in a cozy neighborhood and a frantic downtown district. And if you want to see that, you’ll need to go to Disneyland all the way out in California. Like most of us, Mickey only calls one place home.
But where does he vacation? Ah, now we’re talkin’! While Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald and the gang maintain permanent residence at Disneyland, Mickey’s Toontown Fair is their home-away-from-home. As it sounds, Toontown Fair is what you might expect of a rural county fair in a cartoon world... which meant that those old, leftover, temporary birthday tents were now fair tents – a perfectly reasonable explanation! (And a clever, money-saving excuse to explain away the re-use of Birthdayland’s impermanent festival tents without constructing the more expensive, built-out Toontown proper.)
While it may be true that Mickey's Toontown Fair is mostly just a modest redress of Mickey's Birthdayland (and its successors) from a decade earlier, Toontown Fair is by all accounts a more Disney-quality product if only for the inclusion of more to see and do and one ride. The still-small cul-de-sac still features the personal residence of the mouse himself, but now it's Mickey's Country House – Mickey's vacation house when the county fair rolls into town.
Naturally, guests tour past Mickey's bedroom and (under construction) kitchen, pass through a game room, and explore a garden and tool shed out back. To tour Mickey's Country House is a whimsical walkthrough in its own right, but even better, the tour continues through Mickey's comical gardens and out to the Judge's Tent behind, where you can meet the Big Cheese himself:
Across the plaza, a brand new Minnie's House glows expectedly pink with purple frosted gables and heart-shaped weathervanes. The plastic pink house contains as many interactives and hidden details as Mickey's, including – for example – a painting in progress in the front room of... well, it appears to be Goofy riding a biplane directly into his farm's watertower!
Minnie's House may strike an uncomfortable tone to modern sensibilities given that her house is comprised of a living room stocked with fashion magazines, a sewing room, a kitchen (with a memorable "diet cookies" illusion), and a greenhouse sunroom exclusively. But, having been "born" in 1928 herself, Minnie is an old fashioned girl after all.
Neither mouse's house, it should be noted, has a bathroom. Maybe – like us – they need to walk next door to Pete's Garage when nature calls.
Donald's Boat is here, too, but unlike the simple photo-op plywood backdrop of Birthdayland, it's a small splashpad park for families to explore.
Still, the real takeaway from Mickey's Toontown Fair is the first ride to take up residence in the land – The Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacre Farm. You can't miss the marquee – it's an old-fashioned biplane emblazoned with a "G" on its fin, rammed into a wooden watertower. Ahh...!
Goofy is an aeronautical stunt pilot like those who frequented air shows in the early 20th century, performing aerial acrobatics for the awe-struck crowd below. But in true Goofy fashion, things don't seem to have gone particularly well... the path he's carved through the farm gives a new meaning to the term "barnstormer," leaving chaos and clucking chickens in his wake.
Like the rest of Toontown Fair, the journey through Goofy's farm is an attraction itself, passing by popcorn growing on stalks, past Audio Animatronic chickens that erupt with squawks each time a train passes, and beside barns marked by Goofy's cartoon silhouette as if he blasted right through them (in that special way that only a cartoon character can).
Then, guests tour past Goofy's newest engineering design: a "Multiflex Octoplane" with eight individually-articulating segments, each providing two side-by-side seats... Cleverly, Goofy's plane looks quite a bit like a roller coaster train, and it serves as a farm-flying coaster for the whole family.
You can get a glimpse of Goofy's Barnstormer as it makes its way through Wiseacre Farm here:
In fact, the Barnstormer is a fairly simple Vekoma Junior Coaster model, with no less than two identical cousins in Orlando alone – Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster and the Flying Unicorn (soon to become Flight of the Hippogriff). Gadget's Go Coaster back in Anaheim is a clone of the ride, as well.
While the Barnstormer may not be a thrill-seekers dream, it is a convenient stepping stone for Disney World's youngest guests – those who wouldn't dare face Big Thunder Mountain yet.
When Mickey’s Toontown Fair officially opened in 1996, it wasn’t necessarily a headlining attraction, but certainly it was an upgrade from the temporary arrangement that had existed for nearly a decade before. Even still dominated by circus tents, Mickey’s Toontown Fair felt like a land unto itself, separate from Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.
But the first permanent land added to Magic Kingdom wouldn’t end up being so permanent after all… On the last page, we’ll take a look at why Disney closed Mickey’s Toontown Fair… and why it’s not as gone as Disney had originally intended...
Magic in the air
Orlando was a very different place when Mickey's Toontown Fair opened. Universal Studios Florida was the park's closest contender, and its Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone is roughly equivalent to Toontown Fair in terms of scale and scope. But a decade later, things had changed.
In 1999, Universal's Islands of Adventure signaled what the next era of theme parks would look like. Alongside Disney's own Animal Kingdom, it was clear that the next generation of headlining destination parks would look very different from the stark, barren, studio-style "backlots" and the simple, pastel, cartoon motifs of the '90s. Thanks to Universal's staggering new lands like Port of Entry, Seuss Landing, Jurassic Park, Marvel Super Hero Island, and the Lost Legend: The Lost Continent, a new cinematic era of themed entertainment design arose, requiring immersive environments and embedded detail as never before.
In 2010, Universal bested themselves with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, a completely immersive, brick-for-brick, to-scale recreation of the Scottish village from the Harry Potter film series including the towering Hogwarts castle reining over it all.
More than stepping onto a set or even experiencing an E-Ticket attraction, the Wizarding World invited guests into a world, including all the food, drink, and merchandise that comes with it.
Though Disney publicly congratulated Universal on the opening of the Wizarding World, insiders suggested that the land's opening activated Walt Disney World in a way it hadn't been for years...
At once, dirt starting moving at Disney parks as they borrowed from Potter's formula en route to Cars Land, Star Wars lands, Pandora: The World of AVATAR, Marvel super hero lands, Frozen lands... But their first to get off the ground would spell the end of Mickey's Toontown Fair...
New Fantasyland – Take 1
In 2009 – just as Universal put the finishing touches on their Wizarding World – Disney made an unexpected announcement: after nearly four decades of their Fantasyland retaining a simple, Medieval faire, tournament tent style (which Disneyland had done away with in the ‘80s in favor of a European storybook village overlay), Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland would finally receive a facelift of its own, making use of the space vacated a decade before by the closure of the park’s Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues.
Nicknamed Fantasy Forest, the land would borrow from the new formula of immersive, cinematic styling exemplified by Universal’s Islands of Adventure. It would be an enchanted realm that allowed guests to step into their favorite Disney films; to eat, drink, and shop where characters from Beauty and the Beast might; to walk along the seaside hills of Eric’s castle from The Little Mermaid; to step into the oversized world of Pixie Hollow to meet Tinker-Bell and her fairy friends from Disney’s Fairies franchise.
But wait… there was a problem. As fans eagerly studied the artwork that Disney had released of the ambitious expansion, they quickly noticed that the land’s demographic was slightly skewed… Consider the attractions Disney had planned for this growth spurt:
- A meet-and-greet / elaborate walkthrough attraction with Belle from Beauty and the Beast inside her father’s cottage (with the accompanying Be Our Guest restaurant)
- A meet-and-greet with Ariel from The Little Mermaid
- A meet-and-greet with Cinderella inside her stepmother’s Chateau
- A meet-and-greet with Tinkerbell inside an elaborate Pixie Hollow area borrowed from Disneyland, replacing most of Mickey’s Toontown Fair
- A meet-and-greet with Snow White and Aurora in their own dedicated cottages
- A relocated and expanded Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- A new dark ride based on The Little Mermaid, duplicated from the under-construction one at Disney California Adventure
To fans’ count, this brand-new, much-anticipated expansion – touted as “the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom’s history” – amount to six elaborate Disney Princess meet-and-greets… and a net one new ride. The entirety of Mickey’s Toontown Fair would be bulldozed to make way for Pixie Hollow, salvaging only the county-fair-themed Barnstormer and a relocated Dumbo to create a mini-circus area.
Fans were quick to push back against the expansion, countering that if this was meant to be Disney’s answer to the Wizarding World – the must-see expansion to lure guests back from Universal – they would need to try harder. And surprisingly… they did.
Two years after the announcement of New Fantasyland, Imagineers returned to the semi-annual D23 Expo to announce the expansion again, but with a few key edits… While immersive themed areas dedicated to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid remained, the rest of the land had evolved.
The forested “island” of meet-and-greets in the center of the land had been scrapped and replaced with the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train – a swinging, slaloming ride through the Dwarves’ gem-mines – half family coaster, half dark ride. (Albeit, that forced the closure of Fantasyland’s Lost Legend: Snow White’s Scary Adventures so that the former dark ride space could be used as an all-in-one Princess Fairytale Hall meet-and-greet).
As for Disney’s plans to raze Mickey’s Toontown Fair in favor of Pixie Hollow?
The updated artwork for New Fantasyland confirmed that the circus tents of Toontown Fair would now remain… but the standalone land would not.
Mickey’s Toontown Fair closed forever on February 12, 2011. It was absorbed into Fantasyland, becoming a standalone corner of the land stylized as if a turn-of-the-century circus had come to town. Lovingly re-crafted, the land’s cartoon facades and structures fell. The tents were re-shaped with vintage colors and patterns, becoming meet-and-greets with Mickey’s friends in their classic circus apparel.
The tent-arched train station became the redbrick Carolwood Park Fantasyland Station, giving it a sense of time and place – a small town depot in the age of the steam train, decked out in detail and storytelling.
Goofy’s Barnstormer was redressed as well, replacing the plastic cartoon queue through Goofy’s farm with a circus daredevil ace theme featuring The Great Goofini – a seeming call-out to early Goofy animated shorts. The relocated and expanded Dumbo (with a prototype circus-playground queue) adds to the story of the area, as do references to Casey Junior and other classic Dumbo characters.
Roger Rabbit may never have gotten his ride at Walt Disney World, and the Toontown Fair his story (indirectly) inspired didn’t last very long, either. The good news is that the story of Toontown Fair and its eventual elimination fold nicely in the category of Disney Parks tales wherein, in retrospect, the right thing happened. While it would’ve been a sincere and lasting shame to loose Toontown Fair to a stagnant Pixie Hollow meet-and-greet, its re-use as Storybook Circus is an improvement over Toontown Fair in most all regards.
But that doesn’t stop the lost land from being a source of wonderful memories for Disney Parks guests. While it lacked the permanence and detail Disney is supposed to be known for, Mickey’s Toontown Fair was a thoughtful, clever re-use of Mickey’s Birthdayland, and a thrifty adaptation of a land that could’ve simply been closed decades ago as planned.
In its closure, the pieces of Mickey’s Toontown Fair that most mattered have all survived, and typically in much-improved form. As the Storybook Circus, the ingredients that made up the micro-land have been given the timelessness and realism they needed, even if it leaves Magic Kingdom without a pastel cartoon wonderland for kids.
The only true downside? Now when kids ask, “Where does Mickey Mouse live?” the answer will be, “He has houses in California and Tokyo.”
If you're the kind of Disney Parks fan who enjoys studying the history of lost attractions, be sure to make the jump to our industry-renowned In-Depth Collection Library, where you can set course for your favorite forgotten attractions of yesteryear. Then, use the comments below to share your memories of Mickey's Toontown Fair. Was it taken too soon? Or is Storybook Circus an improvement over this land that was never really meant to last?