Barely a day goes by on Disney Parks social media without something becoming a topic of debate, and especially at Disneyland – where just about every square foot is considered holy ground – it doesn't take much to get fans talking.
A common refrain among Parks enthusiasts is that those who get worked up over inconsequential details should "Touch grass!" – that is, get outside, get some fresh air, and figure out what really matters! In this case, though, touching grass is exactly the problem. An ongoing refresh to Disneyland's Toontown – the first phase of which is now open – has seen a long-standing fountain replaced by artificial turf...
Is it another apocalyptic chip away at Disney Parks legacy? Or an improvement that, in practice, will make Toontown ever better? We'll let you decide when we dig into the details of what used to be, what it's become, and why?...
Mickey's Toontown originally opened at Disneyland in 1993. Largely based on the runaway success of 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the land brought to life a version of Toontown from the film complete with inflated, cartoonish, squashed-and-stretched architecture drawn from the style of Max Fleischer cartoons from the '30s and '40s.
Toontown was roughly divided into two neighborhoods. Guests entered via a "downtown" area built around a fountain of Roger Rabbit, with city blocks of punny facades, photo opportunities, and interactive gags (for example, depressing the handle of a TNT send sparklers crackling and flashing in an upstairs, charred "Fireworks Factory"). Accessed via the Toontown Cab Co. just beyond the fountain resided Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin – an anchor attraction and spinning dark ride for the land.
Connected to downtown via the Jolly Trolley (or, of course, just a few steps away) was the second neighborhood – a residential cul-de-sac nestled in the "Toontown Hills." Aside from Mickey's House and Minnie's House walkthrough / meet-and-greets, attractions within the neighborhood included Goofy's Bounce House (where children removed their shoes and bounced on inflatable floors and furniture), Donald's Boat (a multi-level splash pad), Chip & Dale's Treehouse (complete with spiral stairs, rope bridge, slide, and "acorn ball crawl" filling the root level), and Gadget's Go Coaster. Basically, Toontown had big '90s family entertainment center energy with bounce houses, slides, ball pits, and more.
Looking back now, it's clear that – for better or worse – the standards of "play" have changed a lot since 1993. Especially in the lawsuit-happy culture of the United States, can you blame Disney for taking the "bounce" out of Goofy's Bounce House, the ball pit and slide (frequent cause of bloody noses, and allegedly at least one broken leg) out of Chip and Dale's Treehouse, and the wet stairs out of Donald's Boat? Even the Jolly Trolley was parked in place given the low-capacity ride's pitfalls. More to the point, imagine having a child who uses a wheelchair; a child with sensory issues; a child who prefers to stick with a parent; a toddler. For them, Toontown offered almost nothing to do, leaning entirely into inaccessible "playground" style features like stairs, slides, climbing nets, and more.
For many, many years, fans expected that Toontown's time was short. Between immersive, big-budget "New Fantasylands" in Orlando and Tokyo and Frozen themed areas in Paris and Hong Kong, it seemed almost certain that eventually, Disney would level Toontown and use the precious real estate it inhabited in the landlocked park to bring Arendelle to life.
But in 2019, Disney made the surprise announcement that Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway – the trackless dark ride developed for Disney's Hollywood Studios – would make its way out to California, becoming a new E-Ticket anchor for Toontown! That meant that Toontown was going to stick around... which meant it needed a facelift.
Mickey's Toontown closed entirely on March 9, 2022. Already shielded from the rest of Disneyland, the complete closure would give Imagineers the opportunity not just to construct the "El Capitoon Theater" serving as Runaway Railway's entrance (and encase the land in new cartoon hills to hide the ride's showbuilding), but to "plus" the land by upgrading its play features to universally-accessible, modern, and refreshed versions with more to do, more shade, and more space to relax... And that's where things get controversial...