Mickey’s Toontown opened at Disneyland in 1993, inspired by the wild world of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” But now, after a year of shutting down and updating, Toontown is doubling down on Mickey Mouse and his pals while adding patches of picnic-ready green space that gets the kids out of the strollers and running free.
The hope is that Toontown 2.0 becomes a place that prioritizes imaginative and interactive play, specifically for younger children. While the area’s attractions are designed to accommodate as wide an audience as possible, the play spaces are generally defined as being geared toward children ages 2-12.
The new Toontown is part of a broader movement to refocus theme park experiences around rides, helping foster communication among friends, family, and even park-goers. A line could be drawn from the joyous food of Toontown’s playground to the digitally focused gaming at nearby Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the large-scale interactivity of lands like Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Every aspect of the reimagined Toontown, which officially opened today, was designed with the game in mind, right down to the paint color.
When Disneyland’s Toontown opened its doors 30 years ago, it was full of harsh biases and brash colors: a wildly painted world based on clashes of style and tone rather than narrative cohesion. Take a walk through your update, and one major change is immediately apparent: Colors are muted, and they finally sit in harmony with each other.
Gone are the colors that look like they were created by CGI, and in their place is a more painterly feel. In turn, Toontown no longer feels disconnected from the rest of the park. It still has buildings and houses full of deliberately disjointed curves and tilts, but overall, Toontown has drawn ever so lightly from Disneyland’s comforting and cozy version of reality. Such a change in style wasn’t done simply to bring the terrain in line with modern tastes, says Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s arm that oversees its theme park experiences.
Child development concepts are at stake.
The designers, says Elliott Rosenbaum, creative producer for Toontown, “wanted to make sure the color palette of the terrain was softer, a little softer. There is movement in the game, especially in toddlers and toddler development, to make sure you are providing both decompression and stimulation. We know that Disneyland can be a very exhilarating experience. We wanted Toontown to be a relaxing, decompressing experience. It’s heavily inspired by nature – the softer tones feel easier on the eye because they’re largely drawn from nature’s palettes.”
It’s a change.
More and more, our worlds, and especially our theme parks, seem to be game-oriented. “The game is necessary for development,” says Ryan Wineinger, Toontown’s senior creative director. “It is biologically necessary. It’s the first move where you learn about who you are, what risks you want to take, what you’re comfortable committing to, what preferences you have. For children, they are experimenting with what they will ultimately be. The game is the foundation of that.
“Let them be here. And you’ll notice that things are a bit big on the ground as well, so adults who maybe haven’t played in a while can interact with that childlike spirit.”
Maintaining that childlike spirit is vital, and even as an adult visiting Toontown with friends and their kids, I felt the urge to jump in a big lily pad-shaped swivel chair off of Donald’s boat. Goofy’s House, once a jumping place, is now a candy factory of sorts. It’s a more inclusive design that allows adults and children of all mobility to participate together, turning standard kitchen items into pace-setting machines. Games, by requiring us to learn and participate, encourage us to be present in the moment and to focus on those with whom we are.
Games are also conversation tools. The game helps to break down our natural barriers safely by creating railings that allow us to goof around. Specifically, games allow us to be vulnerable, showing sides of ourselves that often go unseen.
“Play is critical for growth and independence, and that’s very important to us as a team,” says Wineinger. “It is also very important that families and friends can play together. This is an opportunity for moms and dads to play with their sons and daughters and cousins and play together and strengthen community ties through a shared experience.”
The reinvented Toontown is anchored by the new ride, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, a celebration of modern animation that opened in January. But a big goal for the land as a whole was to re-prioritize green spaces. At the entrance to Toontown, next to a vibrant new Mickey and Minnie-focused fountain is CenTOONial Park and a large tree whose oversized roots could be used as small slides or leaning poles for the most contemplative setting. They also provide space to crawl under and around.
Multiple green spaces include a large plot of land in front of the very fine and dark Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin ride, which has survived the transition. That plot had been home to a 1988 movie-themed fountain. Wineinger says the research indicated families needed more open areas on a play-focused lot.
“In our benchmarking that we did many years ago with our own young families, we laughed because no matter how cool the place we took them was, if there was a yard and trees, they found it and loved it just as much as the really cool slides.” says Wineinger. “We learned from them that it is necessary to give them the opportunity to let off steam without demands and just be with nature. So, as a philosophy to make this land something that is young, family friendly and friendly, it became important that half of it be green and under natural shade.”
And full of water. Donald Duck’s boat is a carryover from the land’s previous incarnation, much like Chip ‘n’ Dale’s GadgetCoaster, but the boat is now surrounded on one side by a small splash pad. And Mickey and Minnie’s central fountain is designed to be touched: At its base are mini fountains—Imagineering calls them “water tables”—in which water shoots up and out, inviting guests to drench their hands. hands.
“Water is a challenge,” says Rosenbaum, adding that her team wanted to encourage children to play without becoming overstimulated or agitated. “The water was the first stop in each of the destinations we visited, and we realized that it is because it is so relaxing to touch and captivate. So it’s like the perfect play.”
A design that could be attractive and suitable for all children was also vital. To that end, all of Toontown’s curbs have been removed, to make it easier to get around in a stroller or wheelchair, and the slides have “dignity breaks,” allowing more time to get on your feet without turning into the center of attention. The sounds have also been toned down, so Toontown is still full of engaging and distracting noises. (A beehive will buzz near Goofy’s house.) The hope is that one sound will give way to another instead of competing for attention.
And for adults who don’t want to join their kids on a slide, the reimagined land is outfitted with benches around the free play areas.
“Pretty much, when we think about a young family’s experience at Disneyland, there’s a lot of time kids are being pushed around in a stroller,” says Rosenbaum. “We wanted an opportunity where kids could get out of the stroller and run, crawl, and roll around, and we provided grassy areas where kids could do that. And parents can relax a bit: sit in the shade and watch the kids run. I think it tonally changes the experience you might have at a theme park.”