Disneyland Resort celebrates Disney100 with new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride, new Nighttime Spectaculars and more — while honoring the history of Disney.
Oh, how different the country was in 1923.
Just five years removed from World War I, women had just won the right to vote and the population of California was less than the population of Los Angeles today. Barely a third of Americans owned a phone, even less had indoor plumbing and electricity and Orange County was an agricultural community.
When local developers erected massive letters on a hillside overlooking LA, it was to sell homes in a new development then called “Hollywoodland.” The movies were silent and almost no one even owned a radio.
Walt and Roy Disney took a big chance and formed the Disney Brothers Studio in Hollywood that year, despite New York City being the home of animation at the time. But it made sense for them: Walt wanted to direct live action movies and Roy was recovering from tuberculosis.
They toiled through a series of shorts with different partners, but when 1927’s “The Jazz Singer” ushered in sound for the movies, Walt saw an opportunity. He developed a little fella called Mickey Mouse and used synchronized sound for Mickey’s first film, “Steamboat Willie.”
A century later, Walt Disney’s company, though it changed names a few times over the decades, has become the biggest entertainment company on the planet and generations of people around the world all have their own memories of Mickey as the celebration of Disney100, the company’s centennial, begins.
“Disney’s been around for so long now, and so many of us have grown up watching all these different Disney animated films. Think about when all of us individually met Mickey for the first time,” says Disneyland spokesperson Philander Butler.
“Was it in ‘Fantasia’? Or ‘Prince and the Pauper’? Or ‘Christmas Carol’? There are so many ways. So, I like to think about how all families are connected to Disney in some way, but what was their introduction? And what was their favorite thing?” Butler says. “As they enjoy the celebration, I hope they take advantage of how we are featuring different aspects of our 100-year history throughout the resort. We’re all enjoying the same thing, but starting our journey with Disney in different ways.”
Disney100 is really a look back and look forward at the same time. In both Disneyland and California Adventure.
Reminders of Disney’s history are everywhere in the park any day of the year, but it’s been beefed up for 2023, including purple and silver bunting along the walkways, a new ride that utilizes cutting-edge tech to celebrate Mickey’s cartoon history called Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, new nighttime centennial shows — “Wondrous Journeys” and “One” — that also feature new tech, a new centennial parade called “Magic Happens,” and a refurbished Toontown.
Disney insiders offered some essential details on some of the new attractions and entertainment.
A Nighttime Spectacular
How do you encompass 100 years of classic filmmaking and innovation with one outdoor show? That was the monumental task faced by a group of creatives from Disneyland and the studios in Burbank recently.
Roger Gould, creative director of the creative legacy team at the Disney Animation Studios, describes the unique struggle in putting together the new show, “Wondrous Journeys.”
“It’s an extraordinary thing because we began with the idea that we’re going to celebrate 100 years of Walt Disney animation studios. Over 60 feature films. It’s too much,” Gould says. “We had to decide how do we compress that into a nighttime spectacular. We started by asking, ‘What is the movie, the scene or even the moment that made you fall in love with animation and brought you here?’ For me, it was ‘Pinocchio.’”
The story told in the combination music/pyrotechnics/state-of-the-art projection show is that of artistic inspiration itself. “You’ll see concept art, pencil sketches, pencil animation, early 2D animation and more recent CG animation. Basically going on a journey, finding joy, hoping, despair, triumph and coming back together.”
And which characters would appear was no easier a process.
“Every animated film is somebody’s favorite. No matter how obscure you think it is,” Gould says. “So, we were trying to strike that balance of beloved classics with also really trying to celebrate the whole history of the studio.”
Because it was so difficult to include as much as they did, it created an opportunity for true Disneyphiles to get a fuller experience, if they’re willing to work for it.
“You can’t do it in a single viewing,” Gould says, “but if you come and watch it at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, then go watch it on Main Street, come back and watch it another time on It’s a Small World, and then, watch it at Rivers of America, you have the possibility of seeing a character or moment from every one of our 61 — 62 this November — features represented in the entire show.”
The central storyline appears no matter where you see the show, but Gould says, “one place you might get a wink of ‘Home on the Range,’ another place, ‘Meet the Robinsons’ or ‘Dinosaur’ or ‘101 Dalmatians’ or ‘Chicken Little’ or ‘Robin Hood.’ So, you’re going to have to be really eagle-eyed to see all of those.”
Step Into The Cartoon
The newest ride at Disneyland is not the manifestation of the Marvel or Star Wars universes. It’s something Walt probably would have loved. Maybe even felt a personal connection to, had he lived to see it.
“Mickey and Minnie are premiering their newest film, ‘Perfect Picnic,’ and we are invited to see it. Because we’re in Toontown, something is going to go a little awry,” says Jonathan Friday, senior creative director of Walt Disney Imagineering, as he begins the pitch for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
“While we’re watching that film, we’re going to have an unexpected moment that allows us to step into that cartoon world and board a train engineered by Goofy,” Friday says. “With Goofy as engineer, nothing goes exactly as planned and it’s up to Mickey and Minnie to rescue us through a variety of colorful, crazy cartoon environments and bring us back together for the big finish.”
The ride harnesses the same trackless technology used in the cutting-edge Rise of the Resistance and Web Slingers attractions, but throws you into a retro-style Mickey cartoon that is the biggest celebration of Disney’s roots outside of the Main Street Cinema still showing “Steamboat Willie.”
“Walt once said, ‘It all started with a mouse,’ and as we celebrate 100 years of Disney, bringing Mickey and Minnie to their first permanent ride-through attraction at Disneyland is a pretty exciting way to celebrate that,” says Friday.
But getting the attraction right from beginning to end meant more than celebration, it meant diligence.
“For us as designers, as soon as you say it’s for Mickey and Minnie, you feel the pressure,” Friday says. “They have been our friends for 95 years. We look at all their past works and brought that to this queue in this [faux] exhibit The Toontown Hysterical Society has created called ‘Mickey Through the Ears.’ We have props and costumes and objects from Mickey’s film career everywhere.”
Allison Wong, graphic designer for Disney Imagineering says the queue alone took “a lot of research. And specifically, we knew this theater was going to be art deco inspired, and because it’s in Mickey’s Toontown, we wanted it to fit in, so we created ‘Toon Deco,’ which is taking Art Deco elements and kind of over-exaggerating and making it more fun and playful and giving us that style of the El Capitoon.”
But Wong and Friday also made sure to include their own Easter eggs for the Disneyphiles.
“They are going to be overwhelmed,” Wong says. “We did so much brainstorming on all the fan faves and we’ve tried to include as much as we can, like Minnie’s nieces, who aren’t often seen. We’ve showcased in a movie poster.”
Friday motions to the phony concession stand behind him in the queue area as he talks. “If guests check out the popcorn machine, they might notice some of them look like our favorite friends’ silhouettes.”
Inside the ride, Friday says some of the architecture reveals special dates. “You might find dates like 1928, the year Mickey was born, or 1901, the year Walt Disney was born. You might find more hidden Mickeys too. There are four cars to every train and every car gets a slightly different experience. You don’t just follow in a line. Your chances to see things are going to be a little different every time you ride it.
“I think this attraction meets you where you are,” Friday says. “For the casual fan, it offers an amazing musical romp with Mickey and Minnie. If you are a fan who comes to Disneyland often, there’s going to be those little details in every shadow that will be new every time.”
100 Years of The Walt Disney Company
- Oct. 16, 1923: Walt Disney signed a contract with M.J. Winkler to produce a series of Alice Comedies — the date is used as the start of the Disney company, first known as The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio
- March 1, 1924: Release of first Alice Comedies short film — “Alice’s Day at Sea”
- Nov. 18, 1928: “Steamboat Willie” is released at the Colony Theatre in New York — the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, and first appearance of Minnie Mouse
- Jan. 13, 1930: Mickey Mouse comic strip begins
- Sept. 5, 1930: “The Chain Gang,” first appearance of Pluto, is released, though he does not receive the name Pluto until “The Moose Hunt” (1931)
- Nov. 1930: First Disney book (Mickey Mouse book)
- July 30, 1932: “Flowers and Trees,” first full-color cartoon and first Academy Award winner, is released
- Nov. 15, 1932: Art school formed at the Disney studio to train animators
- June 1933: First Mickey Mouse watch is sold by Ingersoll
- June 9, 1934: “The Wise Little Hen,” first appearance of Donald Duck, is released
- Dec. 21, 1937: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” first feature-length animated film, is released at the Carthay Circle Theater, Los Angeles
- Nov. 13, 1940: “Fantasia” is released
- Dec. 21, 1948: “Seal Island,” first true-life adventure is released
- Feb. 18, 1953: “The Alaskan Eskimo,” first people and places film is released
- July 19, 1950: “Treasure Island,” first completely live-action feature is released
- Oct. 27, 1954: First airing of “Disneyland” TV show
- July 17, 1955: Opening of Disneyland
- Oct. 3, 1955: First program of the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show
- June 23, 1963: Enchanted Tiki Room opens, first use of all-new “audio-animatronics” technology
- Dec. 15, 1966: Walt Disney dies
- Oct. 1, 1971: Opening of Walt Disney World
- Oct. 1980: First home video titles released
- April 15, 1983: Tokyo Disneyland opens
- April 18, 1983: The Disney Channel begins broadcasting
- Jan. 9, 1987: Star Tours, built in collaboration with George Lucas, opens at Disneyland
- April 12, 1992: Euro Disney opens
- Oct. 8, 1993: Inaugural game of the Mighty Ducks NHL team at The Anaheim Pond
- Nov. 13, 1997: “The Lion King” stage production opens on Broadway
- April 22, 1998: Opening of Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World
- March 31, 1999: Disney buys the Anaheim Angels major league baseball team
- Feb. 8, 2001: Disney’s California Adventure opens
- Sept. 12, 2005: Hong Kong Disneyland opens
- Dec. 31, 2009: Disney acquires Marvel Entertainment
- Dec. 21, 2012: Disney acquires Lucasfilm
- June 16, 2016: Shanghai Disneyland opens
- May 31, 2019: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens at Disneyland
- Nov. 12, 2019: Disney+ streaming service debuts
- June 04, 2021: Avengers Campus opens at California Adventure
By Shawn Price