Visiting Disneyland is an experience full of stimulation. The sights, the sounds, the days full of activity and scurrying from one ride to the next. It can be overwhelming at any age, but particularly for young visitors.
Enter Mickey’s newly reimagined Toontown with its inviting open green spaces designed for picnicking and relaxing; calming centerpiece fountain that provides soothing water sounds, and a neighborhood full of attractions created to be visually and auditorily approachable for those overwhelmed by loud or bright sensory stimulation.
After a yearlong closure of the space, which was originally constructed in 1993, Disneyland provided media with an advance look of Mickey’s Toontown this past weekend amid great fanfare, before officially reopening it to the public on Sunday.
Disneyland President Ken Potrock was on hand for a festive dedication ceremony to commemorate Toontown’s new chapter, as were some of Disney’s most beloved characters—Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy Duck and Goofy, among others.
Speaking to a crowd that included dozens of young children eagerly waiting to explore the refreshed space (which fully lives up to its name and looks like a fantastical cartoon that magically sprang to life) Potrock said Toontown has achieved a “new standard” for Disneyland and one that the creators are extremely proud of.
“One of the things that went into this was care and thoughtfulness,” Potrock said. “We wanted to make sure that to all of our guests, especially our children with a variety of different capabilities and abilities, that this was a welcoming place for everyone.”
The reimagined space retains many beloved features such as Mickey and Minnie’s houses, but now also includes elements designed for children of all ages and all needs. The entire area, for instance, is wheelchair accessible with wide flat avenues and easy-to-access play spaces and structures. Toontown has also been freshly repainted in soft, soothing colors. Even the music you’ll hear here has been carefully chosen to be more soothing.
In CarTOONial Park, there are water tables for kids to play in and an area that was specifically created to allow babies to crawl safely. There’s also a dreaming tree here with sculpted roots for children to explore.
Nearby, The interior of Goofy’s house offers another quiet and engaging play area featuring a series of interactive games that allow visitors to do such things as sort make believe candy by flavor and color. There’s also a kinetic ball feature in Goofy’s house and designers took special care to suppress the noise of the air compressors for this element, so as not to overwhelm visitors who have sensory sensitivities.
Donald’s Duck Pond, meanwhile, allows young visitors to get the wiggles out. The pond features Donald’s boat surrounded by larger-than-life spinning water lilies, balance beams, and rocking toys. Young visitors can look into the boat’s portholes and see the famous faces of Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webby.
Years of thought, work, and planning went into updating Toontown and more than a few members of Disney’s uber-creative Imagineering team were on hand Saturday to discuss their efforts and goals. Among those present for the dedication ceremony was Elliott Rosenbaum, a creative producer with Disney’s Imagineering team, who shared details of the long journey that led to Saturday’s reopening.
“We went out into the wild, if you will, to do a little bit of research. In this case, it was to understand how play has evolved over the last 30 years…What we found is that some things about play really have evolved, ” Rosenbaum explained. “The way that we think about play for guests for differing abilities, we wanted to make sure it’s approachable and that we could remove barriers to play in every way.”
Examples abound around Toontown of barriers that have been eliminated. For instance, outside Goofy’s playhouse, there’s a series of colorful slides. At the bottom of the slides are extended landing areas that were designed to allow riders who need it, more time and space to get back up.
“This is for guests that may need more time, after they’ve used the slide, to return to a wheelchair perhaps. They can scooch out of the way not feel pressured by other users who are waiting to come down the slide,” Rosenbaum explained.
The Imagineering team’s research also allowed them to discover that many things about play have stayed the same over the past three decades, said Rosenbaum, and Toontown addresses this reality as well.
Kids still love the opportunity to run around an open space, to pull levers, push buttons and to make silly things happen in their environment. All of those things were brought into the design process for Toontown’s reimagination and can be found in the space in some form or fashion today.
The centerpiece of the Toontown is the El Capitoon Theater, where park goers can ride Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Notably, this ride does not include any age or height restrictions, allowing entire families to experience it together without having to leave anyone behind.
Children with roller coaster anxiety meanwhile, can enjoy Chip ’n’ Dale’s Gadget coaster, which is a ‘fun-sized’ coaster rather than a daunting, steep rollercoaster that may scare off some park visitors.
A third ride in Toontown, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, was a pre-existing attraction and is one that continues to deliver family fun. The ride, inspired by the Who Framed Roger Rabbit movie, features yellow cabs that spin 360 degrees and a crazy, vivid course that showcases the movie’s many characters and antics.
While most playgrounds and play spaces these days are designed to accommodate kids from age two to about 12 years old, Toontown—both its pre-existing features and it’s newest additions— is a space that Imagineers say can be enjoyed by all ages.
“Really, young and old and children at heart—everyone is welcome to play here,” said Ryan Wineinger-Schattel, a senior creative director for Disney Imagineering.
As you explore the renewed Toontown, the three key words that come to mind at every turn. Decompressing, relaxing, and welcoming. Disneyland has clearly achieved its aim with this latest project. And then some.
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