Former Imagineer Jim Shull Talks Kids ‘Making a Deposit’ in Old Mickey’s Toontown Ball Pit

Shannen Ace

Former Imagineer Jim Shull Talks Kids ‘Making a Deposit’ in Old Mickey’s Toontown Ball Pit

In our interview with former Imagineer Jim Shull about Mickey’s Toontown, he talked about the old Acorn Crawl ball pit at Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Treehouse.

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Shull worked for Walt Disney Imagineering for nearly 33 years, retiring in late 2020. He worked on the original Mickey’s Toontown in Disneyland, which opened in 1993, as well as some of the more recent initiatives to update the land at Disneyland. Our discussion with Shull took a rather messy turn when the discussion turned to the Acorn Crawl at Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Treehouse.

Mickey’s Toontown opened in 1993 and the Acorn Crawl was at the bottom of the now-defunct walkthrough treehouse attraction. The ball pit, which used acorn-shaped balls, only lasted about five years. Shull shed some light on the messy details that led to replacing this attraction.

Shull first went through the thought pattern that led to its installation within Mickey’s Toontown.

“Kids love them,” Shull explained to us, referring to the Imagineers researching play areas. “Little kids love ball crawls. You know, they jump in them, they throw balls at each other, they spin around, they burrow. Great. We’re gonna build a ball crawl.”

While no one contended with the simple love that children have for ballpits, in true Imagineering fashion, the team turned next to making a ball pit that would be a truly immersive Disney experience. While Chip and Dale seemed like the perfect candidates for this play feature, the team thought traditional balls just wouldn’t cut it and elected to use crafted acorn-shaped balls, instead.

“Suddenly, we’re building, I think it was 8,000 acorns,” Shull explained. “And, you know, acorns, it’s gonna get dirty, so we had an acorn washing machine behind Chip and Dale’s Acorn Crawl and that took care of the problem, doesn’t it? I mean, doesn’t that make sense?”

While an acorn washing machine sounds like an elaborate way of keeping the play area clean, it turned out not to be enough for the mess to which the Acorn Crawl would be exposed.

“Little kids also do one other thing in a ball crawl,” Shull shared. “And, you know, ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy, I’m gonna get… ‘Wait no, I’ll do…’ ‘What? What are you…?’ ‘Mommy? Too late.’ And so, what, you know, your child left behind in the ball crawls… Those balls start to turn and spin and there’s a…”

While you may not initially consider it, accidents from young kiddos who left more than they brought to the Acorn Crawl at Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Treehouse occurred often. The mess left behind was hardly isolated or easy to clean.

“Physics is interesting. There’s something called wicking, and so, when you make a deposit on one ball, suddenly it kind of migrates, and so all thousands of balls suddenly get coated.”

“And so now you have this ball crawl that there’s no ball crawl acorn [washing] machine that could possibly — on this planet, in this universe, in this multiverse — that could clean those acorns.”

“And they were brown, too, weren’t they?” Tom asked.

“They didn’t start brown,” said Shull.

While the Acorn Crawl was removed just five years after its installation, Chip ‘N’ Dale’s Treehouse remained until last year when the reimagining of Mickey’s Toontown really began to unfold at Disneyland.

In our interview with former Imagineer Jim Shull, he also discussed some of the early ideas for Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland Park, including a ride inspired by “The Little Mermaid” or “Winnie the Pooh” that eventually became Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin.

Watch our full interview with Jim Shull below, including discussions of the original slides on Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Treehouse and Donald’s Boat, and Goofy’s original bounce house.

Watch our Full Interview with Jim Shull Below:

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