The theme park attraction of our Hayao Miyazaki-inspired dreams has just been designed by John Ramirez, a Disney animator and former freelance Imagineer—the elite group of engineers who design Disneyland rides and attractions. It's an immersive take on Miyazaki's 1988 classic My Neighbor Totoro, featuring a tour through the Kusakabes' countryside home, a journey through the bushes in which young Mei first meets Totoro, and a section based on the stunning Catbus journey. From what we can tell, it would be a lot like the Haunted Mansion, but delivering childhood thrills instead of bump-in-the-night chills.
Ramirez has worked on flagship Disney films like Beauty of the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules, Tarzan, and Toy Story 2. He is currently a storyboard artist on the upcoming Disney Channel TV show Elena of Avalor, which features the company's first Latina princess. As an Imagineer, he designed a series walkthrough attractions that explains how Disney's animation process works, as well as general design and parades for Disney's parks in Asia. Alongside his storyboard work, he's also hard at work helping with the design of an Elena of Avalor area at Disneyland. This is all to say that Ramirez is a serious Disney guy, with a very welcome hand in a lot of the stories and experiences that Disney fans love.
While the internet has fallen in love with the idea since Kotaku broke the story late last week, Ramirez doesn't intend for the Totoro ride to be built. "I designed this ride purely for fun," he tells The Creators Project. His most substiantial Ghibli-themed idea is a parade, the details of which he's keeping under wraps for the time being. "When Kotaku asked me about the Totoro Ride concept and I explained about my Ghibli parade concept, they got the facts mixed up and thought I’d been pitching the ride concept to Studio Ghibli. Then the story got picked up and it turned into 'Disney pitching Totoro ride,'" he clarifies. "Yikes!"
For the Totoro Ride to actually come to fruition would be unprecedented, according to Ramirez. "To my knowledge, this kind of thing has never happened," he says. "Rides and attractions have been saved at Disneyland because the guests love them, but to see a design, like the one I did in my free time, get made because I put it online… it’s never happened. This isn’t a Disney project, so I didn’t submit it as an employee. I didn’t expect it to blow up on the internet like it did!" In a time where internet virality can earn $55,000 for a potato salad, respark interest in a gritty superhero movie, and give fans the money they need to remake popular anime—well, there's a first time for everything
While Ramirez sees his Totoro Ride largely as a fun idea, much like the Ghibliland concept developed by Japanese artist Takumi, he does have a serious proposal for the crowd at Studio Ghibli. "I designed and pitched a concept for a parade, but so far Miyazaki-san has said no," he explains. "I haven't given up yet. Maybe this news with my Totoro ride will put me in the spotlight with the studio and they might reconsider."