Exhibit Review: Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives

| October 17, 2013 | 4 Replies

UPDATE: This exhibit has been extended through January 4, 2015.

Post by David Zanolla

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, so our family visited the Museum of Science and Industry quite often.  Over the years, we enjoyed many special touring exhibits revolving around subjects such as The Muppets and artifacts of the Titanic.  Needless to say, when D23 contacted The DIS/wdwinfo.com and asked if there was anyone in the Chicagoland area that would cover the media opening of their new “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” exhibit, I jumped at the chance.  The special exhibit, which will run through August 3, 2014, is being presented by Disney’s official fan club, D23.  Appropriately, this special collection made its debut on October 16th, the 90th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company.  Walt Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois, so it seems fitting that treasured items in his company’s archives would be on display in the same area where it all began.

David Mosena (President and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry) and Becky Cline (Director of the Walt Disney Archives) join Mickey Mouse on stage at the grand opening ceremony for the "Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" exhibit.

David Mosena (President and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry) and Becky Cline (Director of the Walt Disney Archives) join Mickey Mouse on stage at the grand opening ceremony for the “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” exhibit.

IMG_1994

A banner advertising the opening date of the exhibit.

The main entrance/lobby of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL.

The main entrance/lobby of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL.

IMG_1995

A banner visible as you head up the escalators into the museum.

On opening day, there was a quartet (sporting mouse ears) playing Disney music as visitors entered the main atrium.  The blue background was only erected for the opening ceremony and all that remains is the large vertical banner.

On opening day, there was a quartet (sporting mouse ears) playing Disney music as visitors entered the main atrium. The blue background was only erected for the opening ceremony and all that remains is the large vertical banner.

It is worth noting that the Museum of Science and Industry is an amazing destination in and of itself, in part due to the focus on hands-on/interactive experiences throughout the building.  The temporary addition of this exhibit only raises the incentive for anyone within driving distance to plan a visit.  The exhibit, presented by D23, only costs an additional $9 for adults and $7 for children (ages 3-11).  Museum and D23 Gold and Silver Members get special discounted pricing.  All tickets can be purchased at www.msichicago.org.

The exhibit does an admirable job of showcasing artifacts from many different areas of the company’s history.  There are the expected pieces from early in Walt’s life and career, but those items just scratch the surface of the over 300 ‘treasures’ from the Disney Archives.  The exhibit space is divided into the following categories:

  • The Early Years
  • Early Hollywood
  • Animation Tools & Techniques
  • Walt: Showman of the World
  • Mary Poppins
  • Theme Parks
  • Disney Today
  • Animation Academy

It’s no secret that the Walt Disney Company is an organization with storytelling at its foundation.  When asked of the underlying story of this museum experience, Nicholas Vega, Manager, Collections & Exhibits at the Walt Disney Archives, said, “It comes down to the idea and notion of innovation.  Walt, during his lifetime, and now even the Company today always wanted to push that border and not be afraid to take risks.” He continued, “When you have the time to read the labels and stand back and look at each vignette for what they are, [whether] individual vignettes of Walt’s office or the animator’s desk or [a section on] live action, and you string them together, you can see that they’re all held together by that string of innovation.”  I can confirm that the theme of innovation, both by Walt Disney himself and the company which bears his name, has made its way into this exhibit in a grand way.

IMG_2163

Specifically, as you enter the Early Hollywood section, you come across the original telegram Walt sent to his brother Roy after losing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  This item is part of a foundational story of the Walt Disney Company and it’s only feet in front of every visitor.  Some may criticize this exhibit by saying something along the lines of, “many of these things have been on display before.”  And while that may be true (specifically at the Reagan President Library this past summer), they are coming to the Midwest where people who may have never visited either theme park coast can have the opportunity to see them up close.  As a fan of Disney history (I teach a collegiate course on the culture of the Disney theme parks), this exhibit delivered.  My two sons (7 and 5) love Disney history as well and I cannot wait to bring them back to visit this amazing collection.  It is the perfect setup to let the individual pieces tell the story of the Company, no matter your age.

Instead of walking through the entire exhibit display by display, I’ve decided to share some of the pieces that stood out to me.  A museum exhibit is always a difficult event about which to write, because its very purpose is to allow you to not look at pictures from afar, but to experience it in person.  I could show you the 300+ pictures I took and tell you about every plaque, photo and artifact, but that wouldn’t do it justice; you need to find a way to get to Chicago to take in this exhibit (and the museum itself).  However, since there will be some of you who can’t make that trip, here’s what stood out to me….

A Laugh-O-Gram Films stock certificate issued by Walt to his parents in 1922.

A Laugh-O-Gram Films stock certificate issued by Walt to his parents in 1922

A reproduction of the contract that birthed the Walt Disney Company.

A reproduction of the contract that birthed the Walt Disney Company (then known as The Disney Brothers Studio).

 

Dated October 16, 2013, this contract reproduction shows Walt agreeing to produce Alice Comedies for M.J. Winkler.

Dated October 16, 2013, this contract reproduction shows Walt agreeing to produce Alice Comedies for M.J. Winkler.

The signature of the first contract; notice how Walt's signature would change to the famous script we now know.

The signature page of the first contract; notice how Walt’s signature would change to the famous script we now know.

The actual telegram Walt sent to his brother Roy on March 13, 1928 after losing both the rights to Oswald the Luck Rabbit and most of his animators due to contractual terms.

The actual telegram Walt sent to his brother Roy on March 13, 1928 after losing both the rights to Oswald the Luck Rabbit and most of his animators due to contractual terms.

The text of the telegram reads, "LEAVING TONITE STOPPING OVER KC ARRIVE HOME SUNDAY MORNING SEVEN THIRTY DON'T WORRY EVERYTHING OK WILL GIVE DETAILS WHEN ARRIVE.  - WALT."  It is on the train ride mentioned in this telegram that Walt created the character of Mickey Mouse.

The text of the telegram reads, “LEAVING TONITE STOPPING OVER KC ARRIVE HOME SUNDAY MORNING SEVEN THIRTY DON’T WORRY EVERYTHING OK WILL GIVE DETAILS WHEN ARRIVE. – WALT.” It is on the train ride mentioned in this telegram that Walt created the character of Mickey Mouse.

A script for "Steamboat Willie" created in 1928 typed by Walt Disney with drawings by Ub Iwerks.

A script for “Steamboat Willie” created in 1928 typed by Walt Disney with drawings by Ub Iwerks.

According to the plaque, this notepad, produced in 1930, was "the first licensed Mickey Mouse product ever made."

According to the plaque, this notepad, produced in 1930, was “the first licensed Mickey Mouse product ever made.”

Located in the center of the exhibit space is a recreation of one corner of Walt's formal office.

Located in the center of the exhibit space is a recreation of one corner of Walt’s formal office.  A full recreation of this office can be in the upcoming movie “Saving Mr. Banks” starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.

Shortly after Walt's death in December of 1966, archivist (and now Disney Legend) Dave Smith painstakingly recorded every item in the room, including its location and position.  All of the items in this display are the actual items from Walt's office placed as they were on the day of his passing.

Shortly after Walt’s death in December of 1966, archivist (and now Disney Legend) Dave Smith painstakingly recorded every item in the room, including its location and position. All of the items in this display are the actual items from Walt’s office placed just as he left them.

 

Within the office recreation is another influential piece of Disney history: the mechanical bird that was the inspiration for what we now refer to as Audio-Animatronics.

Within the office recreation is another influential piece of Disney history: the mechanical bird that was the inspiration for what we now refer to as Audio-Animatronics.

 

The attached plaque reads, "Walt Disney purchased this singing birdcage automaton from an antiques dealer while on a trip to New Orleans.  He kept the whimsical object in his office for the duration of his career.  The gold-caged mechanical bird sparked his imagination, inspiring him to develop an entirely new form of three-dimensional animation he called Audio-Animatronics."

The attached plaque reads, “Walt Disney purchased this singing birdcage automaton from an antiques dealer while on a trip to New Orleans. He kept the whimsical object in his office for the duration of his career. The gold-caged mechanical bird sparked his imagination, inspiring him to develop an entirely new form of three-dimensional animation he called Audio-Animatronics.”

Obviously, Disney’s contributions to the world of animation were featured heavily in this exhibit.  Apart from a display focus on the 11-step animation process, was a fascinating collection of maquettes.  A maquette is basically a small figurine used as a reference model while drawing animated characters.  There were many maquettes on display from classic Disney films.  At first glance, they may appear unimportant, because they don’t seem any different from statues you might buy in a theme park gift shop. However, once one realizes that these figures were THE models used by the original artists for some of the most famous Disney animated characters, it’s hard not to be awestruck.

Original maquettes from "Beauty and the Beast," ""Lion King" and "Aladdin."

Original maquettes from “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lion King” and “Aladdin.”

Original maquette from "Pinocchio."

Original maquette from “Pinocchio.”

A special display commemorating the 50th Anniversary of "Mary Poppins."  Apart from the items in this picture is a massive storyboard sequence and a matte painting used in the film.

A special display commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “Mary Poppins.” Apart from the items in this picture is a massive storyboard sequence and a matte painting used in the film.

There's no coat rack in the bag, I checked.

There’s no coat rack in the bag, I checked.

There is also quite a bit of space devoted to Disneyland Park in Anaheim and The Magic Kingdom and Epcot in Orlando.  In the theme parks portion of the exhibit is a document used in the creation of the promotional film featuring Walt sharing his vision for the “Florida Project.”

Dated October 17, 1966, this script was a draft for one of Walt Disney's last appearances on film as he shared his vision for Epcot with the public.

Dated October 17, 1966, this script was a draft for one of Walt Disney’s last appearances on film as he shared his vision for Epcot with the public.

IMG_2157

 

IMG_2255

It is also clear that those responsible for designing this exhibit kept young museum visitors in mind during the planning process.  There are many hands-on opportunities for children so they don’t get bored while older members of their family read all of the plaques and displays.  There are numerous televisions playing brief segments within many of the individual displays (as seen in the middle of the above Mary Poppins photo).  In addition, there are iPad stations where children and adults can experiment with the new “Disney Animated” app for the iPad.

The cartoon castles on this wall were actually made of magnets that could be moved around by visitors.

The cartoon castles on this wall were actually made of magnets that could be moved around by visitors.  These magnets are easily visible in the bottom corner of the “Princess Castle” frame and can be seen placed in different spots on the “Villain Castle” frame.

Exhibit visitors could pick up a handset and choose to listen to one of 16 different Disney songs, labeled by song title, movie, and composer.

Exhibit visitors could pick up a handset and choose to listen to one of 16 different Disney songs, labeled by song title, movie, and composer.

The last element of the exhibit is something with which Disney Parks fans will be familiar: The Animation Academy.  Similar to locations in Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, guests can try their hand at drawing Disney characters.  Each session can accommodate approximately 90 people for a 12-15 minute class.  The experience is very similar to the classes at the Disney Parks, but the Museum staff incorporates material on science and how it relates to the process of animation.  The staff member that taught my class told me that every student would get to draw Mickey for the first month after which other characters would be added to the rotation.

IMG_2040

After participating in The Animation Academy, visitors exit the exhibit space and, in addition to a small merchandise kiosk, are able to purchase photographs that were taken of them upon entering.  Guests are photographed against a green background and then superimposed onto various backgrounds (someone in my party was put on top of Pride Rock from “The Lion King”).

Guests may purchase three photos, each with a different background, for $20.

Guests may purchase three photos, each with a different background, for $20.

IMG_2205

In all, this exhibit does an incredible job of telling a cohesive story of innovation.  From the innovation of Walt Disney, the individual in the realm of animation, film techniques and theme parks, to the continued innovation of his company today, “Treasures of the Disney Archives” is a breathtaking glimpse at artifacts that played a role in the way many of us are entertained.  Will Disney fans enjoy this exhibit more than others?  Absolutely, but there are enough items included in the 300+ artifacts that any visitor will find something to enjoy and will walk away having a better understanding of Walt Disney and his desire to innovate in everything he did.

NOTE: I was invited to cover the opening ceremony and media preview and was provided free admission to the exhibit.  However, all opinions are my own.



Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Disney, Disney World, Disneyland, Events, News, Photos

  • Michael Howe

    I was also part of the blogging tour that morning, and posted my own thoughts on my WordPress blog.

    To me, the one gripe is that the Animation Academy just breaks up the flow of the exhibit at the end. You hit that wall, and it t-junctions in a way that stops the exhibit flow. They had a great flow of leading people on through Walt’s life, but that wall at the end just bugs me.

    To me, they should have had the Animation Academy in another part of the Museum, and made that final room a ‘conclusion’ to the tour, maybe adding more things to show how Walt’s visions and innovation, have influenced those who came after him.

    Maybe added some more costumes, some art from the last 4 decades of animation, heck, maybe even some models or animatronics showing the leaps and bounds that have been made since Walt’s time.

    Maybe even a 5-7 minute video, of people who work at Disney, who were inspired by Walt, and strive everyday to “Keep Moving Forward.” In fact, that would have been a great way to end it: with Walt’s voiced reciting that mantra.

  • James Goodman

    Love it David!!! Nice job!!! I especially LOVED the recreation of Walt’s Desk! That was amazing and so detailed. I could spend hours just reading over everything he had on his bookshelf. Also – I like the idea of the “timed tickets” so the exhibit doesn’t get too crowded. There is a lot to read and study and take in – so I don’t want to feel rushed. Thanks again for the great coverage!!! Loved your blog and keep me in mind anytime!!!!

  • http://www.memoriesofdisney.com Roy & Marianne

    This is great! We are going on April 18 to see it in Chicago.

  • Cherise Jones

    Will this exhibit ever come to Texas?