Hello, and welcome back to my thoughts and musings. I’m a fan of history, specifically Americana history. It’s one of the reasons I am drawn to classic Disney shows, movies and theme parks. As such, I have read many biographies regarding Walt Disney, and I felt I knew everything there could possibly be to know about Walt.
That all changed on Sunday, as I made a journey from Sacramento to the Walt Disney Family Museum, in the Persidio of San Francisco. I am going to do my best to recap my visit, but, my friends, I must tell you: words cannot express how amazing this museum is. I do have many photos of my trip, but will only share a handful here. I do encourage any Disney fan to make a trip to the Walt Disney Family Museum at some point (and I encourage soon).
Before we delve into the museum itself, some background. It was not founded or built by the Walt Disney Company, but by Walt’s family. Specifically, the museum was founded by Diane Disney Miller, his daughter, and by his grandson Walter E. D. Miller. Many artifacts in were donated by the Disney family.
The first room you enter into in the museum, even before tickets are taken, is the trophy room. This is indeed a room. Over 200 items, given from groups world wide, are on display, including the special Academy Award presented to Walt by Shirley Temple following the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Sitting in the museum cafe before starting the tour, I looked up from my coffee and saw an Emmy, inside one of the many cases. I said “WOW” for the first of many times that day, and I put aside my meal and was off to begin the tour.
Following the trophy room, patrons enter into a room dedicated to Walt’s family history, leading into Walt’s life before his animation making career begins. Photos of Walt’s family are on display, as are artifacts including buttons from his mother’s wedding dress. Turning a corner there is a replica of a Red Cross ambulance Walt rode in while serving in World War I. Completing the experience is Walt himself narrating what we are looking at, sound vignettes from different interviews Walt gave during his career describing what we are seeing. This experience will continue throughout the entire tour.
Next we enter a small room displaying some of the newspaper drawings Walt created before moving to Hollywood. We then enter what I found to be the most creative part of the museum. An elevator.
Decorated like a Santa Fe rail car with red velvet walls and “windows”, Walt gives a description of his initial trip out to…
(so it’s not my best photo ever). This was the first example of the LCD screens used throughout the rest of the tour. The busy hustle and bustle are shown on the screens that make up the Hollywood sign screens. On the other walls of the room are movie posters of the Alice Comedies. Or not quite posters. Instead they are again LCD screens, showing clips of the posters that were previously promoted.
Next comes the animation portions of the museum, from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (and Walt’s candid comments about losing Oswald) to Mickey. Most impressive in this room was the 1360 images used to create 15 SECONDS of animation of Steamboat Willie. Notice below the use of LCD screens showing the results of the process. Also in this room was a interactive station showing how difficult it was to time sound effects to the cartoon (read: Animated Rock Band).
I admit, I am skipping many many details from the tour, but I’m trying not to write a 10,000 word entry. We do tour through rooms detailing the feats of the Walt Disney Studios, including the growth and relocation of the studio itself. Stand out highlights include hearing Walt discuss the creation of the Silly Symphonies series to help refine his animators skills, as well as the colorization process used in his animation. Next is the multi-plane camera used in the animation process. I’ve heard and read about this process before, and I’d love to share a photo of this, but no camera can show the magnitude of this two-story tall machine.
Next came the most interesting area of the tour, in my opinion. It was a retrospective of the animators strike that hit the Disney Studios in 1941. Again the LCD screens help show the plight of the animators and the reactions of those involved in the strike. A word about those reactions: throughout the museum it is possible to hear the thoughts of individuals by using a period-appropriate telephone handsets. The sounds heard on the handset matches what is being shown on the LCD screens nearby.
On the wall behind the Strike teaches of Walt’s “good will ambassador” trip to South America taking place at the same time. Down the same hall shows examples of the animators efforts to support the troops during the second World War, including some non-family friendly pin-up sketches drawn by the animators.
Down the next hall is a gallery of package films and live action/animated films such as Fun and Fancy Free and Song of the South. Again, many interactive stations are in this room to enhance the experience. Following this is another room of Walt’s personal effects and his miniature collection. For some reason I was most interested in the cans of chili on display, knowing before that was one of Walt’s favorite meals.
We know enter a transition…we follow a curving, declining path. We pass by windows looking out into the San Francisco Bay (no view, foggy day), yet sun shinning through the skylights above. At a bend in the path is a brick wall and a bench, from Griffith Park in Los Angeles. It was on a bench similar to this that (spoiler alert) Walt first began getting the ideas for Disneyland.
Before arriving at 1955, we first arrive at Walt’s other non-animated passion, trains. This includes a full display of the Carolwood Pacific that used to run around his property. Once again, multiple “WOW”s were muttered by myself. Down one more bend, and at the end of the incline, and guest are then at…
Disneyland. This is a working model, my friends. Jaw dropping. HUGE. A major geek out moment for yours truly. Also on display in this area is an original Autopia car, artifacts from Davy Crockett, which debuted during the Disneyland series in 1954; and artifacts from the Mickey Mouse Club. What stood out to me from the Mickey Mouse Club display was a note congratulating Walt for the Mickey Mouse Club winning 16 of the top 20 slots for a week. The other four entries? The 1956 World Series.
We remain in the same room, but begin looking at more film projects. A Mary Poppins display shows of Disney’s efforts to gain the rights to the book from P. L. Travers. Of note, a letter dated from January 1944. Let’s just say this got me even more excited for Saving Mister Banks this winter.
Leaving the Mary Poppins display was difficult, as it was becoming clear the end of the tour was coming. We enter an area looking projects Walt and his company were working on in the mid 1960s. We are introduced the the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and the Mineral King ski resort project in California. Then we see descriptions of Walt’s health through the words of Diane Disney Miller, telling of his going into the hospital for a polo injury, the discovery of a tumor, and then his passing on December 15, 1966.
We enter the last room of the tour, bathed in bright white. A 1960s television broadcasts the news report of Walt’s passion. The entire room is filled with tributes to Walt, through telegrams to his wife Lillian, and through artist renderings. Pausing to look at each and every piece of artwork and every note, a museum volunteer asked if I had any questions. All I could ask was “Do you have any tissues?”
At this point, the tour is over, and we exit into the lobby, with access to the cafe and to the gift shop. Although the tour is over, the experience is not. The ticket is valid for the entire day, if you want to go through the museum again and look at a certain exhibit, you are more than welcome to.
The museum also has a theater and has films showing every day, free with your ticket. For the month of August, the showing was of Bambi, which I was able to partake in. It was fitting, as the museum is also hosting Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. Wong is a Disney Legend who’s artwork was inspiration to the making of Bambi in 1942. Due to time, I missed this exhibit, but it runs through February 2014, so I am hopeful to make it back again.
All told, not counting the 1:15 spent watching Bambi, I was able to spend four and a half hours in the museum, and I could have easily spent many more hours. This posting is much longer than normal, but I wanted to share as much detail as possible about this museum. As I said, it is worth the trip to San Francisco. For more details on the Walt Disney Family Museum, please visit waltdisney.org
I thank you for taking the time to read this today. I ask you would please leave comments. You may contact me directly on Twitter @, and you may also subscribe to be alerted by email when new postings are published. Quest for Vault Disney is now on Facebook. Please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/questforvaultdisney. Have a great rest of your day. See ya real soon…