I realize that the D23 Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit has been running at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for some time now. In fact, the show is due to close on April 30, so if you waited like I did, you may want to hustle on over.
According to the Archives, this is the largest display of Disney assets ever to be put on public display. They claim there are more than five hundred items on display. The artifacts cover the entire history of the Company. My overall impression was that this exhibit scratched the surface, but without much depth. The presentation is a nice supplement to the Walt Disney Family Museum and the One Man’s Dream exhibit at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, but certainly not a groundbreaking presentation.
In the first gallery, Walt’s Early Years, the wonderful black and white photos remind you that there was a life before Mickey. Alice and Oswald are represented. Even Laugh-O-Gram and Walt’s childhood years. Highlights include the telegram to Roy after Walt lost Oswald to Universal and then created Mickey Mouse on the train ride home. The telegram has to go down as one of the great understatements, “Don’t worry everything ok ill give details when arrive.”
In The Golden Age of Animation exhibit, I was drawn (no pun intended) to the photograph of the studio on Hyperion Ave. Today, that is the site of a Gelsons grocery store. Rather tragic. For merchandise fans, the collection of original stuffed Mickey’s (he wasn’t a plush then), Lionel trains, and Ingersoll watches was fun. However, it is the animator’s desk that seems to stop people. It is not hard to imagine the artistry that was enabled by this functional piece of furniture.
The big prize in The Hub of a Creative Empire is Walt’s formal office. It’s the one that was at Disneyland and “temporarily” went to Walt Disney World and now rests at the Library. I want the floor lamp. Next door is A Bold Entry into Live Action with a model of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Steampunk fans, this is worth the price of admission alone. Revel in its glory. In keeping with the “give everybody something” attitude, the other live films on display include The Shaggy Dog, Flubber, Darby O’Gill, The Absent-minded Professor, and many others.
For me, it was the Disneyland related items which grabbed my attention. The proscenium and stage model that Walt hand built when he was working through the Disneylandia project and the little mechanical bird that sparked Audio-Animatronics. One of the most powerful exhibits was the memo to Walt about the Disneyland entrance plaques. With Walt’s pencil, he changed a simple welcome into the organizing principle of his park.
Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy
To get to the next set of galleries, you have to leave the museum and enter a large tent-like structure. Bring a flashlight. Lighting was not a priority in the design of this room. The recommended path of travel is a loop around the outside and then a visit to the world of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies in the middle. It is here we find static displays representing the live action version of 101 Dalmatians, the Annie Lebowitz series of (pointless) photos of celebrities dressed as Disney characters, Tim Burton’s version of Alice, Tron, the Avengers (what no Muppets?), and Disneyland. It is strange to see a Mr. Toad car behind a rope. After all, you can still ride one and even sit in a static one in front of the ride. I did enjoy the close up of the Hitchhiking Ghosts (could these be from WDW?)
Back up the stairs to the museum building and there is a glass case of maquettes and posters from the post-Walt era of animation including Pixar. An entire gallery is dedicated to National Treasure. Mary Poppins did not even get that much space. The final gallery, A Patriotic Legacy is tailor made for the location at Reagan’s library. Walt and Reagan were personal friends and some of the former president’s memorabilia is on display. Along another wall is the complete set of busts done by Blaine Gibson for the Hall of Presidents. A fitting end to the exhibit.
Whoops. Not done yet. Disney Today is a large blank wall with a television running commercials for the various Disney divisions not represented at the museum. Of course, what would a D23 event be without merchandise? For $20 there is slim color catalog of the artifacts, plenty of D23 merchandise, Disney Archives items (love the hat with the silhouettes of Mickey through the years), and a few other books (not mine . . . Darn).
The Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives is a fine walk through the past. There are quite a few items sure to bring a smile and a chuckle. But the true Disney fan isn’t likely to learn much they don’t already know. For those that have been, what did you think?