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?

Previous articleFavorite Disney Character Spots
Next articleIndiana Jones Archeology Adventure is Not to be Missed
Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.
  • parker4fm

    It was a nice exhibit, but like you, I thought they barely scratched the surface. I was hoping to see more about Walt and more items from time gone by. Seeing Avengers and Tron really didn’t do anything for me. I almost feel like those movies are too new to be considered a “treasure”.

    • Amy VandenBoogert

      The original TRON is over 30 years old now and was definitely ahead of its time back when it was released in 1982.

  • Trumpet

    Great Article Sam

    Love all of the treasures that you uncover. Keep it up

    Thanks Again Sam


  • daveyjones

    worth it for the nautilus filming model alone. i must have spent over 40 minutes there.

  • brian11811

    I really enjoyed it, but it was only a 10 minute drive for me. I liked the mock up of Walt’s office a lot as well.

  • That office belongs at Disneyland. They said they were just borrowing it for Florida. Now we want it back! 😉

    Still haven’t made it out there for this exhibit. I’d better get moving!

  • DisneySarah

    Nice article, Sam.

    I went a few weeks ago and thought this exhibit wasn’t that great. It was basically the same things that were displayed at the D23 convention’s Treasures exhibit last year, plus a couple extras and minus a few others. I was disappointed. Maybe if I hadn’t seen most of it already at the D23 convention, I would have been more impressed. My parents thought it was pretty awesome, but they are not really Disney fans and were there because they like the Reagan museum.

    Also, the last room, which was supposedly the “future of Disney”, was seriously lame. It was an empty space with a giant TV showing a continuous 2-minute clip show of the current offerings from the Disney company’s different divisions. Nothing upcoming, only current offerings. And heavy on the Disney Channel. I thought to myself “man, if this is what the future of Disney is, I’m worried”.

    Anyhow, if you happen to be in the area or are going to the Reagan library anyway, it’s worth the extra five bucks. If you already saw the D23 convention exhibit, I wouldn’t make the drive out there for it.

  • DisneySarah

    Update: Just realized that Sam said the last room at the end was Disney Today. Well, that makes a little more sense… but it was still lame. 🙂

  • ajcphantom

    My hubbie and I are huge Disney geeks. We visited the exhibit last year and enjoyed geeking out on several of the artifacts. I am not ashamed to admit I teared up seeing the prop jeweled books from the openings of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. My husband loved the Nautilus model. There were several other items from the early years, especially those near and dear to Walt, that we found compelling. We also loved the dragon head from Fantasmic, and I was very proud of myself for discovering a (slightly sneaky) way to get better photos of it by waiting until an employee opened the outer door to let in handicapped visitors…Overall, we enjoyed it. It was our first visit to the Reagan Library, and we highly enjoyed the Library itself, as well as the surrounding gardens and view. We were slightly disappointed that the employees within the exhibit itself didn’t really have any Disney knowledge. (We asked one of them a question, and he proceeded to say he did not know, then attempted to gift us with some random bit of trivia that we already knew). I guess that would probably be expecting too much, but it would have been a nice touch!