Disney fans have no doubt seen or heard of the wonderful Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibits which anchored the first two D23 Expos in Anaheim (2009 and 2011). Those exhibits were filled with costumes and props from Disney’s most memorable movies and television shows as well as memorabilia that touched a sentimental nerve. On Friday the 6th of July, Disney will open a new, improved and expanded version of their Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Vally, Ca. The exhibit is scheduled to run through April of 2013.
We reached out to Steven Clark, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Head of D23 (and who has overseen the Disney Archives since 2006), to ask a few questions about the new exhibit and sent our reporter, Scarlett Stahl, to take some photos.
One of the long term challenges of the Disney Archives has been housing and displaying the tens of thousands of items in their possession. While the exhibits at the D23 Expo allowed many items to be displayed to the public for the first time, the short duration of the Expo did not allow for the size or quality of display that has been afforded by the expanded exhibit at the Reagan Library.
Steven commented that one of the advantages of having a 9 month run for the new show is the ability to break away from just displaying items under glass cases and instead recreating appropriate environments for the many unique and historical assets in the exhibit. Guests can look forward to experiencing creative display environments from the Mad Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, the world of Tron, Cruella De Vil’s office (complete with couture from the two live action 101 Dalmatians films), Captain America’s ready room, and a Pirates of the Caribbean area featuring an animatronic from the ride as well as a 23 foot long model of the Black Pearl ship from the movies.
In all, the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives has 12,000 Sq Ft of exhibit space and “500 assets,” 50% of have never been on public display before. And just to give you an idea about what they mean by “500 assets,” Walt Disney’s office (which was once on display at Disneyland) counts as a single asset, even though it contains hundreds of individual items.
We were particularly glad to hear that Walt’s Office is back in public view. Interestingly, in the process of bringing this asset to the exhibit, the Archives were able to really examine all the individual items, such as the books on the shelves, items in drawers, etc. No one had ever really examined all the items thoroughly before. They found inscriptions on books and other notes which should delight fans. Of particular note was the inscription in a book which was gifted by C.S. Lewis to Walt Disney which read, “From one visionary to another.” They also found inscriptions in books from P.L. Travers, Upton Sinclair and others. A minor thing, perhaps, but important in the overall mission of the Archives to better understand Walt and the history of the company.
Also found in the office was one of Walt’s ties in a cabinet. And, while visitors won’t be able to rummage through the drawers of Walt’s desk for themselves, they will find lots of information from the Archives which denotes the significance or history behind many of the most important items. So, instead of just walking past a decorative birdcage in Walt’s office, you’ll find out how and why the item (which Walt brought home from a vacation) became the inspiration behind Disney animatronics in the Tiki Room and beyond.
We asked Steven why, in these charged political times, they chose the Reagan library for their new exhibit. He explained that the Disney Archives were actually contacted by the National Archives who runs all of the presidential libraries nationwide. They approached D23 wanting to do this exhibit because of the close personal friendship between Walt and Ronald Reagan. After meeting with the folks who plan the exhibits at the Ronald Reagan Library, they realized that it would be a great space to display Disney artifacts in a more permanent way than was possible at the D23 Expos.
In order to properly host the entire exhibit, the Presidential Library offered to cut a hole in the 5,000 square foot rotating exhibit room to add additional space in a semi-permanent structure just outside. This increased available space to over 12,000 square feet, making the exhibit possible.
In keeping with the presidential theme, Disney has created an area within the exhibit they call the “Hall of Presidents,” which includes all 43 of the presidential busts created for the attraction at Disney World, as well as letters between Walt Disney and some of the presidents he corresponded with.
And what will become of this massive exhibit when its run at the Reagan Library is complete? Is it possible that The Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives might travel to other museums? Steven notes that while there is no current agreement to do so, there has been a great deal of demand for Disney events around the country, so it is not outside the realm of possibility.
When we asked if we could expect to see much of this exhibit moved to the D23 Expo in Anaheim next year, Steven added that “the Archives is a treasure trove” that they’ve only just begun to tap. So, most of what is currently on display at the Reagan is not likely to make its way to the D23 Expo.
As long as we were on the subject of the 2013 Expo, we wanted to know one secret which no one has yet heard about the upcoming Expo in 2013. Steven cryptically offered that “A major milestone anniversary is taking place that year,” but demurred on what that anniversary might be.
Our impression of Disney’s new exhibit at the Reagan Library is that it is the finest collection of Disney items to have been assembled in one place to date. Disney will be offering special speakers and events during the long run of this show. We suggest visiting the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives web page HERE for more information.
If you make it to the Reagan Library for this exhibit, please be sure to report back with your thoughts and photos. And as for that clue from Stephen about the “Milestone anniversary” being celebrated at the 2013 Expo, what do you think it might be?
It seems to me that we have a lot of story yet to tell
– Walt Disney