As if by Disney magic, an army barracks and adjoining buildings in San Francisco’s formerly military Presidio have been transformed into The Walt Disney Family Museum, which opens today. Visitors can travel through 10 galleries and a theater and see early sketches that became the characters we know and love today, ton of animated movie clips, family home movies and reminiscences, vintage Disney toys, 3-D models, a two-story-high animation camera that was used to create 3-D effects for the movies, Fantasia and Pinocchio, and a model of the original plans for Disneyland.
Also featured is Mary Blair’s beautiful artwork for Peter Pan. Mary Blair was an extremely talented painter and colorist who worked closely with Walt Disney, designing many of the evocative technicolor backgrounds for his movies. She also did the character and art design for my favorite Disneyland ride, It’s a Small World.
The museum provides an insight into the craft of animation, as well as Walt Disney as a person. One of the reasons for constructing the museum, Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller has said, is that as time has gone on since Walt Disney’s death in 1966, fewer and fewer children had any idea that there was a person behind the ubiquitous Disney corporate logo.
Disney was indeed quite playful and an extraordinary visionary. He so altered the fields of animation and theme parks that someone who was born in an era during which both are plentiful could easily take his achievements for granted.
Disney retained a sense of joy and awe of his craft. The museum features an early Alice in Wonderland film in which Alice visits an animation studio and falls into a wonderfully animated dream state. Also featured are clips and items from the early movies that altered animation history long before the 1990s animation wave hit: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, and Fantasia.
Having been fortunate to have had regular pilgrimages to Disneyland as a child, and now with my family, I am looking forward to seeing the museum’s history of the park. At every stage of life, as corny as it may sound, I still find it “The Happiest Place on Earth” and have no doubt that a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum will be similarly filled with imagination and mirth.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman