Friday, August 12, 2011

The Walt Disney Family Museum

San Francisco, CA, April 2011 - Walter Elias Disney virtually invented all of the things for which he is rightfully remembered: 1) Mickey Mouse, one of the most internationally recognizable fictitious characters; 2) feature-length animated motion pictures; 3) themed amusement parks; and 4) kids’ television*. Many biographies have been written about his life and work, and his legacy of family entertainment has inspired generation after generation. Walt Disney is just about as legendary and ubiquitous and a person can get and is nearly inextricably woven into the American experience. With such a standing, it is not so much that he deserves a museum in tribute to his accomplishments, but the world needs a museum to shine light on the life of the man.

When legends are formed, deeds become myths and accomplishments sorted out in a list of bulleted facts. It is too easy, for example, to sum up George Washington as the general who fought for American Independence and become the first President of the United States of America. It’s simple and neat and is too much like a grade school math problem: 12 x 5 + 1901 = 1961 and will always be 1961. However, human life is full of hard work, tough decisions, and unforeseeable intersections with other lives.

Surpassing either a written biography or filmed documentary, The Walt Disney Family Museum adds tangibility. Owned, operated and founded by The Walt Disney Family Foundation, the museum is not formally associated with the Walt Disney Company. However, it makes excellent use of the talents and archival materials of the Walt Disney Company supplemented by personal items from the Disney family.

Established in 2009, the Museum occupies a retrofitted barracks of the Presidio in San Francisco and is sectioned into 10 galleries each chronologically representing an era of Walt Disney’s life: 1) “Beginnings”, 2) “Hollywood”, 3) “New Horizons in the 1930’s”, 4) “The Move to Features: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, 5) “We Were in a New Business”, 6) “The Toughest Period in my Whole Life”, 7) “Postwar Production”, 8) “Walt and the Natural World”, 9) “The 1950s and 1960s: The Big Screen and Beyond”, 10) “December 15, 1966”. The exhibits and displays make alternating use of video, photographs, models, reproductions, actual possessions and artifacts and audio testimonials, many of which are interactive.

If you have primed yourself by having read up on his life, you may be able to run through the museum’s two floors in under two hours. Exploring each exhibit minimally requires a full afternoon visit. Walt Disney’s first feature-length film occupies it’s own gallery with a comprehensive presentation of its development. By comparison, the ninth gallery is a two-story space featuring a twisting ramp reminiscent of the indoor cue of Disneyland retired “Adventures Thru Inner Space” attraction and a detailed scaled down model of a Disneyland as Walt may have imagined. However, this gallery also house the explosion of Walt’s diverse interests of into television, the 1964 New York World’s Fair and more live action films on the big screen, any one of which could fill their own gallery.

The tour through the galleries ends as abruptly as Walt Disney’s life with the somber tenth gallery with countless tributes to the man. Of course, visitors are lead to a gift shop at the end, a plan often used in Walt’s parks.

Rating: (10/10) D D D D D D D D D D

The Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery Street
The Presidio of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA 94129
Tel: (415) 345 6800

* 1) Animator Ub Iwerks designed Mickey Mouse and nearly single-handedly animated Mickey’s first produced short film “Plane Crazy.” 2) The French film “Fantasmagorie” is credited as being the first animated feature film, whereas “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the first to prove commercially successful; 3) Amusement parks evolved from fairs in Europe, existing since the 16th century and were often dirty and attracted an undesirable element, but Disneyland was planned as a clean and safe family vacation destination; 4) Walt Disney’s was the first of the big Hollywood studios to enter in to the new, competing medium of television with the weekly series “Disneyland” in October 1954.

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