You know the expression “like a kid in a candy store”?
Well, thousands of Disney fans attending the D23 Expo—kids and adults alike—will experience that exhilarating feeling when they step into the Walt Disney Archives Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit on the second floor (mostly!) at D23 Expo 2011, which opened its doors today at the Anaheim Convention Center. At more than 12,000 square feet, it is nothing less than a monumental celebration of the detail, imagination, passion, and perspiration that went into creating Disney’s timeless entertainment, from its first animations to today’s live-action blockbusters.
Stepping from the sounds, excitement, and energy of thousands of people on the Expo Show Floor and into the dramatic darkness of the exhibit is one of the Expo’s most amazing transformations. ”It all started with a mouse,” Walt once said, and, appropriately, so does the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit. The first treasure you see is the historic “Engineer Mickey” plush doll fabricated specially for Walt, who cradled it in his arms when he rode the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad train into Main Street Station on that sweltering sunny July day in 1955 when Disneyland opened its doors for the first time. Although the piece has been meticulously cared for, you can easily detect wear and tear in some of the details of the costume—the unavoidable tide of history. Walt touched this, you say to yourself. Well, at least, this humble correspondent did.
Next are tributes to two of the most landmark shows in television history: the Mickey Mouse Club and Zorro. Both displays exude charm and remind visitors of a different time, an era when Western-themed entertainment occupied a vital position in the pop culture zeitgeist of the 1950s. The Zorro display features the largest collection of original costumes from the show ever assembled and displayed publicly, and fans of the show, which aired in black and white, will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of color and detailing that went into these costumes, which were designed and made by Western Costume Company of Hollywood, the “Rolls-Royce” of costume manufacturers.
All Disney animation fans—and really who isn’t one?—will be dazzled by the Archives’ stunning re-creation of Animation 1D-10, Frank Thomas’s office in the Animation Building. “It’s my favorite part of the exhibit,” says Rob Klein, archivist, Walt Disney Archives.” Animation has always been the creative backbone of the Disney Studio, and our display shows the attention Walt gave to creating a work environment that would enable his animators to create work that would stand the test of time. We worked with Frank’s son, Ted, to locate the actual pencils Frank actually used for work. “Even the linoleum floor used in the display is a copy of the original flooring.” That authenticity is what we were after,” Rob says, beaming at the display. If you see Rob at the Treasures exhibit, ask him about it. You’ll see a really good example of what pride looks like.
The Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit is more than twice the size of the Treasures exhibit displayed at the inaugural D23 Expo in 2009, and some of the displays, including the ones for Pirates of the Caribbean and LOST, are actually artfully directed dioramas that invite visitors to interact with them and experience the artifacts in personal ways. To develop these kinds of theatrical displays, the Archives tapped into Archives Director Becky Cline’s more than two decades of experience in theatre—and the results are stunning. “We had a lot of fun dreaming up ways to show all these props and costumes that we’re so proud of,”she says, smiling. “I hope fans have as much fun enjoying these treasures as we had curating them and assembling the exhibit.”
Other highlights include: Walt’s 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine—the one he took to the Mary Poppins red carpet affair at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1964; the Dharma van from LOST; the 23-feet-long shooting miniature of the Black Pearl used on the Pirates of the Caribbean films (all three items are located on the Expo Show Floor); and what has to be one of the largest and most awe-inspiring collections of Mickey Mouse merchandise ever assembled in one place. It’s only fitting that the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit begins and ends with these beautiful tributes to Disney’s goodwill ambassador to the world. After all, this is a character of such effervescent personality, so instantly lovable, so emblematic of the Disney approach, that Walt cherished and safeguarded the beloved mouse throughout his career. “If our gang ever put Mickey in a situation less wholesome than sunshine,”Walt once said, “Mickey would take Minnie by the hand and move to some other studio.”
Fortunately for fans of the finest in family entertainment, they remained best of friends throughout Walt’s long and remarkable life.
The Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
By D23′s Max Lark
Click here for more images from the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives.