I used to think I knew Walt Disney- I mean I read all the books, articles, and visited his theme parks. In fact, I even studied the photo albums at the Disney Archives and visited his “spots” in L.A. However, it was in a brick barrack house in San Francisco that I truly understood the man they called “Uncle Walt”.
Few things touch my heart like the Walt Disney Family Museum. Not only does it show the man behind Mickey Mouse, the Disney Studios, and Disneyland- but it also shows his heart. Each room displays hundreds of family photos and never seen footage of Walt. As you stroll from room to room, you understand Walt’s passion for creativity, innovation, and vision. Disney’s determination, the museum demonstrates, was relentless. The exhibits continually showcase Walt’s persistence and energy.
Many do not appreciate the extreme contributions that Walt made to the entertainment industry and the world. He started a new era with his first sound cartoon, “Steamboat Willie”. In today’s time we take things like animation for granted. But at the time, the work Walt did meant creating a method for synchronizing music and image, and persuading distributors the cost was worth it. Nothing Walt did was easy. This is seen when you look at the “Steamboat Willie” wall that contain around 348 images that compose less than a minute of film.
By the time he created his first feature-length work, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” he had transformed the very notion of animation. Disney insisted that cartoons literally animate their world. He wanted everything to have a personality and come to life.
As you continue from through the museum, you appreciate all the “hard knocks” Walt had. From his first company going bankrupt, the loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and what Walt called “The Toughest Period in My Whole Life”. Each display gives a different insight of how Walt worked wearily for his dreams. I believe as humans, we can all identify with Walt in this part of the museum. Other displays cover the war years, the post war live action movie boom, true life adventure films, and when Walt went to South America. The glass-walled gallery showcasing Disney’s wildlife films takes full advantage of the museum’s location, with a lovely view of Presidio trees and the Golden Gate Bridge.
As the museum winds down you reach the final rooms that showcase the happiest place on earth- Disneyland. The gallery displays Walt’s own toy train, original plans for Disneyland, and miniature scale of the park. The final gallery contains information about little things like “The Mickey Mouse Club”, Mary Poppins, and Davy Crockett. As you amble through the room, you are immersed with the possibilities of television and the idea of Walt’s utopia- Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). You feel the energy and passion that Walt had for his future plans in Florida and the world.
That is why you leave feeling devastated and saddened, because Walt’s death was unexpected. At 65, the world lost a pioneer for not only entertainment, but the arts, theme parks, and film. As youwatch the news reels reporting on Walt’s death, you feel an ache in your heart and a lump in your throat.
While children will quickly pass by many sections, it will bring fascination and memories to their elders. There isn’t an age Walt Disney did not impact and the museum holds more than enough entertainment for everyone.
Who needs Tomorrowland, Fantasy, Tiki Birds, rides or Abraham Lincoln when the story being told is timeless and touches the experience of anyone who had contact with the 20th century. Walt Disney is a story of passion, relentlessness, creativity, and changing the world. The Walt Disney Family Museum not only honors that story, but reminds the importance of dreaming and pursuing originality.