Friday, May 13, 2011

The Walt Disney Family Museum of S. F.

I am up in San Francisco this weekend for the I.A. District 2 Convention, and had a few hours to while away at the Disney Family Museum ...

The museum, housed in a large brick building inside what used to be the San Francisco Presidio, is the brainchild of Diane Disney Miller and unaffiliated with the Walt Disney Company. There have been any number of reviews for DFM, but I'll refrain from restating the positive reactions and the word "awesome." Here's the meat of the matter:

The museum has ten galleries on two different floors, arranged in the chronological order of Walt Disney's life. We meet Walt's family, we see Walt's early life (with Walt narrating same.) There are the childhood jobs of candy butcher and newspaper delivery boy; there is his time as an ambulance driver in Europe near the end of World War I. Then it's on to a career in cartooning in Kansas City, and when that doesn't pan out, a train trip to Hollywood without money or many prospects at the ripe age of 21.

(Interesting factoid: Disney believed he was "too late" getting on the animation bandwagon, and would have no chance of success against already established studios.)

Gallery by gallery, era by era, we travel through the twenties, thirties, wartime forties, all the way to Walt Disney's death from lung cancer in the second half of the sixties. Exhibits are layered and multi-dimensional. You can listen to interviews with Walt's family, hear the reminiscences of Walt's staff. (The Nine Old Men are well-represented.) You can be a fly-on-the-wall at a Disney recording session for a 1964 World Fair Exhibit, where you'll hear Walt fumble takes, talk to the booth about reading a line over, even screw up the word "supercalifragilisticexpialitocious" (and I'm probably screwing up the spelling.)

One hell of a lot of thought went into the museum's presentations and layout. The early exhibits, showing Disney as a working class kid struggling to get a toe-hold in Tinsel Town, are displayed in spare, simple brick spaces. As the years roll by and the Mouse House prospers, the exhibits become increasingly elaborate (a fine and subtle touch.) You could easily spend eight hours submerging yourself in the artwork and audio, in the film clips and t.v. interviews and interactive nooks and crannies that the Disney Family Museum has to offer. Sadly, the Mrs. and I only had four hours.

So what I'm telling you is, take a full day and explore the place, linger at the cases glittering with Oscars and gawk at all the flat-screen monitors. Listen to Walt's spoken memories. You'll find that it's time well spent.


Jonathan Lyons said...

It really is a nice museum. I totally agree with your recommendation.

I'm glad you pointed out the fact of Walt believing he was too late to the party for starting an animation studio. That was the one thing that I kept in my mind when I left.

There is a lesson there. There is always room for new, and better, art.

Floyd Norman said...

Kudos to our leader, Diane Disney Miller who made it all happen without the Disney Company. And, to the late Imagineer, Bruce Gordon for truly understanding the Disney magic.

Aaron Hazouri said...

I was in San Francisco last year and had a chance to spend a few hours in this museum. I'll definitely go back the next time I'm in SF. It was one of the highlights -- if not THE highlight -- of my trip. Lots of thought, time, and money (by the looks of it) went into this place.

Steven Kaplan said...

I'm headed to SF with the family for our annual getaway. This has just made the list of places we'll visit. We're also planning on seeing the Cartoon Art museum. What are your feelings on that place?

Samantha said...

Conservators are hoping to turn Walt Disney's first studio in Kansas City into a museum. In fact, the voice of Mickey Mouse, Bret Iwan, visited Kansas City a few weeks ago for a fundraiser to create the museum.


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