The Walt Disney Family Museum: A Place Dedicated To Walt Disney’s Life and Accomplishments
My earliest recollection of Walt Disney was watching him introduce â€œWalt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colorâ€ on TV as a young child. I rarely missed a Sunday night. This was soon combined with memories of multiple visits to the New York World’s Fair where I had the opportunity to see Mr. Lincoln at the Illinois Pavilion, ride the Magic Skyway at the Ford Pavilion, and marvel at Pepsi’s tribute to UNICEF called â€œIt’s a Small World.â€ Eventually, my family would make multiple visits to Disney World in Florida.
Needless to say, I was a child that grew up being influenced by Disney movies, products, and experiences. So when I first found out that there was a museum in San Francisco dedicated to understanding the life and achievements of Walt Disney, my first reaction was â€œWhy San Francisco?â€ My second reaction was that I should really check this out.
After a little research, I found that the Walt Disney Family Museum was a little different than I originally anticipated. It is not officially associated with The Walt Disney Company but was actually established by a foundation created by his daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and her son, Walter E. D. Miller.
Their choice to situate the museum in San Francisco appears to be a conscious choice to keep the museum closer to Diane Disney Miller’s home and to prevent the museum from being overshadowed by the Disney Company’s studio and attractions in the Los Angeles area. The museum’s location in the Presidio with its engaging view of the Golden Gate Bridge provides a peaceful setting in which to learn more about Walt Disney the person.
The actual structure has a very unassuming outer appearance and seems to be just one of a collection of buildings on the Parade Ground of the Presidio. But the content housed inside its modest exterior, allows each visitor to journey through the of a life of a person whose influence has touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. It also transports the visitor through many of the critical events of American history such as World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the 50s.
On my recent trip to the museum (which was my second), I took my older daughter. On my first visit, I spent about an hour and a half viewing the museum but found myself even more immersed in the exhibits the second time around. I have grown really fond of this museum because it seems to connect with so much of my childhood. My daughter, who did not grow up when Walt Disney was alive, also enjoyed the museum and was able to understand the origins of many of her favorite Disney experiences.
What I enjoyed about the museum was the cleverness in the way Walt Disney’s personal story was told. Since Walt Disney was such a public figure, he gave many interviews about his life. This exhibit primarily uses actual audio and video of Walt Disney himself to tell his own story. The presentation, which includes an incredible amount of personal artifacts, letters, photographs, and videos, really helps the visitor to understand the unique originality and quality of Walt Disney’s many accomplishments.
The Walt Disney Family Museum is housed on two floors and is divided into 10 different galleries that each focus on a major influence or accomplishment of Walt Disney’s life. The entrance to the exhibit features many of Walt Disney’s 248 awards such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the special Academy Award he received for his animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
There are rooms dedicated to his Early Beginnings, Move to Hollywood, Transition Into Feature Films, Patriotic Contributions, Disneyland, along with 5 other rooms that highlight specific time periods or accomplishments in Walt Disney’s life. One feature that I especially enjoyed was the Family Insights exhibit that were placed in each room to give the perspective of family members on Walt Disney as a father and husband.
There were so many wonderful surprises in the museum from both Walt Disney’s professional and personal life. I remember reading once that one of Walt Disney’s hobbies was creating a miniature railroad around his home called the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. I was so delighted to see that the exhibit included a large presentation on his miniature railroad, along with his actual locomotive engine, the Lilly Belle, and many of his railroad cars.
What I gained from the museum was a greater appreciation of Walt Disney’s personal accomplishments and life story. It was not a smooth rags to riches story, but one that involved a great deal of risk-taking, some failures, a lot of determination, and many groundbreaking accomplishments. The exhibits helped me understand that Walt Disney’s legacy was created by striving to do things differently than anyone else. He had an inner drive to be original in an industry that was often characterized by the following trends. He also had a steadfast adherence to producing a quality product, while always pushing the current state of the art further than his colleagues.
Examples of Walt Disney not being scared to take risks are presented over and over again. Some major examples that stuck out for me were the types of animation projects he pursued, his development of True-Life Adventure films, and his vision of Disneyland as a place for adults and children. His insistence on being original while maintaining his standard of quality can easily be seen in the creation of movies such as Snow White and Fantasia.
The 2-hours my daughter and I spent reading and watching the various exhibits went very quickly. Afterward our heads were filled with a multitude of thoughts and images. It really felt as if we had just road through an E-Ticket attraction at Disneyland. Like any Disney project, there was also a strong emotional element to the exhibit.
The final room dedicated to Walt Disney’s death in 1966 made us feel that his 65 years on this planet ended much too soon. At the end of the exhibit, in true Disney fashion, the facility included a delightful gift shop with many books and items related to Walt Disney as an artist along with a coffee shop that served various lunch and snack foods. In addition, the museum often runs special exhibits related to various artists who contributed to Disney animation.
If you are in the area, do make time to visit this museum. The only word of caution I would give is that if you are visiting with children, you may want to consider how you will help them to best enjoy the experience. The presentation and the information found in the museum probably won’t have as much impact on young children as it will on adults since the museum is best understood by fully reading and watching the many presentations.
I think this museum is best appreciated by adults who grew up with Disney influence throughout their life and in a nostalgic way, enjoy reflecting on all that Walt Disney contributed to entertainment and culture in America. If memories of the Wonderful World of Disney, Disneyland, Disney World, or Disney movies have any place in your heart, then don’t miss this gem of a museum in San Francisco. It is truly one of my favorites, and I believe it could easily become one of yours.