The man behind the mouse ears

The Walt Disney Family Museum opened its doors for the first time Thursday. Founded by Walt Disney’s daughter and grandson, the facility cost $110 million to build, and focuses on the man and his work.

Earliest Mickey Mouse drawings, by various artists including Ub IwerksThe Disney Company collaborated — they hold the copyrights to all the important cartoons and of course own many of the seminal artifacts — but didn’t fund it. All that cash and much of the memorabilia came from the family foundation. Disney Co. just loaned them some of the major pieces, like the two-story-high camera used to create the 3D effects in “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia.”

The museum is housed in a 19th c. Army barracks and two adjacent buildings in the Presidio in San Francisco. The family specifically wanted to adapt a historical property for use as a museum, and the barracks also provided them with the space to build a 20,000 square foot addition in the U-shaped courtyard.

From the New York Times museum review:

The 348 frames that made up 1 single minute of footage from "Steamboat Willie"Every gallery is packed with video monitors, touch screens and sound systems intended to bring static drawings, storyboards and ephemera to life. Many of the exhibits focus on technological advances made by Disney himself that resulted in the first successful synchronized sound cartoon (“Steamboat Willie,” 1928), the first convincing suggestion of depth in animation (“The Old Mill,” 1937) and the first modern-day theme park (Disneyland, 1955). […]

One of the most fascinating objects here is an enormous notebook created by Herman Schultheis, a technician in the camera-effects department in the late ’30s, in which he documented how images were produced in “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia.” Next to it, an animated display of the book responds to touch, so you can almost feel the creators’ imagination at work as they transmute real objects into fantastical washes of color.

It’s not all fun and games, though. There is a section in the permanent collection that gets into the animators’ strike of 1941 and Walt Disney’s subsequent testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 where he enthusiastically named names of “communist agitators” who he was convinced wanted to smear his name and take down his studio.

The museum has audio recordings of Disney’s HUAC testimony, which I wasn’t able to find online, but you can read how personally Walt Disney took the strike and about his concerns over the power of propaganda in film in the HUAC transcript.

The display also includes interviews from the striking workers as well as from the animators who crossed the picket lines, so you get both sides of the story.

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Comment by jonathan
2009-10-05 11:23:28

When I began reading the article, I would have never guessed that Walt Disney would actually be portrayed with the good, the bad and the ugly that riddle his eventful life. A pleasant surprise for sure; all aspects of one’s activities are needed to establish a historic character portrayal.


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Comment by livius drusus
2009-10-05 11:32:11

I was surprised too. After reading his HUAC testimony I realized that the “communist infiltration” chimera was a major issue for him. He genuinely felt betrayed by the strike and was convinced “his boys” had been led astray.

If they had looked the other way, they would have been excising a major chunk of Walt Disney’s character and history.

Comment by LadyShea
2009-10-05 12:00:05

Thanks! I happen to think Disney is a fascinating person.

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Comment by livius drusus
2009-10-05 12:59:58

Me too. It’s hard for me to even conceive of how innovative he really was.

Incidentally, when I was a kid I thought Walt Disney was just a brand name, so I’m totally behind the family’s desire to ensure people remember there was a real man who started it all.

Comment by Anonymous
2013-02-03 22:17:35

Thank you so much for posting this! It definetly helped, I am doing a project on Walt Disney animations for my History Day project. It’s nationwide! I needed this kind of information really badly. Again, thanks so much for posting this. But, accordingly to other articles, I think some facts aren’t true, and some dates are a little off! You may want to check up on those.

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Comment by Anonymous
2013-02-03 22:19:07

Same here! I definetly agree with you! He’s one of my role models, and one of the main reasons is because of Mickey Mouse! He’s just amazing!!! :yes: 😀 🙂

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Comment by MiKE M
2013-04-02 09:55:55

There are other aspects of Walt Disney that people interested in the man should study about: He was also a racist, drove the animators like they were a bunch of robots, and did very little of the animation himself.

I didn’t read the article, but there were good reasons for the animators strike. Even today, the Disney Company is fairly brutal in how they treat their workers. They do pay very well, but they expect almost an inhuman level of work from all their staff. This is the reason why Pixar refused to continue their contract with Disney, and completely broke away from the company.

That is not to say that the negative aspects of Walt Disney should overshadow the excellent work he’s done. It is rather to say that one must take the good with the bad aspects of the man if they are interested in who he was.

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2017-09-27 16:44:16


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