Where Dreams Come to Life: Walt Disney Family Museum
We all know what Disney means to kids. However, to know who is Disney and how he made Disney a household name, you need to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, writes Al Auger.
(Above): The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the Presidio in San Francisco. [Wikimedia | Cullen328 | Jim Heaphy]
At this writing, San Francisco and environs are basking in the glow of one of the most extraordinary city-wide collection and retrospective of modern art; it‘s birth, creators, history and mentors. At the de Young Museum is the unparalleled Pablo Picasso collection on loan from the Musee National Picasso, Paris. At the Jewish Contemporary Museum along with the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery is Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories. This is one of the most complete collection of intimate artifacts of Stein, her life-long partner, Alice B. Toklas, her famous Paris salon and family.
Across the street at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the piece de resistance of this Picasso/Stein assemblage. The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde. Collectively, the two Stein exhibitions and the de Young’s extensive collection represent the roots of modern art as we know it today. Picasso, literally, turned the art world on its head in the late 19th century. But, even Picasso and his peers such as Matisse, Grise, et al, would have had a hard life without the support and mentoring of Stein and Toklas.
And, finally, a brand new permanent attraction, joining this celebrated group, has been ensconced in the Presidio of San Francisco. The Walt Disney Family Museum follows the engaging life and achievements beginning with Disney’s engaging debut of “Steamboat Willie” in 1928. That humble beginning represents today the extraordinary animated movies that have beaten multi-million dollar mainstream movies at the ticket window.
(All admissions require a Date/Time reservation)
Senior (over 65) $15.00
Student (w/valid I.D.).$15.00
Child (ages 6-17) $12.00
Under 6 (w/adult admission) Free
Tickets may be purchased online or at the door. The 10 am ticket is good all day. Public program tickets (films, lectures, etc.). For complete information about programs, discount tickets, directions, et al, go to www.waltdisney.org or call 415-345-6800.
The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the Presidio of San Francisco, 104 Montgomery St.
Extensive parking is available.
Public transportation is available on San Francisco MUNI, BART, PresidioGo Shuttle and Golden Gate Transit from Marin County.
Picasso, Matisse, Toulouse Lautrec and...Disney?
Certainly, Disney would be difficult to find in this celestial company, yet he played as important a part in his own way bringing modern art of animation to heights of sight and sound never imagined. Walt Disney changed the world of cinema and animation for all time. His list of achievements in technology, imaginative presentations and new maturity to a once child’s venue numbers in the hundreds.
The Disney Family Museum offers an entertaining understanding of this famed cinematic story teller. A visionary, yet a pragmatist at same time, No one will argue that without this quiet man there would undoubtedly not be the likes of George Lucas, claymation pioneer George Pal and all the talented modern day animators and storytellers that have put animated movies, both artistically and commercially, on par with contemporary major movies.
Describing the reasons behind the museum, co-founder Diane Disney Miller said, “My father has one of the most well-known names around the world, but as the “brand” has grown, the man has become lost, in his own words, and in the words of others who knew him well and worked with him. Thanks to the amazing work of many dedicated people, we are fortunate to be able to tell it here using the tools he worked with - art, music, film and technology - to present an honest yet affectionate portrait of this amazing artist and man.”
Located in the historical Presidio of San Francisco, the museum and its ancillary headquarters occupy three buildings within the heart of the main post. The museum proper is in one of the old barracks and was renovated at a cost of $110M. The construction and collecting the myriad of some 80 years of memorabilia, film, historical equipment, high tech devices Walt would easily have understood., etc. took nearly four years.
Management has created a unique crowd control program to keep the numbers of visitors at a comfortable level. A timed entry ticketing system allows only 50 guests entry at a time with space before the next group. This not only smoothes the tour but gives the knowledgeable, young docents a more intimate time with their questions.
When you walk down the sunny and inviting entry corridor you find, first, a restoration of the Disney home in Kansas. Much of the former Army barracks’ warm wood and brick interior has been retained during the refurbishing. Beyond this you are greeted by a corp of friendly docents who will guide you through the chronologically formed galleries, theaters, café and gift shop.
Beginning the tour visitors are immediately introduced to Disney the man through the representative childhood Kansas home, a replica of the ambulance he drove in France during World War I and his early struggles breaking into the nascent animation industry.
For me, as a budding, young cartoonist, the most enduring moment was watching Disney’s pivotal Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s difficult to remember it happened way back in 1936. The clarity of color, the nearly 3-D effect of the animated characters was so beyond anything else of the time. What followed were trips through the ten galleries where displayed were examples of the numerous classic animated and feature films as Mary Poppins, Fantasia, Cinderella, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea plus the many nature films for both the big screen and TV.
One poignant stop was at the gallery filled with cards and letters to the Disney family from all over the world after his death in 1966 at the age of 65. Many were illustrated with Disney characters, mainly of Mickey Mouse. The most interesting is a gallery detailing Disney’s breakthrough development of joining animation and sound track.
Centerpiece of the tour is a huge diorama of Disneyland in Southern California. Story goes Disney had trouble finding financing and ended up putting just about everything he owned in hock to raise the initial $17 million. Apocryphal or real, it sounds like just about every step Disney took in reaching his place in history and fame.
But, the Disney family and staff believed the museum must go beyond the multifaceted Disney. The programs at the museum offer a regular schedule of screenings, related seminars, lectures and live performances. A real treat for the children are art classes and other related programs. Individual and family memberships are also offered.