If your family didn’t get to make a trip to Disneyland this summer and needs a Disney fix, the Walt Disney Family Museum could be just the ticket — the “E” ticket — that is.
Located in the Presidio of San Francisco, this museum of all things Walt Disney opened in October 2009, offering the public a glimpse into Disney’s life — from humble beginnings to the creation of uber-park Disneyland and his death at age 65.
A visit to the museum begins at the red brick buildings of the Presidio’s former army barracks. Inside the meticulously renovated rooms, guests are greeted with signature Disney style by uniformed staff wearing snappy purple bellhop style jackets.
The museum consists of 10 galleries, a café, theater, learning center and a gift shop. As with other Disney parks and entertainment venues, no expense was spared to tell the story of the founder’s life, from birth to death.
The journey into the magic of Disney’s imagination starts at a lobby displaying Disney’s many awards, including Oscars, Emmys and other industry awards. One highlight is the Oscar Disney received from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which includes seven miniature Oscar statuettes.
Stepping into the first gallery “Beginnings” — where photos and video are prohibited — visitors are drawn into the early years of Disney’s life, featuring family photos, letters and other memorabilia. The family has gathered a comprehensive collection of heirlooms, such as buttons from Disney’s mother’s wedding dress and Disney’s father’s violin. This gallery, most of all, reminds guests they are at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Indeed, his oldest daughter, Diane Disney Miller, was a driving force behind its creation. Coincidentally, Miller has a Napa connection — her family owns the Silverado Vineyards on Silverado Trail.
The famous Disney attention to detail is everywhere, even in the short elevator ride from one floor to another. The elevator is decorated to resemble a train car and evoke Disney’s journey from Kansas City to Hollywood. Interactive media, audio and digital effects draw the visitor from exhibit to exhibit, engaging even the youngest Disney fan. On one large wall, pages of single cel animation scenes from “Steamboat Willie” come alive with video images of the animated art. On another wall, each letter of the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign features more video within the letters.
In another gallery, would-be animators are encouraged to attempt to synchronize sound effects with animation. This exhibit was under repair during a recent visit, but looked like a fun way to engage guests of all ages.
Another exhibit traced the origins and history of the Mickey Mouse club and its now highly collectable memorabilia.
Black and white family photos give way to color films of Disney’s growing family and the advent of Technicolor films. Next up was the history and background on one of his biggest hits, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
There is so much to listen to that, at times, the audio from one exhibit blended with another playing nearby making it a little hard to concentrate. But each was a treasure trove of detail, from Disney’s shaving kit, to pots of ink from the animation studio, to original sketches with animator notes for any number of now-famous motion pictures.
The museum reminds guests that there was much more to Disney than just Disneyland. But once visitors enter the Disneyland gallery, it’s easy to see how this is the holy grail for many fans.
A huge model of the Disneyland of the founder’s imagination takes center stage within the space, with plenty of room to circle its perimeter and point out favorite rides and destinations. Even the floor in the Disneyland gallery — deep blue granite with sparkly bits of “pixie dust” — matches the wonderland theme.
The final gallery covers the unexpected death of Disney in 1966. Comfy benches welcome visitors to sit down and relax for a moment, surrounded by epitaphs for the creative genius. “He was the master of magic,” read one quote. His death was “the first time he’s ever made us sad,” read another.
No trip to any Disney land is complete without a gift shop. You won’t find stuffed Mickey Mouse animals at this well-stocked store, but you will find special jewelry, artwork, Walt Disney Family Museum souvenirs and, in an homage to Disney’s animation roots, art supplies.