Podcast 0046: Walt Disney Archives at the Bowers Museum




This month on Dispodopolis, we discuss my recent trip to the Bowers Museum to review the "Inside the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit." The exhibit was initially viewed at the D23 Expo Japan in 2018 before finding a temporary home at the Bowers Museum. The Bowers Museum is located in Santa Ana, California, 10 minutes South of Disneyland along the I-5 freeway. The Bowers Museum is a Spanish-influenced oasis in the middle of suburban Orange County. The Bowers Museum is possible due to a couple that donated their land and small farmhouse in the 1920s to develop a history museum that celebrated the heritage and many cultures that have called Southern California home. It also happens to be the venue where my husband and I were married.


The Bower's Museum hosted the Walt Disney Archive's 50th Anniversary Exhibit from March 7, 2020, to June 20, 2021. The exhibit was extended two times to provide an opportunity to experience this exhibit in between the shutdowns and limitations created by the covid virus. The exhibit was a special exhibit with an extra $10 over the $13 entrance fee. It will only cost $10 if you are a museum member that belongs to NARM (North American Reciprocal Museum Association). NARM is a reciprocal museum program that allows you to visit museums around the country at no cost or a reduced ticket price when you become a member of a local museum that belongs to the NARM program. Sometimes it is a good idea to become a member of a few museums in your hometown, especially if you know you will be doing some traveling during the year. Those museum fees can add up quickly. There is also a reduced price if you are a D23 member.


The Bowers Museum is where Disney meets Orange County. Disneyland helped transform this sleepy suburb of California into an exciting place to grow up as a kid starting in the sixties and moving forward. With the influx of Disney magic, Orange County provided a wealth of educational and extra-curricular activities to the community. The Bowers Museum is just one of many museums and activities that Disneyland influenced. They have a light fare on-site luncheon restaurant, Tangata. Tangata serves sandwiches and salads. You may also see a couple of choices that you would see on a dinner menu. It is a relaxing area off to the side that prohibits the sounds from interfering with your meal. Noise can be an issue at many museums because of the poor acrostics that bounce noise through the halls and large foyers. There isn't a lot to mute the sounds in a museum with all the hard surfaces. Tangata has a lower ceiling and is tucked to the side at the main entrance. There is also an area to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful California weather.


The Walt Disney Archives exhibit inhabited most of the bottom floor near the main entrance. At the main entrance, you turn left and head down the long hallway with trellis beams above and a flying Dumbo that looks like he is the moment of flight when you are about to descend and land. In the doorway hangs a well-known picture of Walt in his home's doorway with a shadow of Mickey Mouse on the wall. This photo was shot at Walt's home on Woking Way in Los Angeles. This home is where Sharon and Diane, Walt's daughters, grew up with a replica of Snow White's cottage in the backyard. I love this picture and the simplistic appeal of its imagery.


Many museums want to set the stage for an exhibit and will have to incorporate a change of directions and a darkened interior to cut off the outside world. It forces you to stop and immediately change direction from the main hall into a controlled atmosphere. In this first room, there is a video of Becky Cline, Director of the Walt Disney Archives, playing on the wall you are facing, and directly behind that is Walt's desk with his bookshelf behind the desk. You have to build the rest of Walt's office with your imagination and memories, but there is a picture on the wall to give you some inspiration. The room is stark and warm beside these features. This room is dimly lit so the video can be viewed, and it also calms the guests and prepares them for the rest of the exhibit. On the wall to your right is a case holding instruments used by a cartographer to layout the physical development of Disneyland and replicas of illustrations of the original ideas and development of Disneyland. Above the case is a large sign with lite letters spelling out Walt Disney Archives.


As you exit this room to the left of this cabinet, you enter a small hallway. The curators wanted to create a feeling of entering the archives and studio. The items that fill these halls are full of memories and reminders of the last hundred years. At the end of the hall is an animator's desk designed by Ken Weber that any artist or Disney animation fan would love to collect or utilize.


A doorway to the left of the desk transports you to a long wide corridor with a dwarfed table in the middle. Murals line the wall on the left. These murals represent the catalog of books used by the nine old men and all the animators who came after them. Walt was known for shipping books from all his travels back to the studios to inspire his animators, storyboarders, and writers. The small tabletop is scattered with memos and drawings. To the right is a couple of smaller four feet high cabinets holding some treasured pieces from the archives, including ephemeral collectibles and the snow globe from "Mary Poppins." This room is sparsely decorated with artifacts.


The next room showcases many different parts of the collection that the Walt Disney Archives is responsible for in their warehouses. The displays are flush with the wall, and beautiful display boxes that blend with the walls fill the centers of the room. The highlight here is the beauty of the items and the special place they hold in our hearts. There is a display case filled with Charlotte Clark Mickey and Minnie dolls and a unique Bambi plush. Charlotte Clark had incredible ingenuity and designed the first Mickey Mouse plush. Walt Disney loved her designs and gave her permission to create them and sell the patterns. She kept up with the distribution as long as possible but had to fall back and simply develop the templates for the various characters moving forward. She started developing the style in 1931. It is a beloved style that is highly sought after to own. They even released a set of Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls in the Clark style in 1990 and 2018.


The other display cases held numerous pieces from live-action pictures like "Mary Poppins" and outfits worn by actors to help them create the rotoscoping images for the animators like "Pinocchio." There were also numerous character models used to produce animated features and merchandise released along with the feature film. As you progressed into the room, paintings line the walls created as background imagery for such movies as "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." There were wall hangings from movies such as "Bed Knobs and Broomsticks." There were movie posters from "Lion King," and "Little Mermaid," and artwork created for storyboards such as "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." In the middle of this space, a tabletop display case held the storybooks from the opening of the full-length animated features, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.


This room leads into a space that celebrates Disneyland with the presentation of a Snow White window display that once was exhibited on Main Street and several pieces that adorned the halls, mausoleums, and grounds of the Haunted Mansion. A few pieces from the park also represent the closed attractions from the parks in the states. The theme park treasures are directly opposite from a line of costumes from various movies from "Babes in Toyland," "Pretty Woman," and "Tron." There are many outfits from current movies like the live-action version of "Cinderella," "Maleficent," and "Mary Poppins Returns." The room continued with many pieces used as props in various live-action movies and items used in Mickey Mouse Club television show.


As you walk around the tall display cases, you come to an area devoted to the many automobiles and vehicles used in a few of my favorite Disney live-action films and maybe not so Disney films. Two of these found in the exhibit are The Ford Model T used in the "Absent-Minded Professor" and the Volkswagen Bug used in "Herbie." There is also a vehicle from the recent movie, "Ford vs. Ferrari." No, "Ford vs. Ferrari" is not your traditional Disney movie and isn't a Disney movie at all, but one produced by 20th Century Fox, which Disney purchased in 2019. There are a few pieces from that production company.


The last area marked off by pillars is a dedication to Disney Studios and the many talented individuals that have been bestowed with the honor of Disney Legend. They had replicas of their handprints so you could compare your hand to theirs. The image of the Seven Dwarfs holding up the Studio building facade stands before you with the Disney Legend award in the center encased in a display. It is a magnificently designed whimsical award that swirls up the imagination of the Sorcerer's Apprentice.


Walt Disney Studios Seven Dwarfs Facade with Disney Legend Award

This room concluded the exhibit but not the memories. I loved the depth of the pieces and how they intertwined the many facets of the company. They tried to cover every aspect of the Disney Studios from telegrams to Lillian about the beginning of Mickey Mouse, to the iconic books used in the opening of the classic animated features Snow White, to the theme park posters of Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean, to the many props of Mary Poppins. No matter where your interest lies in the Disney company, they have something that will fascinate you and bring back memories. I can't wait to see them again, and I'm so glad that Disney has spent the time and energy to keep these memories alive to preserve the company's tradition.


Through this exhibit has come to a close, it has moved on and found a new home at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. The cost for the exhibit is $15 or $12 if you are a member of D23. Memphis is a fun small town with rich and textured history. There is amazing food at Gus' Fried Chicken World Famous. It is just the right amount of spice that brings a slight burn to your mouth while you savor a lush and moist fried chicken. There is also a fantastic zoo, Memphis zoo (https://www.memphiszoo.org), that headlines a family of panda bears and kangaroos. Most famously, Memphis is known for being the home of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, and Graceland. Graceland was Elvis' paradise and escape from his public life. This exhibit is a great excuse to not only take in a beautiful city but experience a little bit of Disney magic.


Southern California doesn't have to wait long to be exposed to additional treasures from the Walt Disney Archives. On December 15, 2021, a new exhibit will open at the Bowers Museum that focuses on all that glitters and sparkles throughout the archives. All That Glitters: The Jewels of the Walt Disney Archives is an all-new exhibit that encompasses the splendor from Walt Disney and 20th Century movies from the last one hundred years.


Before discussing my experience at the Walt Disney Archives exhibit, we also have a review and an ordering of the amazing Anime movies produced by Studio Ghibli. Fiona spent many hours on the road immersering herself in the collection to bring you her feelings and thoughts on all 23 films. It is presented in only a way Fiona could explain each movie's importance and its influence on the animation culture. She was able to view all of the films on HBO Max, except "Grave of the Fireflies," which is available to rent at numerous venues, including Apple TV or purchase on Amazon.


We also dive deeper into prop culture by asking ourselves which prop we would like to see in person? There are a hundred years and thousands of experiences to chose from in the Disney Archives. From animated films, live-action films, the numerous intellectual properties purchased by the Disney Corp to the parks, there is so much to inspire and bring joy. What prop would bring joy to your day or stir up unforgettable memories from your childhood? Which reminds us about the Prop Culture show you can catch on Disney+. Email us at comments@dispodopolis.com, and we can share on a future episode.


We would love to hear from you and your family. If you have any comments, questions, or fun and fancy-free thoughts, email us at comments@dispodopolis.com. Please enjoy our latest podcast, Dispodopolis.



Images from: Dispodopolis, Bowers Museum, Leonard Ortiz (OC Register), Studio Ghibli, and D23


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