Disney museum honors man behind the mouse

October 1, 2009 4:01:39 PM PDT
Walt Disney's relatives greeted the first wave of visitors as a new museum designed to showcase the personal world of the legendary animator opened Thursday."Walt Disney reached people because he was a magical storyteller," Disney's grandson, Walter E.D. Miller, said as the museum opened. "Now it's our turn to tell Walt's story."

The $110 million Walt Disney Family Museum was co-founded by Miller and his mother, Diane Disney Miller. The Walt Disney Co. collaborated on the project, but the museum is an independent venture fully funded by the Walt Disney Family Foundation.

Family members say they were motivated by concerns that the view of Disney the man had gotten lost in the legend.

Exhibits follow Disney's life from childhood to his struggles getting established as an artist and his later successes, with a goal, according to grandson Miller, of narrating the life of "someone whose name is often confused with a brand and to present him simply as a human being with extraordinary vision."

Dark times aren't glossed over. One section deals with a bitter strike at Disney Studios and another presents audio tapes of Disney's testimony before the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee.

Business struggles are documented, too.

Step into an elevator between floors and you're inside a beautifully replicated old-fashioned train compartment, complete with red velvet curtains and windows half-shaded by pull-down blinds. A tape of Disney's voice recounts the upside of an early business disaster: "I think it's important to have a good hard failure when you're young."

Items on display include the evolution of Mickey Mouse and a host of other animated creations, with many stations offering visitors a chance to listen and even experiment with the mechanics of animation.

A showstopper is a gallery showing a model of Disneyland, right down to the revolving tea cup ride. Visitors on Thursday pored over the model, pointing out landmarks to each other.

Designers took advantage of the museum's setting, a refurbished building at the former Presidio Army base. A gallery devoted to Disney nature films has a glass wall looking directly out to a stunning vista of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The displays are absorbing, and a timed-ticket entrance system is being used to prevent overcrowding.

Walls of photographs show various generations of the Disney family. In a neat effect, some of the photos are small video screens showing home movies of weddings and trips.

"It's like going through their family albums," said visitor William Robison of San Francisco.

Robison, an amateur filmmaker in his spare time, spent a while looking at a display of the multiplane camera Disney developed to add depth to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the movie dubbed "Disney's folly" until it opened to wild acclaim.

"He was a huge inspiration," Robison said. "I already know I'm going to have to come back."
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