(I was provided with this experience by Disney/Pixar. Any opinions are 100% my entertainment and fascinating history facts loving own.)
Vision of Tomorrowland Inside Walt Disney Family Museum
Inside The Presidio of San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge, you will find an experience unlike any you will find at Disneyland or Disney World. An amazing ride through the story of Walt Disney’s life and legacy. The dreams, the visions, and the reality. The Walt Disney Family Museum is not a ride you actually step onto, it’s a ride you immerse yourself into mentally once inside the doors. Come along for the “visual” ride and the Vision of Tomorrowland!
The Walt Disney Family Museum is laid out in galleries that section off eras of Walt Disney’s life. We were taken through each one with a tour guide who narrated the stories each gallery told. There are so many amazing things to look at and absorb that really shaped animation and movies to what they are today. Not only that, it brings you inside the life of a man who was more than “magic maker”.
Beginnings: Walt Disney’s Early Year (1901-1923)
We start at the beginning of Walt Disney’s life, his birth in Chicago. Then we move through his first 23 years on his family farm in Missouri, then in Kansas City where he drew cartoons for the high school yearbook, then back to Chicago where he took art classes before joining the American Ambulance Corps. This gallery is filled with Walt Disney’s early drawings and mementoes from his childhood, as well as cameras similar to the ones that Walt used when he worked and lived in Kansas City.
In this gallery we see Walt Disney head to California with hopes of being a director. Filling the room is original artwork (like the earliest known drawings of Mickey Mouse!), the move to the new Hyperion Studios where Disney created four of its great animation features, and ending with Walt’s marriage to Lillian Bounds.
New Horizons: The Emergence of the Walt Disney Studio (1928-1940)
At this point in Walt’s life, Mickey Mouse is successful and studio animation is being forever changed. You will find vintage artifacts, animation art, character merchandise, and even family photos inside this gallery. You can really tell, by the character merchandise in this gallery, that Walt Disney quickly realized the tie between movies and merchandising was going to be huge.
The Move to Features: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Now that Walt Disney had redefined the art of animation, he was ready to take on the challenge of producing a feature-length animated film. After four years in development, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs finally premiered and Disney won a “unique” Academy Award that was a standard-sized Oscar and seven miniature castings!
The Move to Features Gallery includes original art from Snow White, three-dimensional model figures, magazines of the period, audio clips, and more!
“I honestly feel that the heart of our organization is the Storyboard Department. We must have good stories – we must have them well worked out.” Walt Disney to Ted Sear in 1935
New Success & Greater Ambitions
This era brings a move to Burbank, California for Disney Studios, as well the release of Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia! This gallery features one of Disney Studio’s original multiplane camera cranes, an animator’s desk and rare production art.
The Late ’30s to Mid ’40s
Now we venture into what is a difficult period in Walt Disney’s life. His parents passing, a studio strike, and the U.S. Military using part of the studio as a base. During this time, Disney produced Dumbo, military training videos, public service shorts, and moral boosting films. In this gallery you will find lots of photos and union flyers from the 1941 Disney animators’ strike, samples of Disney films in support of the war effort, and more.
Post-war Rebuilding (Mid-40’s – Early 50’s)
This is when Walt Disney, and his brother Roy, gave live-action a try, the combination of shorts and feature-length movies for theaters began, and film releases included Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and live-actions Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Included in the Post-war Rebuilding Gallery are concept and animation art from Disney’s films, artifacts from live-action movies, including an underwater camera used in the filming of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and one of my favorite displays, Walt’s not-so-miniature personal collection of miniatures!
Walt and the Natural World
This gallery fittingly has a AHmazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay! You can really see Walt’s love for nature here, where you learn about Disney’s first nature documentary as part of the “True-Lie Adventures” Series was “Seal Island”, a 27-minute account of the seasonal habits of seals, among other things. One of the exhibits in this gallery include specialized equipment used in the production of the “True-Life Adventures” series.
The 1950s & 1960s: The Big Screen and Beyond
Now we reach the time period in Walt’s life that triggered him to develop Disneyland. He installed a scale model railroad on the grounds of his new home. This is also when Walt began creating weekly television shows, while the studio continued creating animated and live-action films, including Mary Poppins.
This gallery time period is also when Walt Disney got involved in developing new technologies for installations for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. In the 1960s he announced his ideas for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
In a 15-year period, Walt created the templates for family television entertainment and outdoor family recreation while also infusing the promise of space exploration and urban planning with a sense of wonder and awe.
“Walt Disney believed in tomorrow, but tomorrow was expensive. In 1953, Walt had declared that Tomorrowland would be “the factual and scientific exposition of things to come.” In 1954, Walt decided that Disneyland would have to open without it”. – WaltDisney.org
That didn’t happen though. When Disneyland opened it’s gates on July 17th, 1955, Tomorrowland opened as well! At first park guest could only visit the Circarama theater, ride miniature highways on the Autopia, and stop by Monsanto’s Hall of Chemistry…. but within a month you could also ride a Rocket to the Moon and venture down the Tomorrowland Lagoon in Phantom Boats.
For you long-time Disney fans, you may remember “Man In Space” that aired on the Disneyland Television Program in March of 1955. Not only did this move Disney towards a “futuristic franchise”, but in the end, it formed the basis for Tomorrowland at Disneyland and Walt Disney World as well.
“Man In Space” wasn’t just the start of the Tomorrowland Series by Disney, it was also a film that had an impact on the U.S. Space Program. made a difference in the space program itself. When President Eisenhower requests the film to screen for high-ranking Pentagon officials to use as a resource for kicking of the country’s space initiatives….well you know you’ve got something.
So, when you head to theater on May 22nd to see Disney’s Tomorrowland on the big screen, look beyond the story. See the vision and hear the message of the future….the future that is yours for the making.
Remembering Walt Disney
Now that we’ve returned from Tomorrowland, we enter the last gallery that covers Walt Disney’s death from lung cancer on December 15th, 1966. Inside the gallery you will find newspaper articles, editorial comment, and letters and telegrams showing people’s reactions from around the world.
The Walt Disney Family Museum has a lot to offer both fans of Disney, those interested in Walt Disney’s life, interested in animation or movies, and those interested in history. If you are ever in the San Francisco area, I highly recommend a visit to Walt Disney Family Museum!
PS: Disney’s Tomorrowland hits theaters on May 22nd!