The museum is located in The Presidio, a historic military base in San Francisco. Although the site is long decommissioned, many of the buildings remain. The museum, for example, is housed in some of the former barracks. It blends into the site quite nicely, preserving the beauty of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Rumor has it that George Lucas is also building a museum in the Presidio; when it's completed it will help turn this corner of San Francisco into a mecca for movie fans.
But that's in the future. Let's talk about the Walt Disney Family Museum itself.
The exhibits basically follow Disney's life. Each section of the museum has video screens constantly playing clips of movies he worked on or bits of interviews about him or his company. There are also artifacts, photographs, text and quotes that really help show how driven and creative Disney was.
I had never seen clips from Disney's Alice Adventures, a series of silent films from very early in his career. In them, he mixes a live actress with animation. The stories themselves seem very silly to a modern mind, but consider how revolutionary this would have been back in the day! It's pretty amazing. The museum naturally talks about Disney's triumphs – Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Disneyland – but it also devotes gallery space to his disappointments, like the loss of Oswald or the animators' strike in the 1940s. As befits a “Family Museum”, there was also significant gallery space dedicated to Disney as son, husband and father – and this makes the museum stand out from previous tellings of Disney's life in books or film. Clips from home videos play in nearly every room, and there are stories about vacations he took with his children or his dedication to his wife. It's really quite sweet.
One of the coolest things in the museum is a large scale model of Disneyland – but not as the park exists today, or how it appeared when it opened. Rather, it's an imaginary Disneyland, the one Walt might have enjoyed seeing had he lived longer. Attractions that have closed or ones added after his death all exist side-by-side, creating a park that collects the best of past and present. It's beautifully done, and so detailed that you just want to stare at it all day.
In a separate building, the museum houses special exhibitions. The current exhibition is all about Disney's first full-length animated feature, Snow White, and includes concept art, character sketches, original animation cels, watercolors and vintage posters. It shows all the work that went into the making of the movie, which was the first of its kind – so all of this was groundbreaking stuff. Even today, it's amazing how much work and risk went into the project, and it makes you happy that Snow White was such a great success.
It was pretty fun – Seanie and I spent most of the morning at the museum. There's a small area for food, but their offerings are pretty slim – beverages and some tired-looking sandwiches. But as far as we knew, there was nothing else to eat in the Presidio, so we split a sandwich and picked up more food once we were on the road again.