A must-see for any Disney aficionado, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco is a place containing everything one would want to see or know about the man himself.
Created by Walt’s daughter, Diane in 2009, the museum tells about the Disney family history, from their migration from Ireland, through Walt’s childhood years and his eventual rise to the icon that he has become.
Entering the museum, a visitor is brought into the award gallery. In here are the awards, achievements and citations that Walt received during his lifetime, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. We always associate Walt with his Emmy awards, including the special one created for Snow White, but it’s amazing to see all the additional awards for animation, entertainment and honorary degrees from around the world. Also in this gallery are the chairs from Walt’s apartment above the firehouse in Disneyland.
The next gallery begins the Disney family history with the story of their immigration from Ireland in 1834, then Walt’s recollections of his childhood growing up in Chicago, Marceline and Kansas City, and joining the war effort in 1917. From here, visitors take an elevator up to a second floor which begins the biggest part of the museum.
Not only does the museum take you through Walt’s personal and professional life and the genesis of all his creations, but even through the various evolutions of animation, itself. There is a display wall showing recreations of 348 cels that comprise approximately 15 seconds of “Steamboat Willie,” the first talking cartoon that put Walt head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Another display shows two versions of “The Ugly Duckling,” one produced in 1931 and the second in 1939. The difference in the quality of animation in a very short time is astounding. The first being a black and white version that is very “cartoonish,” and the latter full of color and beauty.
And as would be expected, all this history leads up to the creation of the theme parks that have become gold standard for entertainment around the world. So as you near the end of the main museum, one is treated to all things that are familiar. There is “Jose” from the Tiki Room and Walt describing his new “audio-animatronic” elements in the park; and a scale model of Disneyland with working rides.
Of course, no museum paying tribute to Walt Disney would be complete without mention of his love of trains. Walt’s scale live steamer, Lilly Belle is on display in addition to a scale model of his Holmby Hills home, complete with its scale model railroad that ran around the property and the barn that is now a functioning attraction in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. (Click here for our review of Walt’s Barn.)
Walt has been gone so long from us that most who are guests at the parks forget that there was a man with a dream who created this entertainment giant. That is the best aspect of the museum – to remind us of the living legacy of a man who had an imagination so vast that few could comprehend; and with that he knew that “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
The museum is approximately 400,000 square feet and takes about 3 hours to tour. Add more time if you want to see the special features showing that are also additional costs to the admission fee. It is open every day except Tuesdays and major holidays. If you are in or near San Francisco, you definitely need to take a day and visit the museum.