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D23's "Treasures" exhibit offers a comprehensive look at the Walt Disney Company's past, present and future

D23's "Treasures" exhibit offers a comprehensive look at the Walt Disney Company's past, present and future

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Last Monday afternoon,  I was at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum and overheard a pretty funny exchange between two of the docents who'd been assigned to work the "D23 presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" exhibit.


Photo by Alice Hill

It seems that one of these poor women had spent the bulk of that day working  in this exhibit's "Patriotic Legacy" room. Which -- to quote from the map that Ronald Reagan staffers hand off to every person who buys a ticket to "Treasures" -- is the room which ...

... explores the special relationships Presidents of the United States and, in particular, Ronald Reagan, have shared throughout the years with Walt Disney and the company that bears his name.

Anyway ... A big highlight of the "Patriotic Legacy"  portion of this exhibit is that it features all 44 busts of the U.S. Presidents which the Imagineers had sculpted prior to the construction of the Audio-Animatronic figures for the "Hall of Presidents" attraction at WDW's Magic Kingdom.


Photo by Jim Hill

So why did I say "poor woman" in regards to the docent who'd been assigned to cover this one particular room in the "Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" exhibit? Well, as I overheard her explaining to her co-worker,  all day long, she'd been standing in front of these extremely fragile busts (which are only separated from the public by this flimsy velvet rope). And every hour or so, a kid would enter the "Patriotic Legacy" room, growl and then loudly proclaim "I'M GONNA WRECK IT!" And then this docent would then feel like she had to keep an extra-close watch on this child, all because he-or-she had just announced their intention to destroy part of this exhibit space.

It was at this point in their conversation that I just couldn't help myself. I walked over to the two docents and asked them if they'd heard about "Wreck-It Ralph," the new animated feature which Walt Disney Studios would be releasing to theaters later this Fall. These two ladies then admitted that they didn't know anything about that upcoming Walt Disney Animation Studios production.

"Well, there's a huge picture of the title character from this animated feature towards the end of that photo collage which is located right at the entrance to the 'Patriotic Legacy' room," I explained. "And just so you know: Wreck-It Ralph is a video game character whose catchphrase is  'I'M GONNA WRECK IT!' "


Photo by Jim Hill

You should have seen the relief wash over these two docents when they realized that the little kids who had  been touring "D23 presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" weren't actually looking to bust any of those presidential busts. But -- rather -- these kids were just quoting what they'd heard Ralph  say in the "Wreck-It Ralph" trailer.

But in a strange sort of way, that's what's really great about this 12,000 square-foot exhibit. "D23 presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives' isn't just some fond look back at what the Ol' Mousetro accomplished over the course of his life (EDITOR'S NOTE: Just so we're clear here. The previous sentence shouldn't be seen as a knock on the Walt Disney Family Museum. Which actually does an excellent job of showcasing & illuminating everything that Walt did during his 60+ years on the planet. If you haven't yet made your way up to The Presidio at San Francisco to check this place out, make plans to do so NOW). But -- rather -- the more-that-500 artifacts on display here take you all the way from the "Alice Comedies" & the Oswald-the-Lucky-Rabbit cartoons right up to the Studio's latest blockbusters, "Marvel's The Avengers" and Pixar's "Brave." As well as giving exhibit attendees a quick sneak peek over the horizon at Disney's holiday 2012 release, "Wreck-It Ralph."

So is "D23 presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" perfect? Well, I have to admit that I could have done without much of the "Fantastic Creations for Heroes and Heroines" portion of this exhibit. Which seemed to have primarily been built around the costumes which various celebrities wore while they were being photographed by Annie Leibowitz for  that "Disney Dream" print ad campaign.

But that said, I have to admit that it was pretty cool to get to see Iron-Man's armor as well as Tony Stark's racecar from "Iron Man 2 " ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... not to mention great theme park curios like the head from the original Maleficent-as-dragon figure which used to appear in Disneyland's "Fantasmic!" nighttime waterfront extravaganza. As well as the Mickey Mouse AA figure which used to conduct Disney's all-star character orchestra in the "Mickey Mouse Revue" attraction at WDW's Magic Kingdom.


Photo by Jim Hill

That's what I genuinely enjoyed about "Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives." exhibit. The obvious effort that the D23 team had put into trying to make this exhibit as comprehensive & as balanced as they possibly could. Including displays which would be sure to appeal to hardcore Disney history buffs (EX: Walt's office ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... as well as the Pinocchio costume that studio staffers used while they were shooting live-action reference footage for Disney's second full-length animated feature).


Photo by Jim Hill

But at the same time, Steven Clark & Co. made a point of including props & costumes which would obviously appeal to baby boomers. People whose favorite Disney films -- like "Babes in Toyland " ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... "Mary Poppins" ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... "The Happiest Millionaire" ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and "Bedknobs & Broomsticks" ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... -- were all produced in the 1960s / early 1970s.

Mind you, the Studio's sci-fi adventure epics (like 1954's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" ...


Photo by Jim Hill

and 1982's "TRON") are represented in "Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives."


Photo by Jim Hill

As are Disney's run of hit hand-drawn animated features from the 1990s.


Photo by Jim Hill

Likewise the Studio's modern era billion-dollar blockbusters (i.e. the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and "Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland").


Photo by Jim Hill

These items from Disney's most recent hit films are admittedly very cool to look at. But as a theme park history buff, I have to admit that -- me personally -- the very best part of "D23 presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" was getting the chance to take an up-close look at the Oscar AA figure from "Country Bear Jamboree" ...


Photo by Jim Hill

...as well as the RX-24 droid from the original version of "Star Tours" ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and the Hitchhiking Ghosts from Walt Disney World's version of "The Haunted Mansion."


Photo by Jim Hill

Now please understand that -- all by itself -- the Ronald Reagan Library is well worth a drive out to Simi Valley. I mean, how many times do you get the chance to see an actual chunk of the Berlin Wall and/or wander through Air Force One?


Photo by Jim Hill

But for Disneyana fans, the reason that they'll be willing to make that two hour-long drive from the Disneyland Resort to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum is to see what Steven Clark, Becky Cline and the rest of the team have hauled out of the various warehouses, storage cabinets and cubby holes that the Walt Disney Archives has stashed stuff in over the past 40+ years.

Be warned, though: This genuinely comprehensive look at Walt Disney and all that the Company which bears his name has accomplished is only slated to run at the Reagan through April of 2013. And given that "D23 presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" has already proven to be quite popular (with hundreds of museum patrons patiently standing in line daily in a queue that actually wraps itself around both the inside & the outside of the Library's main lobby area. As these people wait for their specific entry time to begin so that they can then begin touring this multi-level exhibit space), it is strongly recommended that you  purchase your tickets well in advance of your visit  at www.ReaganLibrary.com/Treasures.


Photo by Jim Hill

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is located at 40 Presidential Drive in Simi Valley, CA. It's open 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. every day of the week, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. For further information on the Library & Museum itself as well as the "Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives" exhibit, please visit the official Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum website.

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  • Is this more a monument to the present day Walt Disney Company or a salute to Walt Disney the man? I have no problem with "Iron Man" or "The Avengers" but I do have a problem with those films sharing the bill in what has otherwise been promoted as a tribute to Walt Disney the man and his friendship with President Reagan.

    Why not put an anchor's desk in there from ESPN? Many of us feel the Disney magic whenever we come across that channel on the dial. Not.

    Disney needs to find a better way to bifurcate old and new Disney.

  • TJ, I'd say the exhibit's more of a tribute to the Company's history than to Walt specifically. The first room does have some interesting stuff on Walt's early life, such as a video about his experiences living in Marceline and Kansas City, as well as artifacts from the years before Mickey, like stuff related to the Alice comedies and Oswald; in addition, some of the stuff in the last room tells a little about the connections between the president and Walt. Aside from that and  the display recreating Walt's formal office,that's about it. The Reagan Library's promotional stuff has been playing up the relationship between Walt and Reagan, but I think that may be to help justify the exhibit being there in the first place, or to encourage visitors who are coming just for the Reagan stuff or visitors coming just for the Disney stuff to stick around and see everything.

    You have to keep in mind that although this may be the largest Treasures exhibit ever done, the exhibition space is actually pretty small, and it has to cover a lot of territory. I'm sure the Archives and D23 folks realized that they couldn't do an exhibition like this and not acknowledge Walt, but they also knew that the Walt Disney Family Museum covered Walt's life much more thoroughly and effectively than they could ever hope to do in the space they had to work with while still offering enough of a variety of artifacts from the Company's history to please as many visitors as possible, so they focused most of their attention on what Disney did after Walt's passing. Iron Man may not be what many folks our age think of when someone says "Disney", but others do associate the two, and the exhibition presents it accordingly.

    As far as bringing "old Disney" and "new Disney" together, I'm hoping that the interest in this exhibit and theTreasures exhibits at the D23 Expo will encourage the Company to follow through on ideas that have been floated for a Walt Disney Company Museum, where what you suggest could be done.  There's a lot more to tell as far as Walt's story and the Company's story, and a lot more in the Archives that could be shown to the public; imagine how much more could be done in a permanent, state-of-the-art facility. It's a long shot, but the fact that D23 is being allowed to spend the money to put on these exhibitions shows that the idea's at least a possibilty.

  • @pschnebs --- a permanent WDC museum would be a great idea! I'd like to see something like that!

  • That Iron Man "costume" is an odd piece to include in this exhibit - it's a piece of merchandise available in hundreds of comic shops.  (Expensive, but still merchandise).  It's unfortunate, also, that they represent ALL the busts of presidents as being sculpted by Blaine Gibson.  You'd think they'd know better...

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