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Can the "Fantasia" Blu-ray help raise the Walt Disney Family Museum 's profile?

Can the "Fantasia" Blu-ray help raise the Walt Disney Family Museum 's profile?

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Well, it looks like Christmas is coming a little early not only for fans of Walt Disney the man, but also for the Walt Disney Family Museum at The Presidio in San Francisco.

Today, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment is releasing a combo Blu-ray / DVD collection featuring both "Fantasia" and  "Fantasia 2000."

And if that wasn't reason enough to celebrate - both films look marvelous in high-definition Blu-ray and sound superb - the company is also releasing on Blu-ray / DVD "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," inspired by a segment from "Fantasia," and DVDs of three recent Disney-related documentaries: "the boys: the sherman brothers' story," "Waking Sleeping Beauty" and "Walt & El Grupo."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

There's plenty of choices there for any Disney fan's holiday wish list.

To celebrate the release of "Fantasia / Fantasia 2000," the company flew dozens of media professionals from around the world to San Francisco a few weeks ago and gave them a quick tour of the Walt Disney Family Museum and a chance to talk with Diane Disney Miller and her son, Walter E.D. Miller.

Diane, Walter and founding director Richard Benefield are featured in a 5-minute bonus segment on both the DVD and Blu-ray "Fantasia" discs talking about the museum. The Blu-ray disc also offers a 14-minute look at one of the museum's prized possessions, the Schultheis Notebook, and the man who created it.


Copyright The Walt Disney Family Museum. All rights reserved

Throughout the development of the animated masterpiece "Fantasia," a member of Disney's camera effects department - Herman Schultheis - kept a detailed record of the work he and others pioneered long before the age of CGI. His notebook is filled with drawings, behind-the-scenes photographs, frames of film, charts and written descriptions that reveal many of the techniques that were used in early Disney films.

Animation historians like John Canemaker, Charles Solomon and others call the notebook "the holy grail of special effects," revealing how spinning snowflakes, volcanic eruptions and ghostly horsemen were created for "Fantasia."

Schultheis later disappeared in the jungles of Guatemala and the notebook was discovered decades later in a Murphy bed after his wife passed away, leaving the home to an order of nuns.


John Canemaker chats with Diane Disney Miller during his
recent visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum

During a round-table interview, Diane was asked about "Fantasia" and where it ranks among her father's classic films.

"It has to be right up there because of the music, the effects, the animation," she said.

"It stands apart," Walter added. "It's so different, so unique."


Walter Elias Disney Miller and Diane Disney Miller

In a detailed commentary track accompanying "Fantasia," Disney historian Brian Sibley says:  "I know of no other motion picture that takes you on quite such an astonishing and stimulating voyage of visual and aural exploration. Walt Disney's 'Fantasia,' is a film that remains as challenging and rewarding as when it was first created more than 70 years ago."

While the focus of the press event was "Fantasia / Fantasia 2000," the questions quickly turned to the museum.

Diane explained how the idea for a museum grew out of the family-financed documentary film, "Walt - The Man Behind the Myth," a CD-rom project, "Walt Disney: An Intimate History of the Man And His Magic. Windows CD-ROM.," and an online "museum" dedicated to Walt Disney's life story. The family had been leasing warehouse / office space at The Presidio filled with Walt's numerous awards, his massive miniature collection, the Lilly Belle, a few paintings and other personal possessions. There really wasn't much in the way of animation art or maquettes, because Walt "didn't bring those things home," but there were still several treasures worth sharing with the world.


The Lilly Belle

Diane also thought that her father had been trashed in some biographies, including "Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince," and "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination." Those books didn't reflect the man she knew and loved dearly or the warm relationship between Walt and his wife, Lillian.

"But why San Francisco?"

It's a question Walt's daughter heard many times that day and one that I've heard from several Disney enthusiasts since even before the museum opened on Oct. 1, 2009.


Diane Disney Miller cuts the ribbon at the Walt Disney Family Museum
on October 1, 2009

Diane explained that the family had considered several locations for the museum, including near Griffith Park, the Walt Disney Concert Hall or the Autry National Center in Los Angeles as well as a site in Kansas City. The family even considered Napa, where she lives with her husband, Ron Miller, a former Disney CEO.

Eventually, the Presidio Trust approached the Walt Disney Family Foundation after deciding to make the former barracks buildings available for lease. LucasFilm is located at The Presidio; DreamWorks has a production facility near the San Francisco Airport and Pixar is located across the bay in Emeryville.

The family looked at the beautiful brick structure and the view it offered of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. They saw its potential and were hooked.


The Walt Disney Family Museum at San Francisco's Presidio

Diane said, "Why not San Francisco?"

She also believed it was in her dad's "spirit to renovate an old building" and outfit it with cutting-edge technology to let him and his colleagues tell the story of his life.

There are some Disney ties to the city by the bay, although they're rarely mentioned: San Francisco's Courvoisier Gallery was the first to recognize animation cels as popular art. The Disney Studios was a longtime client of San Francisco-based Bank of America and museum visitors can listen to a few audio clips of Walt's brother, Roy O. Disney, talking about the studio's relationship with its bankers. Walt Disney's lifelong friendship with Art Linkletter was launched when the two met during a "Fantasia" event in San Francisco. Walt Disney received the Key to San Francisco in 1958, prominently displayed with the many Oscars and other awards in the museum's foyer.

And, arguably, San Francisco is a stronger international tourist destination than Los Angeles. Remember, Walt's influence was global.


The "1950s & 1960s: The Big Screen and Beyond" gallery at the Walt Disney Family Museum

Most everyone thought if you build it and it has the name Walt Disney attached to it, people will come. They are coming, but not in the numbers really needed for the museum to thrive.

I talked to Walter about some of the challenges the museum has faced, especially in regards to marketing. I've visited several times when the galleries are nearly deserted, although attendance picks up during the holidays as locals take out-of-town guests to visit the museum or to see "Christmas with Walt Disney," an hour-long film worth catching. Judge the relationship Walt and Lillian had based on the footage shown here as well as what's featured in "Walt & El Grupo."

Marketing is trying. There have been print ads and stories in several newspapers across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. There are banners up at various locations in San Francisco and some advertising with San Francisco MUNI. An award-winning "Eye on the Bay" evening TV magazine episode on the museum featuring Walt's daughter and John Lasseter has aired several times and there was a great segment on the nationally broadcast CBS' "Sunday Morning" shown when the museum first opened. D23 has included a few stories in the pages of its luxurious magazine.


(L to R) Diane Disney Miller, John Lasseter and Nancy
Lasseter at the Walt Disney Family Museum's
opening gala

One thing few people realize is that in 1982, long before there was any thought of opening a museum dedicated to Walt Disney, Lillian and daughters, Diane and Sharon, sold the company the rights to Walt Disney's name and likeness in deal that included the Disneyland Railroad and Monorail.

That means the museum must get company approval for its marketing and advertising campaigns. Items in the museum's store featuring Walt's name and likeness or any animated character have to be cleared. Even sponsors have to be OK'd by the company. The website, www.waltdisney.org, is hosted by the company and is updated only once a month.

To improve the timeliness of its communications, the museum launched a blog, Storyboard, and it recently held a fan-based contest to create a YouTube video to help with marketing. A winner will be selected soon.


Storyboard, the Walt Disney Family Museum's new blog

The relationship with the company is good, as the "Fantasia / Fantasia 2000" press event indicates. Still, even good relationships can be improved.

The Presidio Trust has also made things a bit more challenging with its restrictions on signage. Despite adding a massive glass wall and in-fill gallery to turn a U-shaped building into a rectangle because - in theory - the in-fill gallery could later be removed, the Presidio Trust will not allow the museum to install any semi-permanent signage or even a "Partners-like" sculpture. A couple of banners are put over the handrails and fold-out signs are set up on the sidewalk in front of the museum and removed daily.

There's ample free parking for the museum, a rare thing in San Francisco, although plans call for a great lawn to eventually replace the huge parking lot. Some visitors who take a taxi to the museum have had trouble getting service out of The Presidio.


One of the bus signs that are now rolling around San Francisco, promoting
the Walt Disney Family Museum

A few special promotions, including one tied to the World Series and the San Francisco Giants was a big hit, offering discounted admissions to anyone sporting a Giants hat or shirt. A Toys for Tots promotion is planned, but no details have been released.

The admission price of $20 for adults; $15 for students and seniors; and $12 for children 6 to 17, may seem pricey to some given the Bay Area's battered economy, but there are few complaints after people experience the galleries.

Those who've visited - even casual fans - walk away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the man who launched a little cartoon studio with his older brother, Roy, and continued to grow and diversify the family business.


Lillian & Walt Disney receive the Key to the City from San Francisco Mayor George
Christopher and his wife in December of 1958. Image courtesy
of the Walt Disney Family Museum

"The reaction and word of mouth has been well beyond our expectations," Walter said. "We hope to utilize more of it in our marketing."

Stories written by those attending the "Fantasia / Fantasia 2000" press event and the bonus material in the Blu-ray / DVD releases will help. Walter said the short segment on the museum - or at least part of it - will soon be broadcast to rooms at The Disneyland Resort with hopes that it will eventually be shown on the ships of the Disney Cruise Line and the company-owned resorts in Florida.

  • It is a WONDERFUL museum.  But, I do find San Francisco hard to get around in. Taxi service is practically non-existant.  The busses and other public transportation options are great, IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE THEM. I think the Museum should look into finding a better way to transport people to and from.  Maybe partner up with a taxi company to ensure the museums guests can actually get a taxi.

  • It's a beautiful museum and just a short hop skip and and a jump from Pier 39.

  • This is just another example of the "wonderful" mass transit of San Francisco is not as "wonderful" as everyone claims it is.

    The last time I went to the bum capital of the world, the BART (the subway system in San Fran) didn't even go to the airport.

  • This is really a bad location for the museum. The Presidio is hard to navigate and the museum's all the way at the back. San Francisco is already a very difficult city in which to find your way around.  The competition's stiff too, and I think this museum kind of gets lost in the shuffle of all the other culture. Sacramento would have been a much better choice. They could use a big tourist attraction like that.

    I'm sure Disney's also not making it any easier on them. I doubt they'd mind seeing this place close, as it personalizes their brand a little too much for their taste. They don't want people getting too interested in what Walt did 60 years ago; they want people buying what makes them money now (Hannah Montana, etc.) I believe they're getting ready to open their own D23 museum within the next few years, which would be in direct competition w/ the WDFA. If that happens, look out!

  • jedited, before you harp too much on the poor transportation options in San Francisco, all I can say is: Have you tried getting around on public transportation in LA? The options in San Francisco may not be great, but  if the WDFM had been located in southern California, I doubt it would have been any more accessible.  

    Disney probably isn't making it easy on them, because frankly I don't think a lot of people in the upper echelons of the Company aren't all that interested in celebrating its history.  Sure, D23 has given the Archives a little bit of an outlet to reach the fans and the history buffs, but at its core the Company sees D23 as another way to promote the brand, not to promote its past.  The Company's hinted that they'd like to open a company museum eventually, although honestly, I'm not holding my breath - I'm not sure they'd see a museum generating the kind of profits the Company would consider making it worthwhile.

  • The Presidio's beautiful- something I now consider an essential part of visiting SF but I didn't go before I first visited the WDFM about a year ago. In terms of public transit, some planning ahead is good but it's worth checking on apps that might help you out on the go. (same applies for taxis)  In terms of buses, I usually aim to be there 5 minutes before the scheduled pick-up but prepared for a longer wait. I've gotten used to the LA bus system and its inefficiencies, but it comes down to public transit being a trade-off in most cities.

  • For years I believed that Walt Disney was so influential that he deserved something along the lines of a Presidential Library. Visiting the museum confirmed my belief that such a museum was a possibility. I was so thrilled that I've been back three times from out of state. For those who think nothing of going to Vegas or the beach yet talk the talk about supporting classic Disney, I encourage you to support the museum. In fact, I became a Founding member and just renewed my membership, I believe in the mission and purpose of this museum that much. The name Walt Disney cannot just become another "Betty Crocker" or "Xerox" where it's interchangeable with a company or a "brand" and not the real person. I support the museum for the right reasons, but even then, I'd support it just to spite the current management who either give lip service to their founder or scoff and argue that it's more about Hannah Montana.

  • This is an essential destination for all who appreciate the life and legacy of Walt Disney.   The tireless work of his family has finally created what we all hoped would one day come to pass:  a place of remembrance and inspiration... a personal tribute to the influence of the man who inspired and led the most celebrated company of artistic talent ever assembled.  Balance the appreciation of a captivated public with the devotion of a loving family and you'll find one of the most remarkable archives you've ever experienced.

    As the site matures and the world discovers all that the museum planners have accomplished here, we expect a very exciting future for this innovative center.  If there was ever a time for a rebirth of creativity, rooted in the highest aspirations of people everywhere, this is that hour.

    So grab your map and chart your course.  This is one of the true gems among museum archives of the modern age and it's worth every effort to get there.

  • It is indeed an amazing place!  Clearly borne out of love.  Might I suggest two things?:

    1. Improve GPS coordinates.  Most GPS devices will take you to the wrong street in San Fran (although their website cautions you of this, a correction is really necesary)

    2. Target Asian markets who already have a passion for Disney and San Fran is often their portal into the US.

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