Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Our Visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum

On Monday, my wife and I made our every-six-year-visit to the San Francisco area. Some people do stuff annually; so do we. But when it comes to the Bay Area, with its MENTALLY INSANE street setup and overall oddness, it takes me about six years before I can do it all again. Growing up here in the valley, I've grown accustomed to flat terrain, where I can see the horizon at the end of the road. Therefore, I naturally don't like the feeling that I'm driving/walking on a gigantic rippled blanket, on which I'm just certain that no structure is really stable. It just freaks me out. This may rankle some, but thank God above that the 49ers moved their stadium to Santa Clara (Candlestick Park was always a nightmare to escape from).

 But within the Presidio, off of the "blanket," resides the Walt Disney Family Museum. "The what? Wait, why is it in SF and not Southern California--" Don't ask, I honestly can't tell you. It makes zero sense, but hey, it's his family calling the shots, and they decided to install this museum in what is most certainly a large, brick, probably haunted building. The structure is right in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, amidst beautiful landscaping, a great open area where you can feel the cool breeze off of the bay and feel far from the distorted geography of the city. In short, the location doesn't necessarily rhyme, but the tune is still catchy.

 Right off, contrary to what you might have read online, you ARE allowed to take photos, as long as the flash is off. I went in thinking I couldn't, and was so happy to find out that it was cool. Thank goodness for smartphones. However, if you do go to an exhibit in building 122, you'll not be able to photograph anything, which makes sense.

 I've always loved animation, particularly the Warner Bros shorts, which, like most of us my age, I was solidly exposed to during the late 1970s. In contrast, the Disney shorts were not readily available at that time; no Saturday morning tv show, and if you were a church-going family like mine was, you never saw "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday evenings. So I felt a kinship with the work of Jones, McKimson, Freleng and Clampett.

But fast forward many years, to the mid-1990s (no kidding), when I began to date my future wife. Her family were more Disney-oriented, and one of our early adventures had been to Disneyland, I place I'd only been to twice before that point (and even then, it was at the end of my high school years, long after that "magic age" for that kind of thing). These visits to Disneyland became quite frequent, and always being dangerously curious, I began to read about the history of Disney and his animation operation. It was then that I realized what an innovator his studio was, and what a magical merging of the right man and the right artists at the right time it all was. I began to learn about men like Johnston, Thomas, Kahl, and Marc Davis. I realized, as I watched the classic Disney shorts as they became available, that cartoons of theirs that I thought were from the late 1940s, with their clear sound, bright color and overall high quality, were in fact from the mid-1930s! The Warners toons, which I can usually date within a few years just by looking at them, were stunningly primitive (though I still adore them).

Well, it's been about 20 years since I began my education, and so it made all the sense in the world to visit this museum, regardless of its location. I still didn't know what to expect, but when after I entered I knew that I wouldn't regret this trek. The staff were very friendly, the building is very clean, and in true Disney fashion, there was a gift shop with a lot of temptations.

 I was stunned at times. There really were probably a few times that my mouth hung open. I did not expect to see old animation drawings from the dawn of Mickey Mouse's animation career. I certainly did NOT expect to see the earliest known drawing of a finalized Mickey. I saw cel set-ups from such classic shorts as "The Band Concert." And by God... I saw the multiplane camera.


I know that for most people the multiplane camera means nothing. But I was genuinely shocked to see it. I had no idea that it had survived; Hollywood is notorious for destroying everything the moment they don't need it anymore. And yet here it was, cutting through two floors. It looked pristine, as if it was ready to work at the drop of a hat. I had read about this huge device in "The Illusion of Life" and other books, and just thinking that it had been used on Pinnochio... it was just weird, you know what I mean? Again, it looked brand new.

Another TOTAL surprise was Walt's Carolwood Pacific miniature train, that he used to ride on through his backyard railroad. I was glad to see that it had been kept and not sold off or trashed. I loved seeing the little seat cushions atop some of the cars.  

After a few hours, we entered the Pinocchio exhibit in building 122, where I was further astonished. There was original artwork by Gustav Tenngrenn, and actual animation drawings by Ollie Johnston, Woolie Reitherman, Milt Kahl and others. I could hear the familiar voices of animation historian John Canemaker and animator Andreas Deja talking in the background, which was a nice touch (even if you're in another section, away from the display, it's nice to hear their voices).

The one thing that blew me away though, was a tiny side section that featured the maquettes used by the animators for reference. There was a large Monstro maquette, that showed signs of having been handled often, just there on display. I thought of how odd it was to be looking at something that had been in the old Burbank studio in its early days, back during Disney's golden era, pre-strike and war. For some reason, I really was impressed with being near these things.

 I would absolutely recommend going to the Walt Disney Family Museum if you are a fan of animation and its history. Even if you've become a know-it-all like me, you'll discover that there's more to life than knowing-- feeling is a pretty cool part of life, too.

 I would like to share pics from my adventure there...just CLICK HERE!

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