Yesterland.com

A visit to

Treasures
of the
Walt Disney Archives

Presented by D23: The Official Disney Fan Club

at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, on a dreary winter day

“Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” is the headline special exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, from October 16, 2013 to May 4, 2014 August 3, 2014 [run has been extended]. I finally visited the exhibit a few days ago.

If you live in Northeastern Illinois or will be in Chicago before the exhibit closes, you really should go. If not, please visit the exhibit with me in this photo essay.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, March 7, 2014.


The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which was called the World’s Columbian Exposition, commemorated the 400th anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World—but somehow missed it by a year. It was nicknamed the “White City” because of its white stucco buildings which, at night, were bathed in the glow of that recent innovation, mass-produced electric light bulbs. Walt Disney’s father Elias Disney worked on the fair’s construction. Unfortunately, history has forgotten what Elias worked on.

It would be really amazing if he had worked on the fair’s Fine Arts Building. Unlike the fair’s other structures, it was built to be permanent. After first serving as the Columbian Museum, predecessor of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, it became the Museum of Science and Industry in 1933.

It’s the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere and arguably the best family attraction of Chicago. To use the most overused word of the 21st century, awesome, the captured German World War II U-505 submarine exhibit is nothing short of awesome.

And now, for a limited time, Walt Disney has moved in at the museum.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Museum Store

The outside of the museum still looks as if it’s 1893, although it’s now clad in limestone, not white stucco. The inside is another story.

The huge underground entrance lobby, which houses the ticket counters and museum store, is a sleek 1998 addition. Disney characters on the store windows, a large Mickey Mouse clock, video displays promoting the exhibit, and banners by the escalators make sure that all arriving guests know there’s something special going on.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

From the entrance level to the exhibit levels

Escalators lead up to the main museum building which has a 1930s Streamline Moderne interior befitting the period of its conversion.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

View from the rotunda

The “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” exhibit is located off the transportation gallery. A retired Boeing 727 jet, painted in retired United Airlines colors, hangs from the ceiling. Just beyond the exhibit, the museum’s wonderful model railroad, “The Great Train Story,” has 20 to 30 trains running on 1,400 feet of track on a layout that includes “shrink and edit” versions of Chicago, Seattle, and the Rocky Mountains.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

“Treasures” entrance

We’ve arrived at the exhibit entrance. It’s time to hand over a timed ticket. After having your picture snapped against a green screen, you enter a holding area with historical photos, a video presentation, and then a series of exhibit galleries which tell a chronological story.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Walt Disney’s Midwestern roots

I expected artifacts—and there are plenty of artifacts from the Walt Disney Archives on display. After all, it’s called “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives.”

I did not expect the artifacts to be woven into a chronological story beginning with the birth of Walt Disney and continuing to the present, with an emphasis on Walt Disney’s professional life. In some ways, it resembles Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park or a condensed version of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Artifacts tend to be much more interesting when presented in a meaningful context, so I was delighted.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Walt Disney’s early Hollywood years

The museum’s press release for “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” has this list of some of the featured items:

  • Clips from several of Walt Disney’s earliest animated works, before there was a Mickey Mouse.
  • The original script, typed by Walt Disney, for the 1928 cartoon short Steamboat Willie, which introduced movie theater audiences to Mickey Mouse for the very first time.
  • A partial recreation of Walt Disney’s formal office from the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., including original furnishings and many of his personal items.
  • Hand-drawn artwork, hand-sculpted models and props used in the production of some of Disney’s most iconic and renowned animated features, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Sleeping Beauty.
  • A recreation of a working animator’s office from the Disney Studios featuring authentic animator’s furniture, and models.
  • Animation models and artwork from contemporary Disney animation film hits, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin.
  • Props from classic Disney live-action films, including Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Rocketeer, The Princess Diaries, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Enchanted.
  • A special area of the exhibition that is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the release of Mary Poppins, with film clips, interviews with the movie’s creators and rare behind-the-scenes photos.
  • A salute to Disneyland® Park in California and Magic Kingdom® Park in Florida, showcasing artwork, Audio-Animatronics® characters, and memorabilia from such popular attractions as it’s a small world, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, The Hall of Presidents, as well as early plans and correspondence for Walt Disney’s vision of EPCOT.

So let’s take a look…

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

The creation of Mickey Mouse

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Animator’s desk

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Inspiration for Audio Animatronics

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Artifacts and story

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Annette Funicello’s actual Mickey Mouse Club costume

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Mary Poppins’ carpet bag

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Original storyboard for Mary Poppins

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

“Lost Weekend” drawing by Herb Ryman

Having just done a Yesterland article about the pencil drawing that Herb Ryman created on a weekend based on descriptions from Walt Disney, I especially enjoyed the large, crisp print of this early vision of Disneyland.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Audio Animatronics

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Legacy

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Animation Academy: Draw a character

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Movie costumes

My wife and I spent about an hour and 45 minutes in the exhibit; we skipped the Animation Academy. A guest who watches every video until it begins to repeat, examines every artifact thoroughly, and participates in the Animation Academy activity could spend far more time. A guest who only wants to take in the highlights should still allow an hour.

As a Disney fan and someone interested in history, I thought it was a terrific exhibit. Although the story was familiar to me, I saw many of the artifacts for the first time.

If you can’t make it to Chicago by May 4, 2014, maybe “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” will come to a museum near you. Keep your eyes open.

Regardless of when you get to Chicago, be sure to visit the Museum of Science and Industry.

Trasures of the Walt Disney Archives, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

And, of course, a gift shop


Want to know more about the museum? Go to Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (opens new tab or window).

If you visit Chicago and want to go to the city’s best attractions at a substantially reduced price, consider the Chicago CityPASS. (If you buy it from this link, Yesterland earns a commission.)

Chicago CityPASS

For half of what it would cost to buy admission to five attractions separately, Chicago CityPASS provides admission to:

  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
  • The Field Museum of Natural History
  • Museum of Science and Industry OR John Hancock Observatory
  • Adler Planetarium OR Art Institute of Chicago

I’ve been to all these attractions multiple times.

I would strongly recommend the Museum Of Science and Industry over the John Hancock Observatory. The Hancock, like Skydeck Chicago, involves seeing Chicago from the top of a very tall building.

I would recommend the Art Institute Of Chicago over the Adler Planetarium—unless world renowned art museums bore you or you’re traveling with children who love planetariums but would make you miserable at an art museum.

Be sure to read what is and isn’t included with Chicago CityPASS. For example, at the Museum of Science and Industry, “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” requires an additional charge.


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Updated May 1, 2014.