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Disney Family Museum: It's All About Walt

Disney Family Museum: It's All About Walt


The Walt Disney Family Museum opened in 2009 to tell the story of Walt Disney’s life and the legacy of entertainment he left behind. The museum is an opportunity to get to know the man behind characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy who have been loved by generations of children all over the world, and to learn how his many innovations changed the field of animation forever. In fact, you’ll find it one of the best things to do in San Francisco when you visit.


The museum was built by the Walt Disney Family Foundation, which was established by Disney’s heirs. Several of his descendents, including his elder daughter, Diane Disney-Miller, live in the San Francisco area. The museum is housed in three historic buildings once part of a former military base in the scenic, wooded Presidio.


From Early TV to Pixar

The museum engages visitors on many levels, using cutting-edge technology including more than 200 video screens. There are 10 permanent galleries arranged in chronological order from Disney’s ancestral background to his death in 1966. Adults and children alike are engaged and fascinated by the displays, although by different aspects. Adults may remember the Mickey Mouse Club and Walt Disney Presents television shows and classic films such as Snow White and Bambi, while the current generation of youngsters is more familiar with Pixar-related motion pictures of the last few years. Young and old alike are sure to see familiar characters and come to appreciate the imagination of their creator.


Walt’s Contributions to Animation

Overall, the exhibits showcase Disney’s immense contributions to 20th-century popular culture by drawing from a collection of more than 25,000 pieces including rare films, animation cells, early animation cameras, and musical film scores. Some highlights include the earliest existing drawings of Mickey Mouse, storyboards – a Disney innovation – from classic Disney films, and 248 awards won by Disney, including 26 Academy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. One award of particular interest is the honorary Academy Award given for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which consists of one full-size award and seven smaller ones.


Walt at Home

Visitors are also welcomed into the Disneys’ home with family photographs, home movies, and artifacts from the filmmaker’s life. Drawings made by a young Walt, long before he became a household name, give a glimpse into the rich imagination that brought so many fairytales and fantasies to life.


The Original Disneyland and Walt’s Model Train

Also on display are a 14-foot-wide model of Disneyland as Walt Disney originally envisioned it and the Lilly Belle locomotive from the Carolwood Pacific Railroad train Disney had installed at his home in Hollywood. The narrow-gauge railroad once operated on a half-mile of track of loops, across a trestle bridge, and through a tunnel beneath the flowerbeds. Its locomotive was named in honor of his wife, Lillian.


Disney Classics

Downstairs, a state-of-the-art digital theater designed with a Fantasia theme screens a Disney classic movie each month. The film of the month plays three times each day. The theater is also a venue for regularly scheduled scholarly talks on Disney’s art and its important place in moviemaking and in popular culture.


Memorabilia for Collectors

The museum store stocks unique items certain to intrigue collectors of Disney items, from Mickey and Minnie dolls to mugs and DVDs.


The Details

Located in the north of San Francisco, the museum is easily accessible from downtown via the free PresidiGo shuttle. Hours are 10 a.m. through 6 p.m., Wednesday through Monday. It is closed on Tuesdays.


—By Kelly Crumrin
Kelly Crumrin is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

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