Friday, June 21, 2013

Travel Review: The Walt Disney Family Museum

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fascinating look at Walt Disney from those who loved him
Cons: Not for young kids, sound levels not always right. Too rosy at times?
The Bottom Line
Disney fans will love
Fascinating museum
Filled with Walt's hist'ry

Learn About the Man Behind the Mouse

When The Walt Disney Family Museum opened in the San Francisco Bay Area, I told my family on some trip north, we'd be visiting it.  After all, a Disnerd like me would have to make a pilgrimage there, and since I have family in the area, it would be perfect.  I finally made it there with my parents on a recent trip, and we found it fascinating.

The museum is located in the Presidio.  There are good directions on their website and a few signs to help you find it.  There is a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge behind it.  The museum has a gift shop and a cafĂ©.  The gift shop has some merchandise you'll see everywhere, like movies from the era he was at the studio, but it also features some unique merchandise with their logos on it.  Disney pin collectors will definitely want to check out their collection of pins sold nowhere else in the world.  In the room before you enter the museum proper are all kinds of awards that Disney was honored with over the years, including several Oscars and Emmys.  And yes, this includes the special Oscar he got for Snow White, one big and seven small statues.

The museum lives up to its name in the very first room.  That room is dedicated to Walt's early years starting with a brief bio of his parents and how they met and married.  By the time you are out of the first room, Walt has returned from World War I.  The second room is about his early animation career in Missouri, then it's upstairs in an elevator decked out to look like a train and you are to the meat of the museum.

The museum dedicates more time to his early career as he is developing the art of animation, experimenting, and expanding the bag of tricks.  There are lots of examples in both art work and video to show you what they are talking about.  If you aren't at all familiar with the art of animation, you will learn tons here.  Even those who know lots about Disney will find some new information here, or at least things they had forgotten.

One feature I appreciated was the timeline.  Every room had a part of a wall near the entrance for that room that featured the years covered there, what Disney was doing, and what else was happening in Hollywood and the rest of the world.  It really helps give historic context to what you are seeing.

This museum was spearheaded by Walt's daughter Diane, and every so often there are posts from her with remembrances of that time in the life of the family.  These also include family pictures.  I know a lot about Disney and his work, but this gave me a new appreciation for Disney the man, and this is where I think I learned the most.

Another highlight was the multi-plan camera on display.  This was a camera created to help animators create the feeling of a camera zooming into a two dimensional picture.  It's huge!  You see the top of it at one point in the museum and see the base of it downstairs in the gift shop.

Every room features plenty to read and watch.  We are slow museum goers and will read and watch everything, so we moved through much slower than many people around us.  That's why we had made it from 1901 to World War II when we realized we had been there four hours already and only had an hour left to see the next 25 years.  Yes, we moved a bit more quickly through the rest of the museum, but I still found plenty of interest.  I wish I had more time to study the model of Disneyland based on how the park looked and the ideas that were being developed when Disney died.  The park is very different today.  As a side note, they don't announce when the museum will be closing, so you do need to keep an eye on your watch.

And I'll admit to chocking up a little when we got to the area about his death.  They've got a radio announcement and Diane's memories of her father's death.  But what got me the most were the cartoons paying tribute to him.

Since this museum is to honor Disney, you will find very little about any controversy or a negative picture of him.  But then again, what would you expect?  The interview snippets and quotes are from long time employees, and they make it sound like working for Disney was wonderful.  I have heard a few differing opinions over the years, but again, I wouldn't expect those to show up at a museum to honor Disney.

Where that creates a problem is in the brief area about the strike at Disney in the early 40's.  It's unclear from what is posted exactly how it started and what the disagreement was about.  That's one area I'm unclear on, and the museum did little to clear that up.

Another complaint is the sound levels.  Some of their narration or video presentations are louder than others, making it hard to hear what you are trying to learn about because you can too easily hear the one across the room.

Finally, this museum is not for young kids.  While they may love things the Disney company has done, this is a museum.  Yes, they have cartoons playing at various times, but much of it is set up like a regular museum.  Teens and adults are the audience that will enjoy the museum the most.

There is a theater in the museum, and every month they feature a different Disney movie, some well-known so rare.  They will also occasionally have speakers there to talk about various aspects of Disney's life.  Anything in the theater is a separate admission from the museum, and you can go just to see what is in the theater that day.

If the museum were closer to me, I would be there pretty often.  There is so much information to see and learn, or be reminded of, depending on your level of knowledge about Walt Disney.  For anyone interested in the life of a man who contributed a lot to our entertainment, The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must.

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