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November 25, 2009 > Disney Museum celebrates the life of a legend

Disney Museum celebrates the life of a legend

By Julie Grabowski

A quiet, unassuming brick building in San Francisco's Presidio houses the remarkable history of a man who brought a special magic into the world and made his name a beloved symbol across the globe. Walt Disney's creativity, vision, and tireless enthusiasm revolutionized the art of animation and filmmaking, creating an empire that still flourishes today. But it was discovered in recent years that the iconic name had begun to overshadow the man who bore it. Many of the younger generation thought that Walt Disney was a made-up label, a brand name. The Walt Disney Family Museum was established to acknowledge and celebrate the man behind the magic, and presents his story through the words of Walt himself, family, friends, and those who worked alongside him.

A separate entity from The Walt Disney Company, The Walt Disney Family Museum is privately owned and operated by the non-profit Walt Disney Family Foundation, and opened to the public October first. The museum is comprised of three former army buildings. One of five identical barracks built in the 1890s contains the main exhibit galleries, and gymnasium turned Special Exhibition Hall currently hosts special programs and concerts until temporary exhibitions begin in January 2012. The third building serves as an equipment room.

The main building contains 10 permanent galleries, along with the Museum Store and Cafe run by Wolfgang Puck Catering. A 114-seat digital theater decorated with murals of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and a learning center featuring two studios for teaching stop motion and digital animation techniques are on the lower level.

The galleries are a chronological tour through Walt's life beginning with his early years in Chicago and Kansas City where he discovered animation, to his move to Hollywood in 1923 where he married Lillian Bounds and became father to Diane and Sharon. The tale continues through the groundbreaking creation of the first feature-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the hardships of the animators' strike and World War II in the 1940s, to his successful foray into live-action movies and television, culminating in the creation of Disneyland and Walt's enduring legacy.

It is a very fluid and visually arresting arrangement with original drawings and animation cels, concept art, movie posters, listening stations, interactive displays, and over 200 video monitors running family movies and film clips. The delightful personal effects and memorabilia in the collection are too numerous to mention, but highlights include Walt's special Academy Award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, one of the original multiplane cameras from the Disney studios, and Walt's narrow-gauge locomotive the Lilly Belle that ran on the mini railroad in the backyard of his Hollywood home.

In addition to the exhibits, the museum offers a full calendar of events with lectures, concerts, films, and classes featuring scholars, industry professionals, and top Bay Area musicians. Kicking off the holidays is Christmas with Walt Disney, running November 27-January 4. The exclusive film is a collection of yuletide favorites including "The Nutcracker Suite" from Fantasia, "Pluto's Christmas Tree," clips from televised Christmas specials, as well as home movies of Walt and his family celebrating the season. Walt's December 5th birthday will be celebrated with Memories of Walt: A Conversation with Legends.

The sold out event gathers Disney luminaries such as songwriter Richard Sherman and sculptor Blaine Gibson to share their stories of Walt. The Special Exhibition Hall will host the String Circle Quartet on December 12, performing Schubert's String Quartet in G, and Henry Purcell's Suite from The Fairy Queen. December 19 and 20 the Artists' Vocal Ensemble presents A Candlelight Christmas, led by internationally known concert organist Jonathan Dimmock. Other opportunities include special events geared for children and families, and education resources for teachers. Many exciting options for continued exploration and discovery will be available in the New Year.

The Walt Disney Family Museum is a comprehensive, beautifully presented story of one man's tremendous life and legacy, a must see for Disney fans or anyone looking for an uplifting and inspiring experience.

Adult tickets cost $20, seniors 65 and over and students with ID are $15, children ages 6-17 pay $12.50 and children under the age of 6 are free with adult admission. All admission is by timed entry with tickets available online up to 60 days in advance of visit. Tickets may not always be available on site. Visit to purchase tickets or learn more about the museum.

The Walt Disney Family Museum
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed January 1, July 4, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25
The Presidio
104 Montgomery St., San Francisco
(415) 345-6800

Tickets: $12.50-$20

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