The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco is one of my favorite places on earth. Nestled in the heart of the Presidio, an old military post, is this iconic Disney attraction. From the outside, it may look like just a regular brick building that matches the rest of the main hub, but inside, it is full of the rich, storied history behind Walt Disney. From the moment you walk in, you feel like you’re living Walt’s story and stepping into his life through pictures, videos, and pieces from his personal collection. Each room is an incredible tribute to different times in his life, from his early years leading up to his death. The Alice Comedies, Steamboat Willie, Fantasia, Disneyland, and so many other iconic moments of his history are told through incredible detail and mesmerizing exhibits.
The museum opened in October of 2009 and was a labor of love built by Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. While San Francisco may not have really been a part of Walt’s history, it was close to where Diane lived, and the perfect setting for this unique destination. For all you Star Wars fans, Lucasfilm is close by, where you can pose with the iconic Yoda fountain.
For me, the museum holds a special place in my heart, as I grew up in the Bay Area. The first time I visited was a month after it opened, and soon became a place that I would take people to visit when they were in town. It was my little piece of Disneyland that wasn’t too far from my house. For a few years, I was actually a member and would enjoy their rotating exhibits and their special guest talks. To this day, I still enjoy seeing who they’ll have as guests, and often contemplate making a visit to enjoy them.
Right now, we’re in this unprecedented time in history, and with so many places of interest closed, everyone is having to adapt. This includes the Walt Disney Family Museum. Though their physical doors are closed to the public, they’re sharing so much virtually! It’s really incredible to see the content and special things they’re coming up with for everyone to enjoy! Over on Instagram, they’re doing trivia frequently in their stories, which has been super fun! They even are doing a virtual exhibit, called “The World of Tomorrow,” which will showcase art from people all over the world who submitted their designs. One of the coolest offerings is their virtual talks. They’ve had some legendary guests over the years visit and share their stories.
Now, they’re doing their talks on Zoom, which is cool for those that might not live near the museum, who can enjoy what the museum offers. Legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr did one a few weeks ago, and I most recently got to watch one with Disney Producer Don Hahn. Don has been a part of some of the most iconic Disney movies of my time, including Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a number of the newer Disney Nature Films. Don was interviewed by two of the museums’ staff, who asked him about his career. The end of the talk was opened up to guests watching, who could ask Don some of their own questions as well. Don actually started his career with Disney working in the morgue of the animation building as an ink and paint runner. He delivered paint cels through underground tunnels known as the morgue, as cels could warp or be damaged if carried outside between being inked and painted. It was while working there, he met a number of the Disney household names we all know today, and years later, went on to produce many iconic films that we know and love.
Don talked fondly about his career, and how movies have changed so much with technology, but to the core, it comes down to great storytelling. One interesting point he brought up was when he worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, animators had never done characters in a moving live-action scene. When animating the penguins in Mary Poppins, or Elliott in Pete’s Dragon, the camera was held in one place for one frame, while the animators worked within the frame to create characters for that scene. For Who Framed Roger Rabbit, there was so much movement in the scenes, and the animators had to adapt to creating moving characters that would overlay in a moving scene, like when Eddie, Roger, and Benny are driving through the city. It was an interesting concept that I had never thought about, and Don mentioned that almost all movies nowadays are some sort of mix of live-action and animation. All Marvel movies have CGI which has to be placed in a live-action scene, and that is a more complex form of animation.
When it came time for the viewers to ask questions, there was one, in particular, that was my favorite. One person asked what it was like working with Ron Miller at the studios vs his involvement with the museum. He talked about both Ron and Diane fondly, with great reverence, that Ron was a very humble person. Diane, he said he imagined that her personality and the way she told stories would be exactly how Walt would have. He told a story of how he was able to visit the museum while it was under construction, and Diane showed them where everything would go with such passion. He said he could see so much of Walt in her, and said it was a glimpse into Walt and what he was probably like showing off Disneyland to people while it was under construction. I met Diane a number of years ago, which is another story for another day, but the way he talked about her was the way I remember seeing her and talking to her.
Don also talked about an upcoming film he worked on, which will be on Disney+ this Summer. His new film, Howard, looks at the life of Howard Ashman, famed Disney lyricist and treasured friend to many at Disney. Howard Ashman was so incredibly talented, and Don wanted to tell his story, as Howard died far too young, but made a huge impact on music in movies and shows. Don worked with Howard on Beauty and the Beast and felt like his story needed to be told and include those who knew him well and worked with him.
The talk was really cool, and it was exciting to be able to be a part of it, even from a few hundred miles south of the museum. I look forward to registering for more of their virtual talks in the future, as they’re free! That’s also a really exciting part of these talks. While it’s wonderful that it’s free, the museum could use donations to keep going with the incredible programs that they offer! From kids to the young at heart, they really have something for everyone and could use our support! Check out their upcoming events here!