Running from October 16th 2013 until May 4th, 2014, Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives is special exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Entry into the exhibit requires an additional timed entry ticket ($9 for non-museum members) that can be purchased with regular museum entry. I recommend using the self-serve ticket kiosks, as they have little to no line.
The exhibit is presented by D23, the official Disney fan club, and features priceless artifacts from Walt’s personal and professional life. As soon as you enter the museum you will notice they have embraced the special presentation fully, as Disney banners and merchandise have taken over the entire museum.
Upon entering the exhibit, you are shown a brief 5-minute movie that summarize Walt’s life, and gives the cliff-notes for the exhibition to follow. Those familiar with One Man’s Dream, the Walt Disney World attraction at Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando, will see many similarities. But here, more detail is given to each year of his and the company’s life, and the pieces are more of a museum-quality.
The whole presentation is fantastic, very well-presented, and worth even the most casual Disney fan’s time. The history and importance behind some of the items is staggering, and text and video pieces fully flesh out the stories. And when your trip to California or Florida might seem too far off, it is a small piece of Disney parks right there in the Windy City.
It begins with Walt’s early days, including his birth right here in Chicago. We are treated to childhood family photos, and his earliest drawings. There is an extensive year-by-year breakdown as we see Walt’s first animation studio, his first hit with the Alice shorts, his move to Hollywood, the loss of his major character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and ultimately the creation of one famous mouse.
Next up we are treated to some of the very first items of Mickey Mouse merchandise and priceless pieces of film history, like the original Steamboat Willie script with hand drawn storyboards. The focus turns to the Disney Company’s numerous contributions to the world of animation, like the multi-plane camera. We trace the timeline through the very first full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and the subsequent films and television shows to follow.
Theme park fans will immediately recognize the large piece that introduces the next phase of the company; the original Disneyland drawing that was shown to bankers to secure funding for the venture (completed by Herb Ryman in one single weekend!).
One of my favorite sections came as the attention was turned to Walt Disney World in Florida; the original Hitchhiking Ghosts and Bride animatronics from the Orlando Haunted Mansion.
The exhibit draws to a close with many original costumes from recent films, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, 101 Dalmatians, Oz the Great and Powerful and Saving Mr. Banks.
Finally, kids of all ages can enjoy the Animation Academy, a short demonstration teaching junior animators to drawn some of their favorite Disney characters, providing a great souvenir.
Of course, no Disney attraction would be complete without an on-ride photo and gift shop. When you first enter the exhibit, your photo is taken on a green screen. As you exit, you will find your photos already printed out, as you are superimposed in various Disney themed backgrounds, which you can take home for the very Disney price of $20.
At first I felt like the exhibit might be a traveling version of One Man’s Dream, an exceptional attraction but something themepark fans might be very familiar with. But I was very surprised to see the majority of the pieces were new to me, and truly deserving of being in a museum.
As an added bonus, if you visit before January, the museum is decked out in full holiday attire, with a few Disney centric trees as well.
If you find yourself in the Chicagoland area over the holidays, or anytime before May, The Museum of Science and Industry is well worth your time in general, and the Disney Treasures is a can’t miss for any Disney fan.