Thursday, February 20, 2014

Exhibiting Animated Enjoyment: Exploring the Wonderful World of Walt Disney at the Museum of Science & Industry -- Museum Exhibit Review

Museum Exhibit Review

Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives
Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago
Thru May 4, 2014

In going to the Museum of Science and Industry for their exhibit on Walt Disney and his creations--as I have in recent years for ones on Charles Schultz & Peanuts and Jim Henson & the Muppets--I wondered if this represented an overt attempt to acclimate kids to science (and industry) to address U.S. shortcomings in math, science and technology disciplines.

But then it dawned on me that the "kids" these exhibits would most acutely appeal to are those around my age or older.

Certainly the name Disney likely still holds resonance with those aged 12 and under, due to the millions of families who travel to Disney World or Disneyland, popular recent movie musicals like Frozen and films made by Pixar under the Disney umbrella.

But if my now teenage niece and nephews are any barometer, I doubt Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and pals hold much more sense of magic among today's young than Charlie Brown, the Muppets and the Looney Tunes of Warner Bros. (a likely safe bet for a future MSI exhibit if the others have been profitable).

Far more up the alley of kids today--and even this may be very much age-dependent--is Harry Potter, the subject of a 2009 Museum of Science and Industry exhibition that I didn't attend.

So I can't say with any certitude that kids will love Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives--which unlike the Peanuts exhibit that featured a super-sized Charlie Brown, may not have anything that overtly enchants young ones--but their parents and grandparents should find much to enjoy.

Taking advantage of an MSI "free day," which meant I only had to pay $9 for the Disney exhibit and $20 to park my car, I spent nearly 4 hours at the museum including over two exploring the wonderful world of Disney.

Organized by D23, I like how the exhibit was quite informative about Walt Disney--the man, the creative genius, the businessman--while also showcasing his famous creations. (This was also a strength of the Henson and Schultz exhibits in past years.)

The exhibition galleries began with a nice short film about Walt's early years--born in Chicago in 1901, moved to a farm in Missouri at 4 and Kansas City for his teens, served during World War I, etc.

I won't describe every aspect of Disney's life as presented through informative displays, but I was impressed by the resiliency he showed despite various setbacks and huge financial risks.

His first significant undertaking--a series of Alice in Wonderland films combining animation with live action--went undistributed as his company went bankrupt. It was only because another company contacted him to resurrect the project, seemingly out of the blue, that Walt Disney had his first taste of success.

He would then create Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, his first notable cartoon character, only to somehow lose the rights and again face financial ruin. 

But his need for reinvention resulted in Mickey Mouse. 

Walt Disney's commitment to making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs--the first feature-length
animated movie--and building Disneyland, the world's first theme park, saw him investing everything he owned, including his family's homes.

Understandably, the exhibit stayed away from any controversy or negativity regarding Disney, but as anyone perusing his Wikipedia biography would note allegations of racism and anti-Semitism, perhaps the curators would have seen to address and--if proper as some biographers have argued--refute them.

A replica of Walt Disney's office--including his actual desk--was a centerpiece of the exhibit, and the type of workspace used by a Disney animator was also on display.

I valued seeing letters written to Mr. Disney from the likes of President Roosevelt, Mary Pickford and Cecil B. DeMille, an assortment of awards including Oscar statuettes and was particularly fascinated by a display and video explaining the pioneering multi-plane camera which enabled Disney animated films brilliantly simulate two-dimensional depth and movement.

But the star attractions--especially for those of us old enough to remember and/or appreciate them--were many impressive movie, TV and theme park artifacts.

There was Walt's original script for Steamboat Willie--the first Mickey Mouse short--with hand-drawn illustrations by early Disney collaborator Ub Iwerks (he created Mickey), Annette Funicello's Mouseketeer outfit, the Nautilus submarine used in 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea, and the actual long-standing mail dropbox from Disneyland.

There were original costumes worn by Julie Andrews and others in Mary Poppins, a Snow White outfit worn by Rachel Weisz for a 2007 Annie Leibovitz photo shoot and Johnny Depp's costumes from Pirates of the Caribbean and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many others.

At the end of the exhibit, there is a Disney Animation Studio in which museum employees give tutorials on drawing the famous Disney characters.

I drew a much better Donald Duck than I ever would have expected.

Other than the Disney exhibit, I spent some time exploring the MSI's 80 at 80 displays celebrating their 80th anniversary (who knew the anatomical mannequin featured on Nirvana's In Utero album cover came from the museum's collection?) (see below) and within the Crown Space Center.

But while I fully realize just how steep an expenditure it is for a family of four to attend the Disney exhibit--particularly on a non "free day"--I felt the experience was well-worth the time, money and effort I devoted.

In other words, Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives is a "Mickey Mouse exhibit" in the best sense possible.

It may be a small world, after all, but the exhibition serves as an excellent reminder of--or even introduction to--how much more wonderful Walt Disney and his company have helped to make it.



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