Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Photo: A section of Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives focuses on the making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) [photo by J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry].
One can practically feel the magic dancing along their skin as symphonic, colorful, spectrum-wide matter floats toward them from the exhibit’s entrance. The spirit of Walt Disney greets your senses and beckons your inner child to its Utopia. In celebration of a man who, more than anyone of his time, understood the human psyche and its abstract need for escape, one can only wonder what distinct intentions were present when constructing Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives, a new exhibition that opened this fall at The Museum of Science and Industry. "We wanted to capture things somewhat through the lens of Walt Disney," explained Jeff Buonomo, curator of the new exhibit. "The exhibit itself could have been much more commercial and contemporary. Though, honestly, some don't even know that there was a Walt Disney,” Buonomo points out. “Through several meetings and contemplation, we agreed on minimizing the inclusion of post-death Disney history. It's important to remind older generations (of), and to introduce to the new, the foundation that is so important for our modern notion of Disney to exist today.” The exhibit is a 3-D timeline of Disney's life, revealing intimate details like written scripts, notes, and even details about
Disney's financial hardships after making unparalleled creative leaps throughout his career. Shortly after his birth here in the Windy City, Walt Disney spent the first crucially formative years of his life in rural Marceline, Missouri, where an abundance of his time encompassed the company of barnyard animals as friends. "I believe that this kind of rural life was really humbling for him, even at an early age," Buonomo explains. "Those early years had such an impact, that it echoes even still through productions that are released today.
His Midwestern upbringing is apparent in many of his creations, including the famed steam trains and railroad attractions of The Magic Kingdom. Those rural starts made it so that nature manifested itself in all of Disney's works. "Walt Disney made an attempt at normalcy as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross during World War I.
But, of course, upon his return from overseas, he stayed true to his love of animation. And that speaks volumes to the powerful sense of determination Disney always had. As Buonomo explains, Disney sent his brother Roy ahead to Hollywood to set up the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, a small, yet fully functional production company. Legendary animator Walt Disney with his equally legendary creation Mickey Mouse (photo courtesy of The Museum of Science and Industry)."There were mounds upon mounds of telegrams that Walt would send to Roy, full of comforting words, telling him not to worry in the midst of all of the financial risks they were taking. Despite not previously being the biggest Disney enthusiast, it's hard not to recognize the ground breaking steps that he took in the animation world," Buonomo admits.
"There's so many different innovations that he did, including the first live-action-animation film, The Alice Comedies, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon Steam Boat Willie, and even further along, the blueprint for Disneyland that was sketched over only a weekend. That is completely unprecedented." Steam Boat Willie is a particularly momentous work as it served as the debut of Mickey Mouse, and quite a debut it was, with a full symphony of music to propel the beloved character (and Disney's career) forward. And these were just some of his first efforts. Buonomo admits that, it quickly became obvious that as prolific as Walt Disney was, the process of selecting Disney-centered artifacts to include would not be easy. "We wanted to include, sort of Walt-centric items in the exhibit. We thought it important to include tidbits about the live-action animation education, Disney TV, and lots of the technology and Animatronics that Walt obsessed over." Buonomo adds, "Honestly, there were enough items and artifacts for us to clear out the entire museum and fill it with Walt Disney history. That says a lot about those who have been left to keep the company going. I really respect the fact that the company had the respect to maintain all of those artifacts. It's nice to know that they can appreciate and look to their past when moving forward to the future."Walt Disney’s final masterpieces, Disney World and EPCOT Center were not completed until after his somewhat untimely death. And in Disney’s absence, one can only wonder what their development could have been like had the innovator’s grace and genius taken part in their full fruition. "In my opinion, EPCOT would have been relatively different, and would still be evolving," Buonomo concludes.
"Walt Disney was such a visionary that he had the foresight to know what upcoming societal challenges were—things like the monorail train, which was a great invention, and free public transit. It would have been a great testing ground for concepts that would or would not have been practical in our society. "Museum visitors will enjoy footage from Disney World's exciting initial years, Disney TV, as well as over 300 artifacts, including original costumes worn in Disney's live-action films. Get over to the museum and take in early Mickey Mouse merchandise, and even a chance to test your own creative skills at the Animation Academy. What you'll take home is much more than an afternoon of fun, exploring nine decades of Walt Disney history. You'll get a rich sense of the depth and breadth of the legendary animator's imagination and innovative spirit that inspired the creative dynasty that Walt Disney represents today. Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives runs at The Museum of Science and Industry through May 4, 2014.
By Valencia Davis