Disney reveals ‘treasures’ coming to Franklin Institute for centenary exhibition

A Disneyland badge once worn by Walt Disney himself is among the artifacts to be displayed at the Franklin Institute when it premieres ''Disney 100: The Exhibition,'' opening February 18, 2023. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Disneyland badge once worn by Walt Disney himself is among the artifacts to be displayed at the Franklin Institute when it premieres ''Disney 100: The Exhibition,'' opening February 18, 2023. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Disney Company has its own, internal archive that behaves like the Smithsonian Institute: whenever the studio wraps a movie production or makes changes inside the amusement parks, the archive has first dibs on the leftovers.

A personal favorite of the archive’s director, Rebecca Cline, is a group of animatronic singing figures from the infamous boat ride attraction, ‘It’s a Small World (After All)’.

“When I was a child I always wanted one of those dolls,” she said. “I was six years old when it opened at Disneyland. I was the target audience and I wanted one of those dolls so bad. We have them in the archives.”

Some of those dolls will be among the 250 artifacts populating Disney 100: The Exhibition, an immersive museum show that will begin traveling the world next year to mark the company’s centenary. It is part of a company-wide celebration of Disney’s centenary.

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The exhibition will launch in Philadelphia at the Franklin Institute on February 18th through the end of August. Tickets are on sale now.

“You have a great reputation for opening new exhibits here. It’s just a fantastic fit,” said Cline. “I think it’s a beautiful place, and I was noticing yesterday when we were here how many children came to this museum. It’s just so delightful to hear all that laughing and giggling going on.”

In 1923 Walt Disney moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles to join his brother Roy and form the Walt Disney Brothers Studio, a small animation company. Now, a century later, it has assets worth more than $200 billion.

The exhibition will portray the artistic highlights and trailblazing technology developed by Disney.

“Walt Disney himself was one of the first people to create nature documentaries,” said Cline. “There’s a gallery called Interventions, which is all about the inventions and firsts in technology from Walt Disney. That’s a kind of a mad scientist Disney laboratory with lots of kinetic energy.”

The exhibition will feature multiple galleries, beginning with Walt and Roy’s work along with animator Ub Iwerks toward the creation of Mickey Mouse and “Steamboat Willie” (1928), the first animated cartoon with synchronized sound.

A light sabre used for Star Wars is among the artifacts to be displayed at the Franklin Institute when it premieres ”Disney 100: The Exhibition,” opening February 18, 2023. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

On view will be the original whistle used to record the sound of the steamboat. At a preview event, Cline showed off the light saber used by actress Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Disney acquired LucasFilm in 2012), and the storybook seen in the live-action opening shot to the otherwise animated 1937 classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” the first full-length animated film.

Disney had developed the filmmaking process of storyboarding, or drawing a sequence of shots by hand before shooting. The company also developed the multiplane camera, creating depth perception in animated scenes by separating foreground, middle ground, and background on stacked glass planes.

Franklin president and CEO Larry Dubinksi said the artistry and technological innovation of Disney makes it a good fit for the Franklin Institute.

“It’s really an amazing company, and one that very much aligns with what the institute does: that inspiration, that education, that curiosity,” he said.

Other galleries in the exhibition will detail the company’s process of developing stories for movie plots, narratives used in amusement park rides, and the personalities of iconic characters. Goofy, for example, has his own backstory.

“Storytelling is at the heart of everything that we do at Disney,” said Cline. “Everything is about the story first.”

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Rebecca Cline, archivist for the Walt Disney Company, shows the storybook prop used to open the animated film, ”Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The book will be among more than 250 artifacts included in the premiere of ”Disney 100: The Exhibit” at the Franklin Institute. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Some galleries will put visitors inside the stories of Disney films, and inside its parks. One gallery is a recreation of Main Street U.S.A., a built environment inspired by American mid-century small towns that is replicated in all Disney parks around the world.

One of Cline’s prized artifacts is the original brass name tag worn by Walt Disney himself at Disneyland. At the time the park opened in 1955, staff were identified on their pins by number, instead of by name. Walt’s tag is #1.

“Walt wore this on opening day,” said Cline. “It’s a very special treasure in the archives.”

While video and photographic material from the archive are often used for promotional and academic uses, the objects are rarely displayed. Many of the 250 objects in Disney 100 have never been shown in public, ever.

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