As The Walt Disney Company enters its second century and celebrations kick off around the globe, I had the opportunity to visit The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see Disney100: The Exhibition on opening day. This experience was extra special as a Disney professional intern and longtime Disney fan.
I was four years old when my mom surprised me with my first trip to Walt Disney World in 2003. I always tell people that, in our house, “MOM” stands for “Maker of Magic.” It’s because of her hard work and dedication to making magic for me that I get to make magic for guests and fellow cast members every day.
As a Walt Disney World cast member, I’ve had the unique opportunity to participate in both the 50th anniversary celebration here at Walt Disney World Resort, and now, the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company.
Ascending the steps of The Franklin Institute dressed in my Disney100 cast-exclusive spirit jersey with my Princess Tiana nuiMO in her matching outfit, I was more than ready to see what the 15,000-square-foot exhibit had in store.
With a little pixie dust and innovative technology, I was welcomed by a lifelike Walt Disney before making my way through all ten spectacular, interactive galleries that make up the exhibition. Each one transported me into the timeless stories of The Walt Disney Company over the years.
Throughout all the galleries, there were so many little moments where I felt this incredible sense of childlike wonder – like seeing the East High yearbook from “High School Musical 3,” or getting to snap a photo with King T’Challa’s suit from “Black Panther.”
“The Little Mermaid” section made me giddy with anticipation as it featured behind-the-scenes footage and props from both the 1989 original animated film and the 2019 live ABC broadcast of the beloved tale – and in just a few months from now, Ariel will swim across the silver screen once again in the live-action reimagining. It’s truly amazing how many little girls, myself included, get to see themselves represented through Ariel and the many amazing women that have brought her story to life.
I saw myself and my story reflected throughout the exhibit, and so can Disney fans all around the world. In one gallery, visitors could put on headphones and listen to popular princess songs in the various languages the films were translated into. With thousands of people hearing and seeing themselves in the shoes of royalty, the exhibition truly has something for every person to connect to – and that is where the magic of Disney comes to life.
My absolute favorite moment came from the gallery called “Your Disney World.” The last display is a window where visitors can watch fireworks over a scale model of Cinderella Castle. I felt like I was right back in Magic Kingdom Park watching the show. While I traveled to Philly for a historic display of Disney magic, I also felt like I was back home at Walt Disney World, even if for just a moment. Looking at the smaller version of Cinderella Castle, I couldn’t help but tear up a bit. This is actually my life and that’s exactly what I got to come home to: more magic.
People often ask me if being in Walt Disney World all the time gets old, and the truth is, it simply doesn’t. The magic of Disney is more than one moment in time. My experiences as both a cast member and a guest have created so much happiness and inspiration. I treasure the memories I make every day, and there are always new and exciting experiences to be had.
And that is what The Walt Disney Company is all about! To me, celebrating 100 years means celebrating one of Walt Disney’s favorite ideas: progress. Magic is for everybody, and this year, I’m celebrating the ways that Disney has grown and evolved with more inclusive storytelling and experiences for all to enjoy. Whether it is through art, music, technology, or the incredible cast members who bring it all to life, our company has a special ability to continue welcoming and immersing guests into both new and timeless stories.
As Mickey Mouse himself said to us as we exited, “The next hundred years are sure to be fun!”