As we celebrate the company’s historic milestone of 100 years, I thought it’d be a perfect time to take a look at some unique items behind a century of timeless stories and characters on display at Walt Disney Presents in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Like many of you, I’m a long-time Disney fan inspired by artifacts, props and costumes in Disney history – there’s something special about seeing the items in person and knowing the part they played in the movies I love or theme parks I’ve enjoyed for decades.
During my Disney Ambassadorship at Walt Disney World in 2001-2002, many of these amazing historical Disney items were put on display at the experience now known as Walt Disney Presents. And today, I’m revisiting the past to highlight 100 years of magic!
Originally opened to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Walt’s birth, the gallery showcases his life story from small-town America to Hollywood. Today it’s known as Walt Disney Presents, which contains a self-guided tour of the gallery exhibits, a 15-minute film about Walt Disney’s life and an area for meeting Disney characters like Ariel from the live-action story “The Little Mermaid.”
The gallery exhibit has evolved over the years with an ever-changing display of items. In 2001, I recall displays of Walt Disney’s working office from the Walt Disney Studios and a recreation of the “Project X” Florida room where Disney World and EPCOT were first envisioned. In 2015, Walt Disney’s office suite was restored as a permanent exhibit space on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank.
One of my favorite things to view are the Walt Disney Imagineering models used in the development of theme parks. This 1954 model of Main Street, U.S.A. is extra special to me as it was created by Disney Legends Harriet Burns, the first woman hired for Walt Disney Imagineering, and Fred Joerger, the resident rock expert who worked on most all the rockwork at the Florida theme park for its 1971 opening. He later served as field art director for my favorite theme park, EPCOT. I met Fred at the attraction following his induction ceremony as a Disney Legend in 2001.
I was also glad to see the model of Cinderella Castle on display as I remember first seeing it every day at the Walt Disney World Casting Center when I was a Disney College Program professional intern in 1998.
The details found on these models are fascinating, especially when comparing the model of the Hollywood Tower Hotel to the actual attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Theme park design is rooted in Disney animation and this is best seen with maquettes of a dancing hippopotamus from Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” and the queen from Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which was used as reference for the Disney Cruise Line ship, the Disney Wish. These three-dimensional models help animators or designers see a character from all sides and ensure consistency from scene to scene. While 82 years separate these figures, they help ensure Disney quality guests and audiences have come to expect.
The attention to detail is a hallmark of Disney’s success. It was neat seeing the little details up close on costumes from Disney’s live-action films, “The Haunted Mansion” and “The Little Mermaid,” such as the neck brooch for Gabby’s outfit or King Triton’s conch shell.
Every time I visit Walt Disney Presents, I feel a strong connection to the company founded by Walt and Roy Disney on October 16, 1923. Having now been a Disney cast member for more than 25 years, I often think about the part my team and I have played during that 100-year history. Seeing things like this original company recognition statue called a Mousecar remind me of how dreams can turn into something even more amazing than anyone ever anticipated. Thank you, Walt and Roy, for dreaming your dreams!