You can’t miss it. The Partners statue sits majestically at the exit of Studio 1. Honoring Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, this iconic statue as more than one story to tell.
This well-known statue was created by legendary Walt Disney Imagineering sculptor Blaine Gibson. From 1939-1961, Gibson worked as an inbetweener and then as an animator at Disney Studios, while sculpting was a mere hobby.
After seeing some of his pieces during an exhibition, Walt Disney offered him to open and be responsible for the sculpting department at Walt Disney Imagineering—a position he held until 1983. Some of his most notable work includes the ghosts and ghouls of The Haunted Mansion and the freebooters in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Originally, the idea was to celebrate Mickey’s 65th birthday by creating a life-size statue depicting Walt holding Mickey’s hand. Gibson was already familiar with Walt’s facial features as he’d already delivered a couple of sculptures—the first one for a personal project in 1962 and the second one for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences located in Los Angeles. This piece was replicated for “The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza” (1994-2016) in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort.
Gibson worked on this project for a year—most notably to create the expression on Walt’s face. He wanted the statue to convey what Walt had endeavored to do his entire life—creating happiness. As such, the statue’s expression is Blaine’s interpretation of Walt watching happy people enjoy the park.
On the statue, the initials on Walt’s tie are “STR,” and stand for “Smoke Tree Ranch,” an area in Palm Springs where Walt and Lillian once owned a vacation home in the 1930’s.
The ring on his right hand is an Irish Claddagh wedding ring he had purchased in Ireland in 1946 during a stay with his wife. Walt was deeply attached to his roots and did not hesitate to introduce himself as part-Irish. At the end of the 17th century, some Disney family members decided to leave England to settle in Ireland, in County Kilkenny. Walt’s great grandfather, Arundel Disney, moved to North America in 1834. Walt visited Ireland once again in June 1959 to celebrate the release of “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”—a vibrant homage to Irish culture.
Gibson envisioned several different options for Mickey. For some time, he considered depicting the famous character holding an ice cream cone. He even created a model of this version, but the project was eventually dismissed to be more aligned with the “partners” idea. For the scale of Mickey’s statue, he was inspired by the 1939 animated short film “The Pointer,” nominated for an Academy award and celebrated for its spectacular design. To infuse the way in which Walt and Mickey would hold hands with realism, the artist turned to a scene from “Fantasia” traditionally referred to as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” where Mickey shook the hand of conductor Leopold Stokowski.
As such, the statue at Disneyland Paris is the fifth one unveiled after those of Disneyland Resort (Nov. 18, 1993), Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort (June 19, 1995), Tokyo Disneyland (April 15, 1998), and Disney Legends Plaza at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. (Dec. 5, 2001—to commemorate what would have been Walt Disney’s 100th birthday). It was created not long before the opening of Walt Disney Studios Park with the original mold used by Blaine Gibson.
Since 2002, the Partners statue has been inspiring guests to experience and share these magical moments.