“Inside the Walt Disney Archives” has debuted at the Graceland Exhibition Center in Memphis, Tenn. The 10,000-square-foot touring exhibit grants the public unprecedented access to over 450 objects spanning the over 100-year legacy of the Walt Disney Company.
By Carly Caramanna
Originally intended to be a one-week experience in Tokyo, the exhibit proved so popular that it resulted in a tour throughout Japan before setting up residency in its most recent location at the Bowers Museum in California. The expansive display now comes to the former home of the King of Rock and Roll with costumes, original artwork, photography, props and more from the Disney archives, Walt’s personal collection, and their many media acquisitions, like 20th Century Fox.
We were invited to a media preview of the exhibit where we were pleased to meet the head of the Walt Disney Archives, Becky Cline. Proceeding the late Dave Smith, perhaps no one knows the archives better than Cline, who has been with the Walt Disney Company since the 1980s. She explained that the archives are not just about preservation, but researching and maintaining the integrity and accuracy of the company’s colorful history.
We spoke with Cline about the recent surge in fascination with archival collections and she explained:
One of the reasons that we don’t have a lot of props and costumes in our collection from early films of Disney is because the studio itself didn’t consider the props and costumes important to keep, and they weren’t at the time. There weren’t collectors going out there trying to find movie props.
We find things as we can and bring them into the archives. I think it’s just in the last 20 years or so that people have really gotten into collecting these things and keeping them, and I understand that. There’s so much sentimentality now around Disney films and Disney products that people want to own a little piece of that magic.Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives
Although Elvis Presley and Walt Disney never were known to have met in person, there’s a felt synergy between the two pillars of American popular culture. Michael Vargo, vice president of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, explained why Memphis was a natural choice for the exhibit.
“Graceland is a perfect venue for this… bringing together two icons of entertainment. When touring the mansion, we found little Easter eggs of interesting Disney memorabilia that Elvis actually had — everything from a little cup in his cupboard to some small things of [his wife] Priscilla’s.”
Elvis Easter eggs can also be found in the exhibit. Exclusive to Graceland, the exhibit includes artwork and sketches from Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch.” The focal piece features the two Elvis-loving characters on their visit to Graceland, which can be seen at the end of the animated film. Also on display is an original promotion poster from 1969’s “Charro!,” starring Presley.
After spending several hours in the exhibit, I concluded that it can be enjoyed equally by the Disney connoisseur just as much as the casual fan. With each corner revealing another room, the objects come from a wide range of Disney properties, including vintage Disney merchandise, like an original Mickey plush from 1940. Film buffs will love the expansive coverage which includes costumes from recent Disney live-action films, like “Mary Poppins Returns,” as well as the objects from legacy films, like the original prop storybook from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and the original carpet bag from “Mary Poppins.” Casual Disney fans will appreciate an original ride vehicle from Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the original tombstones and hitchhiking ghosts from Walt Disney World’s opening of Haunted Mansion in 1971.
I was mesmerized by some of the more underrated items like an Alien Xenomorph prop figure from Disney’s Hollywood Studios gravely-missed The Great Movie Ride and the Captain R3X from Disneyland’s original Star Tours, who was voiced by Paul Reubens. One of the grander objects, a Mayan Priest from the now-defunct opening-day attraction at Epcot, El Rio del Tiempo, appealed to long time theme park goers.
My personal highlight was seeing the electromagnetic shrinking machine from “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids,” a special sight for lovers of the 1989 film as well as fans of the Disney+ original series Prop Culture. Under the radar films were also represented, like the magic bedknob from “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and original prop artwork from “Return to Oz.”
It was not all about grand objects, as even the smallest of items stood out, like a necktie once adorned by Walt Disney and a menu from the studio commissary. Each played a distinct role in seamlessly telling the story of one of the most famous companies of all time. The quality of every object in the exhibit is what really compelled me. Film props and costumes aren’t designed to last beyond production, let alone decades. The great deal of meticulous care and preservation that goes into these items was evident.
The pre-opening concluded with a ribbon cutting ceremony that brought together executives from Elvis Presley Enterprises with Cline, Vargo, and two familiar faces (and voices). Disney Legend Bill Farmer, most famously known as the voice of Goofy since the 1980s; and Bret Iwan, who has voiced Mickey Mouse since 2009, completed the scene for the coming together of two iconic brands. It was a true full circle moment as the ceremony used another historical artifact, the original scissors from the grand opening of Graceland to the public in 1982.
“Inside the Walt Disney Archives” will be presented at the Graceland Exhibition Center from now until Jan. 2, 2022. Self-guided tickets are $15 for adults (ages 11+) and $8 for children (ages 5-10). To learn more, click here.