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The Walt Disney Archives brings the magic to Bowers Museum

by Jeff DePaoli

Started in 1970 by Disney Legend Dave Smith, The Walt Disney Company arguably has one of the most passionate fan-bases of any company in the entertainment industry. Although the original purpose of the Archives may have been different, in more recent years the Archives have brought joy to many Disney fans as they get to relive their favorite Disney memories seeing these often locked-away items up close and personal.

walt disney archives
Photos by Jeff DePaoli

The Archives are still primarily used as a research library for current cast members and employees needing information for new projects, but every other year at the D23 Expo, the Walt Disney Archives have created special exhibits for guests.

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This particular exhibit and concept, currently at The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif. through August 2020, began at the D23 Expo Japan in 2018. With some updates, this display is designed to go on tour throughout the country (future locations and dates to be announced soon) and features more than 400 artifacts including artwork, costumes and props that tell the story of the Archives, The Walt Disney Company and the man himself, Walt Disney.

Some of my favorite items as I walked through the exhibit include the classic storybook props we see at the beginnings of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

walt disney archives

You’ve probably heard the story of how Walt was inspired by a little mechanical bird in a cage. This item of Walt’s was what inspired the creation of audio-animatronic figures. This bird and cage are one of the first items you’ll come across in the museum.

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If you’re a Disney Parks fan, you’ll be excited to see the Hitchhiking Ghosts that were removed from Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion once they moved to a projected version of the ghosts.

walt disney archives

I personally was excited to see Dick Tracy’s long yellow coat and hat used in the under-appreciated 1990 film.

There were so many cool items in the exhibit to check out, but if I had to pick just one, it is a no-brainer for me. As I peeked inside all of the display cases I was laser-focused on individual items often not even noticing what splendor was in my peripheral vision. It wasn’t until I heard a museum staff member utter the words “shrink-ray” that my head darted to the right and saw her in all her splendor fixed-up and on display in the open air.

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There was Wayne Szalinski’s shrink-ray from the 1989 classic, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” My reaction was admittedly extreme, but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I honestly never thought an item like this would be available for the public to view from inches away.

After gawking at the prop for several minutes, I went over to Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives, and thanked her for including this item in the exhibit. My over-the-top reaction seemed to get a laugh out of her. She then was kind enough to tell me about a new series coming to Disney+ called “Prop Culture,” and in one of the episodes, we can see them fix up this shrink-ray, which was used in all three “Shrunk” films. As if that wasn’t enough, the episode will even include a new interview with Wayne Szalinski himself, Rick Moranis. If you’re a die-hard fan like myself, you can catch a clip from this episode at the museum before it is released on Disney+.

walt disney archives

One thing that I found very fascinating at the exhibit is the inclusion of items from the 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox) and Searchlight Pictures (formerly Fox Searchlight Pictures) archives. I am among those who wish these assets were kept separate. It felt very strange to see “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “The Shape of Water” items on display next to other Disney artifacts.

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I understand that with this latest acquisition, the Walt Disney Company wants people to become aware that they now own these properties and to get used to this change. But it felt especially out of place considering I can’t recall any representation of Marvel, Lucasfilm or even Pixar at the exhibit.

walt disney archives

If you’re a fan of Disney, you’re sure to find numerous items within this exhibit that will delight you. The museum is only about a ten-minute drive from Disneyland Park making it a perfect little side-trip if you happen to be on vacation visiting “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Throughout the time this special exhibit remains at The Bowers Museum (through Aug. 30, 2020), they are throwing several special Disney-themed events. There are numerous lectures, movie nights, panels, dinners and more. You can find those schedules and more details at Bowers.org.


Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your free gift of “America’s Hidden Mickeys: Lesser Known Disney Destinations Around the U.S.A.” at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.

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