“They have every Disney Golden Book ever made. I had that one… and that one… and this one right here.” Those were the thoughts running through my head last month as I browsed a selection of books held within The Walt Disney Archives in Burbank, California. Just a few weeks prior, when I learned (and later announced) that I’d be flying out to Los Angeles to meet up with the Disney crew for a variety of projects (a trip that Disney paid for in full), I’d visited my own archives, specifically, a silver tote in my garage that holds a variety of keepsakes from the earliest years of my life. Mickey Mouse and his friends were a huge part of my life back then (pictures here), and now they are again, as I raise my daughters… and continue my own adventures in media. To think that a little kid that was making Mickey Mouse thumbprint art in the 1970s would be exploring the heart of the Disney empire in 2014… it’s still completely hard to wrap my head around.
The Walt Disney Archives:
During this portion of my trip, I was invited into the Walt Disney Archives as part of the promotional ramp-up for the home video release of SAVING MR. BANKS (read my review here), and to listen to some of the actual audio recordings of MARY POPPINS author P.L. Travers interacting with the creative team during the development meetings that led up to the 1964 film – largely held to be Walt Disney’s masterpiece, with 13 Academy Award Nominations and five wins. These audio recordings, which are portrayed in SAVING MR. BANKS, are both important, yet unusual documentation that helped shape the later film. Make no mistake, SAVING MR. BANKS is a film that took many creative liberties in order to make an accessible and enjoyable movie (it’s not a documentary), but it’s basis in reality is fascinating. While I don’t think the recordings we heard are available in their entirety anywhere, a portion is played over the credits in SAVING MR. BANKS.
While Emma Thompson plays Pamela Travers as an abrasive, yet sympathetic character, the actual Travers as heard in the recordings is less likable – and “snippy” would be a decent word to describe her demeanor. Her treatment of the Sherman Brothers (Disney’s first in-house staff writers, and the musical force behind MARY POPPINS) and Screenwriter Don DaGradi is less than polite, yet there’s occasional glimpses into moments where she did find some things to like.
Started in 1970, The Walt Disney Archives are a fascinating wealth of information and artifacts that may be one of the most meticulously-maintained collections of historical documents in the world – and they’re still making their way through uncatalogued items from the past, while they look toward the future. The Disney collection is massive, and it includes EVERYTHING relating to their productions. I had to ask about some of their recent acquisitions, and how they fit into the archiving process. Noting a MARVEL Encyclopedia on the shelves, I inquired about both MARVEL (purchased in 2009) and LUCASFILM (purchased in 2012). Archivist Steven Vagnini informed me that while both companies already had their own archive systems in place, their history will definitely be preserved going forward by the archive team. “When the new STAR WARS films go into production, they will be treated as Disney films on this end,” Vagnini explained. “All of the costumes and props and such will all be archived here.”
SAVING MR. BANKS: The Walking Exhibit… in Walt’s old stomping grounds
As part of promoting the theatrical release, The Disney Archives assembled a traveling exhibit that combined actual artifacts from Walt Disney and the studio, but also production features from the making of the film. When the tour wrapped, the exhibit was temporarily re-assembled in the old Animation building at Walt Disney Studios, and just days after we left, was taken down and filed away in the archives once more. Imagine for a moment, standing in a recreation of Walt Disney’s office… just steps away from where his actual office once was (it’s now occupied by DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES creator Mark Cherry), all utilizing props from the film that are hand-made recreations based off the real deals – all tucked away in those precious archives. The attention to detail is stunning.
The Walt Disney Studios Tour:
Until a short while ago, there was no official “tour” that anyone from the public could take on the grounds of The Walt Disney Studios. That’s changed a bit with the coming of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, and special, 2.5 hour tours that are occasionally made available to members. Jeffrey Epstein, Marketing Manager for D23 (who some of you may recall was the former host of DISNEY GEEK), met up with us on the studio lot for an amended version of what D23 members can experience on the lot (they also get a visit to the aforementioned archives). In a quick spin, we checked out many of the historic buildings and stages, several of which we re-dressed to appear in SAVING MR. BANKS. Find out more about D23 and their excellent magazine, Disney twenty-three, here.
Having just scratched the surface in my exploration of Disney Studios, I’m already hoping to one day return. But this isn’t the end of my trip… stay tuned as I visit DisneyToon Studios in a feature here on THE ROCK FATHER next week…