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Disney In Depth: Touring D23’s Treasures Of The Walt Disney Archives
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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Disney D23’s Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit has been wowing visitors at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago since opening last October. The Disney history-themed exhibit, its run extended to January 4, 2015, hosts an array of jaw-dropping artifacts and fun activities for any Disney aficionado. I recently had the opportunity to spend the day at the museum, reveling most in D23’s well-crafted and alluring exhibit.

Let’s take a virtual tour of D23’s Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives.

Rocketeer costume featured at D23's Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives (photo by Brett Nachman

D23: The Official Disney Fan Club is unquestionably one of the gems within The Walt Disney Company, as the fan-focused division gives individuals who revel in all things Disney an outlet to share their passion. Previous D23 Expos have featured an assortment of theme park innovations and classic costumes.

Outside of the D23 Expo, held every other year, D23 has taken its programming on the road with Fanniversary events and other forms of entertainment. D23’s Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit has proven to be a successful way to present Disney content. At one point this exhibit was staged at the Ronald Reagan Museum in California. The exhibition at Chicago’s monumental Museum of Science and Industry was originally slated to end in the spring, but due to mass demand, its time was extended. Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives now closes on January 4, 2015. Its popularity could be identified through observing the main museum gift shop, adorned by artwork of Mickey, Goofy, and the gang on the exterior windows. Interestingly, the store had depleted its entire supply of Disney exhibit merchandise upon my visit in mid-June. No doubt everyone loved the Disney goods, but how does the exhibit stack up to the hype?

Though D23’s Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives required a surcharge on top of the already-pricy museum admission, it was certainly worth the cost. Any individual could spend hours exploring each of the 300+ finds within the space. All visitors enter into a room with screens depicting the origins of Walt Disney‘s career and select highlights during his decades-long career. But this five-minute video is just the start. Thereafter you wander around a series of rooms, mostly displaying artwork, treasures, and videos in chronological order to follow Walt’s life, as well as after his 1966 passing.

Animator's Desk representation featured at D23's Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives (photo by Brett Nachman)

Exploring this venue reminded me of my time at The Walt Disney Family Museum. Though the D23 exhibit represents more a compilation of Walt Disney’s achievements and milestones with The Walt Disney Company over the past 90 years – as compared to the comprehensive museum all about Disney the man – it is extremely detailed and thorough. I was pleased to see how the masterminds behinds the D23 exhibit compiled a wide diversity of Disney content to appeal to visitors with different interests.

For the animation fans, a variety of areas allow art buffs to experience awe. Numerous pieces of artwork hang on the walls, whether it be a sky scene from Mary Poppins or portraits of Mickey Mouse over the years. Many of these pieces, as you would expect, are each worth investigating for at least a few minutes. The craftsmanship and skill are apparent in each of the showcased artworks. Furthermore, those yearning to grab a pencil and dabble in drawing favorite Disney characters can release their urge in the Animation Academy area. Much like the attraction at Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, guests can be trained to sketch a Disney icon. Sadly, my take on Piglet – the featured character when I partook in the class – appeared more like a bloated hog than Pooh’s adorable little friend.

Cinderella Castle in Lego form featured at D23's Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives (photo by Brett Nachman)

Theme park connoisseurs can enjoy everything from models of the ghoulish guys from The Haunted Mansion to an enormous Lego recreation of Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle. Though not complete, this brick-by-brick model of the unmistakable symbol of the Magic Kingdom truly astounds – not to mention, it makes you wonder the time commitment necessary to craft something of this scale. Concept artwork of Epcot and historic artifacts from Disneyland’s earliest days can also be found.

Each area of the exhibit, and practically everything on display, is accompanied by descriptions that give guests more insight into their significance in the Disney entity. D23 went all out in shaping creative and colorful displays that can engage even the most disenchanted of visitors. Sure, Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives is catered to those who live and breathe Disney, but many people who explore may only have a minimal interest in the Mouse. No worries. Disney touches innumerable aspects of the entertainment world, and the goal behind Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives is to not only educate visitors, but also to entertain them. Disney’s impact on film has proven substantial, whether it be in animation or live-action productions. Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives pays tribute to both of those areas.

Hocus Pocus book featured at D23's Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives (photo by Brett Nachman)

Hocus Pocus fans, you will be in your glory to see the easily identifiable book with that mysterious eyeball. Love Pirates of the Caribbean? Look over every intricate component of the Captain Jack Sparrow costume. Several display cases spread throughout the exhibit contain models and sculptures of familiar characters, such as Mrs. Potts and Sebastian. Of course, there are some oddities in the mix. Fat Louie the Cat’s tiara from The Princess Diaries is only feet away from one of Glenn Close’s gaudy outfits as Cruella de Vil from 102 Dalamtians. It’s encouraging to see D23 did not only draw on artifacts from the more crowd-pleasing movies, but rather a real mix of entries in the Disney catalog.

I could not identify one single object as most appealing, but the remarkable model of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea encouraged me to start humming to “Whale of a Tale” and recalling the majesty of the 1954 film that redefined Disney movies. Even more, I held my breath when looking at actual letters sent to Walt Disney by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, among others.

Nautilus model featured at D23's Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives (photo by Brett Nachman)

I applaud the team at D23 for developing such a fulfilling exhibit for this Disney fan and, without a doubt, the many thousands of visitors who have toured through Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives over the past 10 months. The Museum of Science and Industry gave D23 and the Walt Disney Archives a prominent and wonderful platform for sharing these Disney artifacts. I can truly hope D23 finds another way to showcase these items to even more individuals before the next D23 Expo.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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