Saturday, June 04, 2011

In Praise Of Walt Disney

I recently visited the Walt Disney Family Museum here in San Francisco. Those words alone are probably making most of the folks who know me scratch their head and wonder if my blog was hacked. Fear not, readers: it's true. Yes, the man who truly loathes gathering places for children went of his own free will to this Presidio unassuming venue, accompanied by the most Disney-crazed individual on this planet. I cringed, expecting an assault of screaming toddlers and the music I expect to hear if there is a Hell. And you know what? Nothing could be further than the truth: it was fascinating, wonderful and I recommend it to all.

First, what is it? To put it simply, this is not Disney(TM). This is a celebration of Walt Disney himself, and he's truly a fascinating man. I openly wondered why it was here in SF (answer: this is where one of his daughters lives, and it's the items from her father that she inherited), but after seeing the museum, it's perfect: Walt was clearly the ultimate startup guy. More than once, we learned, he leveraged everything on a new venture: sometimes he hit a home run, other times he crapped out. But he was an entrepreneur like any of the Valley's celebrated tech titans, and he fits in perfectly here.

The museum starts with a awe-inspiring display of multiple awards, and you can see the impact the man had on the world. The Academy Award, shown above, is just one: it was made for Snow White, and is the only Academy Award every specially modified for any recipient. It moves on to a wonderfully constructed tour of his early life: child years, World War I, and more, and you learn how he got into animation. More interestingly, it focuses on the business side of it: you can see how he tried multiple times to make a real company, and, despite critical successes, he failed on multiple occasions. His reliance on his brother to help on the business side is focused upon, as well as the creative team he paired with. Unlike the corporation's whitewashing of Disney as a singular creative entity, this museum truly expresses Walt's unflagging reliance and credit to a great team of individuals.

The second floor focuses on more of the Disney you know, but again, from a unique perspective: the man, the innovations, and the business. It becomes very clear that this really is not a museum children would enjoy: it's for adults who can marvel at this man's unique perspective and relentless invention. The latter parts of the museum are stunning: the transition to television, bringing back his focus on mixing animation and live action, and more. The impact of Disney on WWII was also fascinating, as well as architecture, business design, and artistic innovation: one section with Dali and Frank Lloyd Wright, was truly impressive. And the final gallery, with it's mix of uniquely individual sentiments, and broad world views of the parks and the genesis behind Epcot, are magnificent.

One final note: architecturally and from the standpoint of creating engaging information displays, this museum is like no other. It mixes technology and architecture in a way I have not seen before. The initial videoramas of his early life, presented in miniature tin-roofed theaters, to the elevator as train car bringing the visitor out West, to the magnificent video "wave" showing the early live action Disney television programs, culminating in the final soaring, curving gallery with 360 degree displays and vast models and 3 story high television walls. it's a treat for the eyes.

If you live in SF, see it. Visitors who want a change of pace, come by. It's a definite must see, in my mind.

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