Celebrate Disney100 at Walt Disney Presents
This year, fans around the world are celebrating Disney100. The event marks a century since the birth of the Disney company. After the failure of Laugh-O-Gram Studios, Walt packed up and left Kansas City, relocating to California. After arriving, he and his brother Roy opened Disney Brothers Studio on October 16, 2023. The rest, as they say, is history.
Walt Disney World, and Disney parks around the world, are full of fun photo ops and merchandise to help celebrate the anniversary. Guests can even meet Mickey and Minnie in platinum outfits designed for the occasion. But for folks who want a deeper tribute to the Disney story, there’s no better place to go than Walt Disney Presents in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Here are 7 can’t-miss things to see while touring the exhibit.
Walt’s School Desk
At the beginning of the exhibit, Guests are provided a look at Walt’s childhood. One of the most moving artifacts on display is the desk that he used in second grade. Look closely at the desk and you’ll see where he carved his initials “W.D.” into the wood. It’s fascinating to think of him sitting at the desk and dreaming about the future. Little could he know at that time that he would go on to change the world!
The Multiplane Camera
In 1933, Disney revolutionized the world of animation by introducing the multiplane camera. It helped provide the illusion of depth to animated films, making them more realistic. Studio technician Bill Garrity helped design the camera, and Ub Iwerks is said to have built it using parts from an old Chevrolet.
The camera was first used for the animated short “The Old Mill,” which would go on to win an Academy Award. An example of the camera and an explanation of how it works can be seen on the exhibit, providing a unique view into one of the most important creations in the history of animation.
The feature film So Dear to My Heart, which mixed live-action and animation, was released by Disney in 1948. It was a film with particular meaning to Walt, who declared, “So Dear was especially close to me. Why, that’s the life my brother and I grew up with as kids out in Missouri. The great racehorse, Dan Patch, was a hero to us. We had Dan Patch’s grandson on my father’s farm.”
But the film’s significance didn’t stop there. It inspired Walt to build a model of “Granny’s Cabin” as seen in the picture. The result is a wonder: a fully furnished wood cabin with working electricity. It was one of Walt’s earliest attempts at dimensional storytelling and would go on to inspire the creation of Disneyland.
Project Little Man
One of the unique items in the gallery is the “Project Little Man” figure that represents Disney’s earliest venture into animatronics. In 1949, Walt traveled to Europe with his family. While there, he encountered wind-up toys that intrigued him. Analyzing them, he declared, “It’s amazing that you can get such interesting movement from a very simple mechanism.” It sparked an idea that he pursued when he returned to California.
He tasked Walter Broggie and Wathel Rogers with creating a nine-inch tall figure, which could talk and dance (with routines inspired by vaudevillian Buddy Ebsen). The figure can be seen inside “Walt Disney Presents,” as can the complex machinery required to make him move. It’s a truly unique artifact that hints at the mechanical wonders that Disney would later create for the World’s Fair and his theme parks.
Walt’s boyhood hero was the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he even dressed up in a homemade stovepipe hat and recited the Gettysburg address for a school project. But when it came time for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, Walt had something slightly more ambitious in mind.
He set out to create “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” a show inspired by a broader concept he’d developed called “One Nation Under God” that was meant to feature every U.S. President (an idea later brought to life in the Hall of Presidents attraction).
Disney artists studied photographs and a life-sized mask of the President’s face. But that wasn’t enough to bring him to life. The solution to that was an entirely new form of robotics called Audio-Animatronics. Legends like Bob Gurr and Wathel Rogers worked on the project.
The stripped-bare original version of the Lincoln figure is on display in Walt Disney Presents. Guests can see the realism of the face that was created and then get a look at the “inner workings” of the body, which reveal the intricate mechanical pieces that made him move.
The Tower of the Four Winds Model
The 1964 World’s Fair was a seminal moment in Disney’s history, and it’s well represented at Walt Disney Presents. The beloved attraction “it’s a small world” debuted at the Fair as part of the UNICEF pavilion sponsored by Pepsi.
A number of Disney Legends worked on the project, including Mary Blair, Rolly Crump, Marc Davis, and Alice Davis. Crump also designed the gorgeous “Tower of the Four Winds” which stood outside the attraction. The 120-foot-tall mobile was in perpetual motion. Sadly, when the Fair ended Disney determined that the structure was too big to move. So, the Tower was torn down. Fortunately, Guests can get a sense of the original by visiting the replica in Walt Disney Presents.
One Man’s Dream
After wending their way through the exhibit, Guests are given the opportunity to watch a 15-minute documentary about the life of Walt Disney. Narrated by Julie Andrews, the film features historical footage, audio recordings, and even some of Walt’s home movies. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Walt, as well as the incredible legacy of the Disney company.
Here’s to another century of Disney! And remember, “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”