Walt Disney museum shows the man behind the mouse

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The magical world of Disney, and the man who made it be, is the newest draw for San Francisco tourists.

Visitors — many of them from out of town — poured into the Presidio on Thursday to attend the opening of The Walt Disney Family Museum, though the story of the museum was apparently not told to everyone in The City.

“I couldn’t believe it. I flew in from Las Vegas and no one here even knew what I was talking about,’’ said Sharon Girot, who has a swimming pool shaped like Mickey Mouse.

“Walt Disney is my hero. I don’t know how else to explain it,” she said.

It is people like Girot — as well as others interested in the history of Walt Disney — who will be coming to San Francisco to visit the
$110 million museum that was co-founded by Disney’s daughter and grandson. Though the Walt Disney Co. collaborated on the project, the museum is an independent venture fully funded by the Walt Disney Family Foundation.

It consists of 10 galleries spread over 19,000 square feet of interactive exhibition space, a café, gift shop and 114-seat theater.

“Walt Disney reached people because he was a magical storyteller,” Disney’s grandson, Walter E.D. Miller, said as the museum opened. “Now it’s our turn to tell Walt’s story.”

The first gallery is dedicated to the first 20 years of Disney’s life, including his rural upbringing in Kansas City, Mo., and cartoons he drew for his high school yearbook in Chicago.

“It’s not something he would have done for himself,” said his daughter Diane Disney Miller, who cut a film-reel ribbon with cartoon-like scissors at the opening. “But it’s a way to tell who my dad really was. Sometimes people forget he’s an actual person.”

Another exhibit outlines Disney’s ascent to world fame in the 1930s, his premiere of “Snow White” and difficult times such as family deaths, a studio strike and audio tapes of his testimony before the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee.

The 1940s and 1950s exhibit is illuminated by floor-to-ceiling windows and boasts stunning vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge. The exhibit appropriately focuses on Disney’s affinity with nature, such as his documentary “Seal Island” that won him the 1949 Academy Award.

Five-year-old Joshua Tanner looked on with amazement as he pored over one of the last exhibits — a miniature replica of Disneyland, complete with the Matterhorn and revolving tea-cups.

“He missed school for this, but we told his teacher he’d write a report on it,” said his mother Heather Tanner, who drove with her husband and two kids from Pacifica.

Getting to know Walt Disney

Some of the museum’s highlights:

  • An interactive multiplane camera, a replica of one Disney used for “Snow White”
  • Herman Schultheis’ notebook, the original notebook used for the special effects in “Fantasia”
  • A wall of 700 “Steamboat Willie” drawings that synchronizes sound to animated movement and includes touch-sensitive bronze instruments
  • Optical printer, used to marry live action and animation in “Mary Poppins”
  • A miniature, three-dimensional recreation of Disneyland
  • Disney’s own live-steam train, the Lilly Belle
  • Display case with more than 100 examples of early Mickey Mouse toys and memorabilia

    kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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