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Disney100: The Exhibition

–Tiera Tanner, WDW Radio Team

In its final month stateside, Disney100: The Exhibition immerses viewers in the inspiring and ground-breaking history of the Walt Disney Company. This “once in a lifetime” experience is presented by the Walt Disney Archives and Semmel Exhibitions at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Traveling up a long ramp from the spacious lobby of the Franklin Institute, Disney lovers of all ages are greeted with an introduction to the Disney100 exhibition by images of Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney beautifully projected in a small entrance room at the start of the expansive exhibit. 

Guests familiar with “One Man’s Dream” – an attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – may recognize the imagery of Walt’s early years and family at the beginning of the self-guided tour. Although the immediate vibe relates to “One Man’s Dream,” the displayed artifacts are unique and breathtaking. A megaphone used by Walt Disney from the Laugh-O-Gram Studios and the original telegram from Walt to his brother Roy, after the infamous Winkler meeting in New York, are among the displayed treasures. 

The exhibit continues chronologically through the years, which showcase the progression of sound and color in 1920’s cartoons, props from the first animated features – such as the gilded storybook from Snow White (1937), and so much more. 

Around each corner, framed sketches, concept art, and costumes are carefully protected behind glass. The dark rooms are expertly lit to highlight each display. These exhibition spaces also offer interactive elements, such as a large, digital table with dials and buttons to learn about Disney characters in the maquette display room. These “weenie”-esque features keep guests exploring and moving through the exhibition, especially children. At the interactive areas, little ones and adults alike light up as they learn more about Disney history. 

The exhibition begins chronologically, but then shifts to reflect acquisitions in the company, changing technology, and the expansion of the Walt Disney Company. For example, guests can stand in awe of blockbuster costumes, like Black Panther’s suit of Marvel fame, or listen to Broadway renditions of classic Disney hits.

Guests to the exhibition are witnessed singing and dancing along to music, like The Lion King’s “Circle of Life,” and reminiscing around ride vehicles, such as Peter Pan’s Flight. Each artifact sparks happiness and nostalgia – true Disney magic. 

Magical moments intertwine with educational experiences, like small quiz questions, throughout the exhibition. Although there is a mural with Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother mid-tour for a photo opportunity, this exhibition was not meant as a photo backdrop for Influencers, rather a treasure trove for Disney fans of all ages. 

For example, one room about sound effects offers guests headphones and related imagery to explain the process of adding special sounds to Disney films. A hanging cluster of small metal pieces is displayed, and if guests look and listen carefully, they will recognize the chime-like device as the source of Tinker Bell’s voice. A projection of Tinker Bell flies by to remind guests of her magical tinkle. 

Technology advances throughout the exhibition, but it is heavily presented near the end of the self-guided tour. From the explanation of a multi-plane camera in early animation to the process of digital animation, artifacts in this space include Walt’s inspiration for audio-animatronics (two, tiny birds in a small gold cage found by Walt in an antique shop), which is displayed next to parts and pieces of audio-animatronics from Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. A large computer from Pixar juxtaposes these earlier marvels of technology. 

Artifacts from the Disney Parks begin to emerge, such as a large reproduction of the concept map of Disneyland — famously drawn by Herb Ryman — as Walt Disney vocalizes his vision for the ground-breaking theme park in the mid-1950’s. 

Not denoted specifically in the exhibition is the passing of Walt Disney in 1966. However, the exhibition seems to end at a more rapid pace after some final Walt-era park pieces. Temporarily constructed gallery walls create a timeline which recaps pop culture moments during the century of Disney, with pieces like the book from Hocus Pocus sprinkled along the finale. 

And, as any Disney guest may assume, the exhibition ends with a gift shop. A small stock of exclusive Disney100: The Exhibition merchandise is available for purchase among Disney books, small toys, and other apparel. Exclusive replica posters of those digitally displayed throughout the exhibit are also for sale. 

The accomplishments of Walt Disney and 100 years of the Walt Disney Company simply cannot be contained in a singular exhibit, or even a few. However, Disney guests are truly fortunate to have the opportunity to view this unique and glorious display of Disney history at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and soon in Germany and London.

For more information about Disney100: The Exhibition, visit www.disney100exhibit.com, or check out my TikTok post.

-Tiera Tanner 

In Memory of Jim Korkis, who I would like to believe is now sharing stories with Walt Disney himself.