For the Dissolve Facebook group’s secret Santa a bit over a year ago, I was given a lovely book about the history of Disney Little Golden Books. And the most physically painful reveal in it was that the original materials had all just been shoved in boxes and heaped in storage, and they weren’t archived properly for decades. This included original Mary Blair artwork, you understand. No one took care of it, because apparently no one was taking care of any of the Little Golden Book materials, Disney or otherwise.
Disney does have archives, and apparently that material is archived properly now, but the only way to see things out of the Disney archives is to stand in line for five hours at a D23 Expo, and that’s just unreasonable. There is, in my opinion, simply no reason not to have a high-quality museum of Disney archival material and every reason to do it. Disney rightly took a lot of grief a couple of decades ago for a plan to build a historical theme park on an actual battlefield, but what I would quite like them to do is properly demonstrate a commitment to their own history by sharing it.
I grant you this is in part because I come at things from the intersection of Museum Buff and Disney Buff, and I don’t know how much intersection there is there for other ordinary humans. That said, I do have some clear ideas for how to make that intersection a little broader. There’s no reason it couldn’t be something people would really enjoy. I mean, let’s be real—there would be an audience for this museum no matter how lousy it was. There is also no reason for it to be lousy and every reason for it to be outstanding.
So would this museum be for adults or kids? Yes. There’s no reason to not think of it as both. Make half of it the best interactive museum experience you can imagine and half of it a serious art and history museum. Make the family side things like how to be an imagineer, how to design, what it was really like over the decades of Disney history. And then on the scholarly side, do things like an exhibit of all the detail work that goes into producing a single aspect of something. Take, say, one of the bear animatronics from the Country Bear Jamboree—I assume they still have at least one of them—and show the preliminary sketches, the blueprints, and so forth. Not of the attraction, just of that one bear.
To me, it is very important that this not be at one of the parks. For one thing, as I envision it, it would be its own full-day experience. This isn’t somewhere you drop in because the line for Pirates is too long. This would be a proper museum. Possibly even with an attached research center, for people really interested in hardcore study of Disney history. Yes, okay, a gift shop—I honestly like a good museum gift shop. And maybe a theatre playing classics out of the Vault and documentaries about Disney history—Walt and El Grupo, maybe. But the point would be focus on Disney history.
It is also very important that it not be sterilized. A full exhibit space should always be maintained talking about things like Disney’s history with race relations. Maybe a rotating exhibit about, I don’t know, how hard it was for women not in the Ink and Paint Department or Disney’s troubling history with unions. There are two obvious reasons for this. First, because being upfront about Disney’s troubling past gets ahead of people who think maybe this is just about The Greater Glory Of The Walt Disney Corporation. Second, because it’s important to acknowledge the bad stuff instead of pretending it isn’t there. Talk about how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.
I would also say that, even in the properly museum bits, I have firm ideas. Benches, for example. Few museums have enough benches. Even if you love museums the way I do, sometimes, your feet just hurt, you know? And regular water fountains. A couple of decent food options, because if you’re spending all day at a museum, you’re going to be hungry. Make sure things are clearly labeled, including why they’re important. Lots of knowledgeable staff. Clear maps. Sufficient parking.
I also feel like I shouldn’t have to emphasize this, but Disney? This is not really intended to be another profit center. This is you celebrating your history. Don’t make it too expensive. You want to make a profit, make it in the gift shop. A family should be able to go to this museum if they’re local without having to make it part of their vacation plans. I get that you’re a business, but show a little decency.