Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco

The Walt Disney Family Museum is a fun San Francisco attraction that takes you on a fascinating journey through the art and amazing times of Walt Disney. His really was a remarkable life and at the museum, you’ll find examples of his animation, innovation, and inspiration. Walt Disney was the man who raised animation to art and created an American legacy that transformed the entertainment industry.

Set in the beautiful Presidio of San Francisco, the 40,000 square-foot Walt Disney Family Museum features interactive galleries, state-of-the-art exhibits narrated in Walt’s own voice with his early drawings, cartoons, films, and paraphernalia. It’s worth a visit just to see the intricate model of Disneyland. There are ten galleries taking you through the different stages of Walt Disney’s life and career. Learn about his childhood in Missouri, his early starts at developing animated films, and the true story of how he arrived in California with $40 in his pocket.

Gallery 1, Early Beginnings, 1901-1923

Walt’s love for drawing began at an early age. In high school, he joined the student newspaper, The Voice, and found his own voice by illustrating short stories, drawing cartoons about campus happenings, and took pictures as a staff photographer.

Walt Disney Family Museum Gallery 1

In this first gallery, you’ll also see documentation from World War I, when he dropped out of high school to work for the Red Cross in France when he was just 17 years old. See his Laugh-O-gram films, the animation studio that he launched when he was just 20 years old.

Gallery 2, The Move to Hollywood, 1923 – 1928

Moving on, in the next gallery you see Walt’s Alice Comedies, a series that follows a real girl who lives in a cartoon world. Also, see early images of Mickey Mouse. Learn about his romance with Lillian Bounds and see their actual marriage certificate. It was during this time that Walt toyed with the idea of a mouse called Mortimer. But, his wife Lilly said, “Let’s call him Mickey.”

inside the Walt Disney Family Museum

Gallery 3, Exploring New Horizons, 1928 – 1940

When Walt imagined cartoons, he always set them to music in his head. He tested the idea on his first Silly Symphony, The Skeleton Dance. In gallery three you see the first-ever storyboards from the 1938 Ferdinand the Bull and learn how storyboards helped Disney map out the story until it was just right.

Gallery 4, The Transition into Features, 1936 – 1938

The move to feature-length films was an enormous risk for Walt Disney Studios. Walt relied on the Moviola, an editor’s viewing machine, to analyze the animated dailies and to shape the story. Walt was a masterful storyteller and he frequently had scenes redrawn until he was satisfied. In this section of the Walt Disney Family Museum, you can some of his early drawings and see how Snow White and Seven Dwarfs were developed for the big screen.

Gallery 5, Success & Ambitions, 1939 – 1940

Walt set up the Character Model Department to help animators bring characters to life by keeping the animation consistent. Along with model sheets, the department created three-dimensional models that could be viewed from any angle. With these advancements, Pinocchio became the most meticulously animated feature of its time.

While working on Bambi, an art instructor as well as live animals were used in the studio to capture the natural appearances of the real animals while giving them their unique human-like personalities.

With Fantasia, Walt worked in collaboration with conductor Leopold Stokowski. They set the stories to classical compositions and recorded the orchestra with a stereophonic process, named Fantasound. Fantasia was one of Disney’s most ambitious projects.

During this period Walt was introduced to the world of miniature figurines in 1939 and began collecting them with the idea of creating a traveling exhibition of dioramas depicting Americana. He said, “When I work with these small objects, the cares of the studio fade away.”

Gallery 6, Patriotic Contributions, 1941 – 1945

Things changed dramatically for Disney during World War II when the US government hired the studio to produce military and propaganda films for the war effort. The animated feature Victory Through Air Power was based on Alexander de Seversky’s book about his theories of aviation and long-range bombing.

San Francisco Walt Disney Family Museum

Also during this time, the US government asked Walt to produce another film to promote their good relations with South America. Walt used his travel experience to develop cartoon story ideas for Saludos Amigos, the first Latin American feature set in Rio de Janeiro. Its popularity led to the making of The Three Caballeros.

Gallery 7, Postwar Rebuilding, 1946 – 1950

After World War II, it was time for Disney to rebuild. Walt forayed into live-action movies with Song of the South, which would earn two Academy Awards. During this time as well, they went underwater with new cinematography techniques to produce 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Walt Disney Family Museum tour

Gallery 8, Walt & the Natural World, 1948 – 1960

Walt’s love of nature prompted him to sent a crew to film the Alaskan wilderness. The footage fascinated Walt, especially the scenes of seals in the Pribilof Islands. In 1949 Disney produced the first of its award-winning nature documentaries. In contrast to typical nature films, Disney’s True-Life Adventures brought excitement and storytelling to the screen. It was also during this time that Walt while spending time with these two daughters, had the idea of a place where kids and their parents could have fun together…

Gallery 9, Disneyland & Beyond, 1950 – 1965

Walt’s dreams for Disneyland weren’t met with enthusiasm by the studio. So, he formed a separate company and, three years later, opened the amusement park of his dreams. Walt’s fascination with transportation inspired him to build a vintage railroad and futuristic Monorail attractions at Disneyland. He also created Autopia where kids could get behind the wheel, just like grownups.

Outside Walt Disney Family Museum SF

Gallery 10, Remembering Walt Disney, 1966

Walt passed away just ten days after his 65th birthday. His accomplishments and his legacy are a source of joy and inspiration to so many people. All this from a man who had a dream about a little mouse, named Mickey.

In addition to the galleries, there are screenings of Disney classic films, concerts, discovery classes, and workshops that teach animation and stop-motion cinematography for all ages, summer camps that encourage children to explore the arts

Walt Disney Family Museum Resources

  • 104 Montgomery Street
  • The Presidio
  • There are two Montgomery Streets in San Francisco. The museum is in The Presidio, not in the Financial District.
  • 10 to 6 daily except Tuesdays

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