The Pilgrim’s Journey and the Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum closes in just under three hours and I’m still exploring the lobby.

It includes a setting from the Disneyland firehouse apartment, portraits of Walt’s two daughters by someone named Norman Rockwell, and hundreds of personal awards and trophies. The staff – dressed in red button-up sweaters that are part Walt Disney, part Mr. Rogers – wait patiently for me to finish my circuit.

I approach the official start of the museum and the ticket taker gives me a cheery “Ready to go inside?” It feels like a veiled shot at my time in the lobby.

I step into a dark room dominated by a WWI ambulance and blanketed in pictures of Walt’s family. As I approach the first exhibit and comprehend its rabbit hole of detail, the horrible realization hits.

I am going to run out of time.

The Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio

The Walt Disney Family Museum is nestled in quiet hills near San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate. From the outside it looks like all the other buildings at the Presidio—wide and blocky, crusted in red brick, with a green common in front.

It’s three miles and an hour’s walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. I know this because I hiked the entire distance from my hotel. I could have taken a car, but it felt more appropriate to walk. If Walt Disney is a religion, then this is a pilgrimage. You don’t go in with a cell phone app and an uber driver. You climb the mountain and enter on your hands and knees.

Once inside, modern presentation blends seamlessly with archaic content—old telegrams, faded letters, a Hoarders episode of miniatures from Walt’s personal collection. There’s even a ride of sorts (#WDFM1). The elevator to the second floor is a virtual train ride from Kansas City to Hollywood, accompanied by narration. When you step out into the birth of the Walt Disney Studios, things get progressively more dynamic.

The Griffith Park Bench Where Walt Disney Conceived Disneyland

The Griffith Park bench where Walt conceived Disneyland is there. So also the spinning golden globe from the True-Life Adventures, looking delightfully like the cheap, chipped movie prop that it is. A glass case protects Elias’ devil-music fiddle. A sawhorse props up Zorro’s saddle. A towering multiplane camera worms through the building like a private Wonkavator.

And of course everything is carpeted in acres and acres of cartoon drawings – including the oldest verified drawing of Mickey Mouse (artist unknown).

Growing up in the Midwest, my school library had three biographies about Walt, which I endlessly devoured. For fans steeped in Disney lore, the museum offers little in the way of new information. But rarely does all this book learning come to life in such a captivating way.

If Walt Disney is a religion, then Bob Thomas’ Walt Disney: An American Original is its bible. It is not the most exhaustive biography, but it is the most accessible. From its pages I first read Walt’s letters to his old Kansas City cohorts begging them to come West, his telegrams to Roy on the loss of Oswald, and his simultaneously fiery and despondent feelings about the Studio strike.

To see these same words again, but on the actual documents in which they were printed is nothing short of remarkable. It’s as close to a time machine as you can get.

Forty-five minutes before closing, I leave behind the Studios displays and enter the last room, with a spiral ramp through its core leading back to the main floor. And for a guy who started a website called Parkeology, it is here that the Walt Disney Family Museum delivers its knockout punch.

Theme Parks have an advantage over animation, in that everything about them is tangible, touchable, dimensional. Mechanical tiki birds, Abe Lincoln sculptures, Wally Boag prop teeth, a vintage Autopia car… They have a texture to them, a weight, a palpable scent of history. Other Disney exhibits such as One Man’s Dream and the Blue Sky Cellar might present park artifacts, but the Walt Disney Family Museum lends them a sense of spirituality, as if these were holy relics buried in the church vault, now made available to the faithful.

So it’s not without a touch of irony that my favorite piece in the museum is not a real artifact at all.

At the center of the spiral is a giant model of Disneyland–beautifully sculpted, animated in spots, dazzlingly illuminated and riddled with special effects. Main Street twinkles.The Pirates of the Caribbean fire their cannons. The Primeval World lava glows and flickers.

Walt Disney Family Museum Disneyland Model

It appears to exist only for the Museum’s sake. It represents a Disneyland out of time: A pre-1980s Fantasyland, a concept version of Space Mountain, a current New Orleans Square.

I spend a half hour staring at this model from every angle. With ten minutes to go, I reluctantly proceed to the rest of the museum, covering the last years of Walt’s life.

As I exit into the gift shop (some Disney traditions are inescapable), I glance back for one last farewell and take in a final reminder at the projects Walt left unfinished. The revelation I received at the start of this adventure has become a universal truth.

We all run out of time.

Walt Disney Family Museum Exit

4 Theme Park Musical Moments from Pixar in Concert

The concept is a bit strange.

Pay a hundred bucks for the right to dress up in nice clothes and go to a theater to watch a full orchestra play background music from cartoons.

It’s even crazier when you’re a theme park fan and you spend half the time relating various peripheral melodies to your favorite park moments.

Last Sunday I donned my nice jeans, and my wife put on the good flip flops, and my son wore actual, bona fide pants and we went to the fancy shmancy Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando to see Pixar in Concert.

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Dr. Phillips is a famous Orlando personage who seemingly owns half the city.

I had never been to see an actual orchestra except for that one time I glimpsed the Trans Siberian Orchestra playing Carol of the Bells at Universal Studios while on my way to ride The Mummy. But the Orlando Philharmonic is the real deal, and they tune up just like the beginning of Fantasia.

The tune-up process is interesting, because it basically sounds like a street fight between a few flocks of discordant geese and the Channel 4 News Team. They produce this cacophony in full view of the audience, like nothing else in live performance. It’s like watching actors blow straw bubbles before Glengarry Glen Ross or the Golden State Warriors accidentally setting up their lay-up line at the concession stand. What, you can’t tune your instrument unless a thousand strangers are watching you?

Finally one gal stands up (first chair violin?) and everyone plays the same note and that’s how they know they’re ready.

Walt Disney Theater

This guy owns the other half.

The conductor comes out, the lights go down, and the orchestra launches into the Pixar intro music. And somehow it sounds perfect. All that’s missing is the hopping lamp.

Pixar in Concert turned out to be a mesmerizing experience, and comes highly recommended if it’s showing in your area. Obviously, you need to love the movies and have some appreciation for music. Pixar movies differ from traditional Disney animated films in that there are not many iconic songs. But there is a surprising amount of iconic film score music, courtesy of such movie luminaries such as Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, and Michael Giacchino.

Pixar in Concert

A movie screen plays clips straight from the films in synchronization with the music, and in spite of the fascinating musicians (which included a harpist, two guitar players, and during the Brave segment, a bagpiper), your eyes will be drawn to the screen until you completely lose yourself in the moment.

Every Pixar feature is represented, with the exception of Inside Out (presumably because it is too recent). Toy Story – which incredibly is 20 years old this year – kicks things off.

It’s important to note that this really is about the orchestra. Vocals are non-existent, so you won’t hear songs like Woody’s Round-Up or When She Loved Me. And it’s an illuminating experience to watch the movie clips without the benefit of dialogue or sound effects. You can see just how much of the emotion is driven by the music.

Pixar in Concert Orchestra

Probably took the job for the halibut

As much as I love movies, I’m hard-wired to be a park fan, so every now and then there will be a musical cue or riff that took me straight out of the movies and dropped me right into a memory from the parks.

Here are 4 of my favorites (you can hear a sample by clicking the headers below):

Randall’s Attack – Monsters Inc.

This song has a fast, menacing structure that repeats itself in variation throughout Monsters Inc.

Not only is it instantly recognizable, but it’s one of the primary musical cues in Monsters Inc Mike and Sully to the Rescue at Disney California Adventure.

The ride is actually one of Disney’s weaker dark-ride efforts, which helps make the music stand out all the more.

The City – A Bug’s Life

This jazzy riff marks the distinction between the sleepy island where Flik and his ant friends live, and the hustle and bustle of the Bug City (basically a trash heap under a mobile home).

Unsurprisingly, it also forms the catchiest background music in A Bug’s Land at California Adventure, where it seems fully at home introducing the various spinning and whirling carnival rides that comprise the land.

Married Life – Up

The melody is so flexible, it can sound supremely happy or depressingly sad, depending on the context. It is used to introduce Carl and his marriage to Ellie, and goes full-tilt for both emotions.

At the Magic Kingdom in Florida, it sticks to the happy side of the scale, as one of the background loops on Main Street, U.S.A., where its meandering, simple notes seem to be a perfect fit with turn-of-the-century Americana.

McQueen and Sally – Cars

This song, which is used at the beginning of Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure, is one of the most perfect uses of a film score in a Disney ride.

The sample contains the jaunty, twangy beginning as your Racer curves its way up the Cadillac Range, and it also contains a breathtaking moment as your car goes through a tunnel for a stunning glimpse of a towering waterfall.

This moment, which occurs in both the movie (for Lightning) and in Radiator Springs Racers (for us) is one of my all-time park “reveals.”

Checkout the schedule to see if Pixar in Concert will be performed in your area.


What if Disneyland Arrived 60 Years Too Late?

Try to imagine, just for a moment, a giant space monster punching Father Time right in the teeth.

A punch hard enough to jar loose sixty years. A half-dozen meaningless decades. A skip on the record player of history.

Now imagine that this cataclysmic punch occurred in 1901.

History shrugs it off. Life finds a way. And everything remains almost exactly the same.


Then in 1961, during a snowy December evening in Chicago, IL, a young man named Walter Elias Disney is born.

This Walt would grow up in the land of free love and civil rights. Drive ambulances in Vietnam. Create psychedelic ads in Kansas City. Head to Hollywood during the era of Serpico and The Godfather.

Mickey Mouse would debut just days after the election of Bush ’41. The Three Little Pigs during Clinton’s first year in office. Titanic would hold the box office record for only one year before ceding it to Snow White.

There would be goodwill tours to the Middle East (“Saludos Habibis!”). A dark period of Gulf War propaganda films. The first Disney live-action movies would appear about the same time as the iPad.

And Walt—who never backed down from new technology—might have launched his weekly television show on YouTube.

Then he would build a theme park.

Main Street, U.S.A.

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past. And here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” –Disneyland Dedication Plaque, July 17, 2015

Here is a country in transition, from the Nifty Fifties to the Swinging Sixties. The charming storefronts of yesteryear beckon you with bold logos and neon signs, promising the comforting service you’ve come to expect from JC Penney’s, Montgomery Ward, and Rexall Drugs.

In Town Square, you just might catch a show from the Main Street cheerleaders as they pump up the crowd for the weekend’s big football game. Or take in a performance by the resident rock-n-roll band on the grassy field surrounding the gazebo.

This is the age of yester-year. The era of Walt Disney’s cherished childhood. This is Main Street U.S.A.

The Main Street Vehicles – Hop aboard a high-fin Cadillac, a Greyhound bus, or even a trippy hippy van for a one-way journey up Main Street. Nighttime is especially magical, when the neon comes on and the vehicles go into “Cruisin’” mode.

Main Street Cinema – Step inside the air-conditioned confines of this vintage precursor to the modern home theater, where classic movies play continually on eight screens. You’ll thrill to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, fall in love with Marilyn Monroe, or laugh hysterically at everyone’s favorite neurotic, Woody Allen.

The Disneyland Interstate Highway – The crown jewel of Main Street is the On-Ramp to the Disneyland Interstate, which offers you a grand circle tour of the Magic Kingdom, with exits at several lands along the way. This loving recreation of the Interstate Era comes straight from the childhood of Walt Disney himself, who once spent a formative summer as a roadside salesman, hawking encyclopedias to housewives along the brand new highway system of the United States.

Town Hall – Information, Guide Maps, Dining Reservations, Storage Lockers, Charging Stations. Civic protests performed daily.


“A wonderland of nature’s own design from the True-Life Adventures Brain Trust.” – Disneyland Podcast Episode 1

Adventureland takes its cue from a revolutionary form of storytelling pioneered by the visionary imagination of Walt Disney!

Step across the bridge from Main Street and you’ll find yourself inside one of the interconnected tales of Phase 1 and 2 of the Disney True-Life Adventures Cinematic Universe.

Disney True-Life Adventures Assemble: Vanishing Prairie Cruise – Guests board colorful launches for a scenic trip down river, accompanied by wisecracking, pop-culture savvy skippers. Come face to face with the sharp-toothed citizens of Beaver Valley as they team up with The African Lion and Perri the squirrel to conquer the evil genius known as The Living Desert. Featuring a script by Joss Whedon.

Adventureland BazaarDisney True-Life Adventures comic books, action figures, costumes, memorabilia. Note: Due to previous licensing agreements with other media companies, merchandise featuring Seal Island and White Wilderness is not available in Disneyland.


“Frontierland! Tall tales and true from the burned out fragments of dystopian society.”—Disney Parks Blog Metadata

Every era has its craze. The 1950s had Westerns on every screen, big and small. Now today’s most popular story setting springs to life off page and screen, ushering you into a gray and dismal world, where every day is a fight for survival among oppressed teenagers.

District Twain – The mournful whistle of this floating prison camp welcomes you aboard for a “ten year sentence” down the irradiated Rivers of America. You’ll drift among the poisoned fog banks, explore the holographic Logger-Jammer Forest, and overthrow The Over-Chancellor during this 15-minute leisure cruise.

Maze Run Through Nature’s Wonderland – Every teetering rock formation means danger. Every erupting geyser hides a secret. And supplies are running out. As junior members of the scrappy “Mountain Lion Gang,” guests don tight-fitting, impractical jumpsuits to try and outwit the infamous Rainbow Ridge Consortium.

Convergent – Guests participate in an interactive personality survey before being sorted into one of three Tribes: Conestoga, Pack Mule, or Stagecoach. What happens next is up to you! Will you break down the societal barriers meant to inhibit cooperation? Or will the Supreme Benefactor keep you enslaved under his mutated thumb?

The Golden Horseshoe Arena – 10 lucky guests (ages 9-15) will be selected to compete in a fight to the death for the right to be crowned Frontierland Champion. See Times Guide for showtimes.


“#Fantasyland is dedicated to the young and #younginheart. To those who believe that when you#wishuponastar, your dreams come true.” –@RetlawYensid (Walt Disney’s Personal Twitter Account)

Over the drawbridge and through the castle gates lies Fantasyland, home to all the wonderful stories you’ve come to love from Walt Disney Studios. The happiest kingdom of them all for children of all ages, but especially for the very young!

Drowsy Castle – At the end of Main Street U.S.A stand the fairy tale spires of Drowsy Castle, from Walt Disney’s upcoming animated hit, Drowsy. The story follows the timeless tale of the spunky princess who overcame a bad case of narcolepsy and the schemes of an evil fairy to rescue her mother and father, save a helpless but handsome prince from his controlling father, and awaken a kingdom to the beauty within it – all while pursuing her dream of a becoming a fashion designer with help from a magic spinning wheel. Drowsy Castle offers spa services, where young princesses-in-training (and moms too!) can pamper themselves with Drowsy Massages and pedicures.

Soarin’ Over Neverland with Peter Pan and Friends – Don a pair of pixie dust goggles and strap yourself into an authentic Lost Boy hang-glider for a thrilling flight over Neverland in this motion simulator attraction. Dodge cannonballs from the Jolly Roger, swoop over Skull Rock, and come face to face with the nefarious Captain Hook. Minimum Height 40 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Wild Ride Through England ~ The Adventures of Walt Disney’s Mr. Toad and Friends – Design your own motorcar, snap on your 3-D driving goggles, then step behind the wheel for a zany jaunt through London, where your vehicle will go onroad, offroad, and nowhere in particular on this high-speed turbulent adventure. Minimum Height 40 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Snow White’s Scary Adventures Featuring the Seven Dwarfs – Step aboard this revolutionary trackless robo-arm contraption built by the Seven Dwarfs, which will send you careening through a seamless forest of practical sets and video mapping technology, in an effort to escape the wicked Queen—all brought to life through the magic of your 3-D “diamond spectacles.” Minimum Height 40 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Walt Disney and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Tea Party Starring YOU! – You’ll scream “off (with) your head” as you twirl in a death-defying loop high above Fantasyland! This mega-thrill ride – the tallest in Disneyland at nearly 200 feet – is not for the faint of heart (or Queens of Hearts). 3-D “tea glasses” required. Minimum Height 48 inches. Expectant mothers should not ride.

Dumbo’s Nursery – Everyone will enjoy this themed waiting area, decorated with static props from Walt Disney’s timeless live-action classic, Dumbo. Children must be accompanied by an expectant mother.


“Promise of thing[s] to come, in part or in whole, to be defined at such time as is mutually agreed upon.” – Joint Press Release, The Walt Disney Company and IBM

The future beckons from the gleaming spires of Tomorrowland, showcase of the strategic corporate partnerships of The Walt Disney Company and its subsidiary holdings.

Here guests can enjoy just-in-time delivery of entertainment-based initiatives through the magic of brand penetration, while leveraging best-in-class assets to synergistically monetize the client-centric vacation experience.

Dronetopia Sponsored by Amazon – Guests young and old take control of a remote aircraft, piloting an Amazon Prime shipment through a challenging wooded course through Tomorrowland.

SEO Hall of Fame Sponsored by Google – Advancements in the breathtaking field of search engine optimization and deep indexing are on display in this interactive kiosk adventure.

PRC Marsliner Rocket – Topping out at nearly 190 feet, this full-scale replica of a top-secret space craft is a testament to the continuing emergence of China in the global market, and a stark warning to America’s previously dominant space program. The Marsliner sets the stage for the thrilling Flight to Mars simulator attraction, where guests race against the clock to stave off economic collapse in the face of rising national debt, all while watching another country win the race to Mars.

Circarama Theater Sponsored by Siemens– This 360-degree IMAX theater is currently home to the stirring and powerful film, Innovironmentions. This spectacle of corporate responsibility raises awareness of the very real struggle faced by companies in today’s political climate, highlighting diversity efforts and green initiatives in response to a groundswell of public support for environmental factors in the marketplace.

Tomorrowland Gallery Sponsored by Brad Bird – View lifeless pictures of props from the latest box office flops in this temporary placeholder attraction. Also serves slushies.