Disney cracks open vast archive for centennial celebrations

Andrew Marszal - Agence France-Presse
Disney cracks open vast archive for centennial celebrations
Alan Bergman, Chairman Disney Studios Content, speaks onstage during D23 Expo 2022
Getty Images via AFP / Jesse Grant

BURBANK, United States — From princess costumes and cute character sketches to century-old toys, photos and documents, Disney's backrooms and warehouses are stacked to the rafters with "hundreds of millions" of filmmaking treasures, its archivists say.

In celebration of the company's upcoming centennial — officially marked on October 16 — Disney recently allowed a glimpse into its vaults, hosting a media visit to its film studio lot in Burbank, near Los Angeles.

"This is what we call the tip of the iceberg," said Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline, before presenting artifacts ranging from the studio's founding legal document and the first Mickey Mouse cartoon script to costumes from the latest Marvel films.

Many more items are currently out touring the world, with "Disney100: The Exhibition" on display simultaneously in Munich and Philadelphia. More locations including London will be added soon.

Paris is currently hosting an immersive, multi-sensory experience, centered around the friendships between Disney's iconic characters.

But a major portion of the studio's archives is in "five or six" warehouses "scattered around" the Los Angeles area, including larger items such as former theme park ride vehicles and movie props, said archivist Nicole Carroll.

"We make so much stuff, we're always looking for more space!" she said.

Founded in 1970, the 30-strong team of archivists aim to keep a "small representation" of everything, Carroll explained.

For example, if a recently wrapped movie has 250 lavish costumes, including four or five for each of the heroes, the archive team will select "a couple of iconic looks from each character" for posterity.

Related: Disney delays Marvel movies, 'Avatar' sequels in calendar shake-up

Even with this selective approach, every time a film wraps, "we could be adding hundreds of things" to the archive, said Carroll.


Among the studio's most treasured memorabilia are the giant storybooks featured at the start of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Sleeping Beauty," and a crystal slipper from the live action version of Cinderella.

Some items end up serving a practical purpose — an original snow globe from 1964's "Mary Poppins" was pulled from the archive and replicated by filmmakers creating the 2018 sequel.

Factor in photo and document archives containing first-edition cartoons, tickets to Disneyland's 1955 opening, plus corporate reports and press clippings, and the total collection extends to "hundreds of millions" of items, said Cline.

But perhaps the most hallowed space for Disney obsessives is located right on the Burbank lot — founder Walt Disney's personal offices, from which he managed his entertainment empire from 1940 until his death in 1966.

A painstaking inventory of every item he left behind was taken, right down to the exact resting angle of his books, including volumes on Nikola Tesla, Salvador Dali, and trains.

Just under a decade ago, those offices were restored by Walt Disney Archives employees.They now contain everything from unfinished plans for theme parks to figurines of beloved fairy tale characters. And, of course, several Oscars.

Just a few tour groups are admitted each year to this space, considered sacred by cognoscenti of a company renowned for the almost unparalleled obsession of its fandom.

"People come in and cry at this amazing human," said tour guide Laura Sanchez. "They get to walk in the past."

RELATED: Disney announces more sequels for 'Toy Story,' 'Frozen,' 'Zootopia'

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