• Industry

Disney Celebrates 100: A Rare Visit to the Company Archives

In October 1954, Walt Disney made an appearance on a television broadcast previewing the launch of the Disneyland theme park the following summer, and coined one of his most memorable quotes: “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.”

While the famed Mickey Mouse is about to turn 95, marked by the character’s public debut in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, The Walt Disney Company is celebrating its 100th anniversary. In July 1923, Walt Disney moved to Hollywood at 21 years old when he and his brother Roy signed a contract with film distributor Margaret J. Winkler to produce a series of animated/live-action shorts, Alice Comedies, and officially founded The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, now known as The Walt Disney Company.

The brothers started making cartoons in their uncle’s garage in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz before switching in 1926 to a fully dedicated studio, and eventually moving in 1940, due to the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to their home and headquarters ever since in Burbank. This 51-acre landmark facilitates the company offices, production soundstages and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

In honor of the centennial anniversary, we were invited to a rare and exclusive visit to the highly guarded archives on the Burbank lot and surrounding locations which were established in 1970 to collect, preserve and make available for research the historical materials relating to Disney and the company.

During the visit, we were treated to an exciting tour of Disney’s office, Marvel Studios offices, a detailed display of countless and cherished memorabilia items from all aspects of Disney’s creations – from motion pictures to products – and a rare trip to Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative engine in which Disney’s theme parks, attractions, cruise ships, games, merchandise, product development and publishing businesses are all envisioned, built and designed.


Throughout the visit, we got a chance to interview Becky Cline, the Director of the Archives, charged with collecting and preserving all aspects of Disney history and making the material available to researchers from all areas of the company as well as historians, writers, documentarians and fans around the world. Cline not only maintains and conserves the Archives’ collections but is also involved with developing and presenting at exhibits. She has authored multiple articles and several books including “The Walt Disney Studios: A Lot to Remember,” “The Art of Disney Costuming” and “Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks.”


How busy have the past few months been for you?

The archives have been very popular around the company this year, particularly because of the 100th anniversary, [and] people are coming to us for material. We’re also doing a lot of proofreading and fact-checking for things that people are doing for the company and outside the company as well. So, it’s been very busy in the archives. We’re happy to do it, though, because that’s our main purpose, is to do research and reference and to help people to create new products, but also to share our past.

Any specific challenges of something rare that you found or restored?

We do a lot of restoration of props and costumes. That’s one of the things that we haven’t had a collection of dimensional things for too long. We started that in 2006 and started collecting those kinds of things. And some of them needed a lot of work. Things like the shrink ray from Honey I Shrunk the Kids or Mary Poppins items. Some of them needed a little tender loving care and so we’ve done some things with that. Our main preservation project right now, though, is digitizing material. And we have a huge collection of photography. And it is perishable film, it needs to be protected. We’ve been going through all of our photography and doing image capture and trying to save it and make sure that it’s available perpetually afterwards. Some of our big collections, we don’t get into them as much. It’s nice to be able to go in and take a look at these things that have been stored away. Our document files, paper disintegrates after a while. And we’ve been going in and trying to scan some of our art and our paper as well. We’ve been getting a lot of collections and that’s a wonderful thing for us.

How much do you work in unison with other divisions of the company, such as Pixar or Lucasfilm?

It happens quite a lot. There are multiple libraries at the company, and that is because there are some very specialized places. The animation research library at Walt Disney Animation Studios focuses solely on animation art. And so that’s the company’s collection of art that was saved, and they take care of that collection. Whenever we need access to animation art, we go to them. The Walt Disney Imagineering art library also has all the documentation and art for the development of park attractions. And we go to them when we need that kind of material. So, it’s not in the archives, but it belongs to a sister library if you will. We work with Marvel, Pixar’s living archives and Lucas, who has turned over all of their other film assets from Disney’s acquisition on, so everything, going back to our first films as a combined company. We work with the film library which actually has the actual films. And so, we don’t physically have those things in our collection, but we have access to them by working. We also work with our partners all over the company for information.

Do you help with actual films?

We worked closely on Saving Mr. Banks. We also worked on Mary Poppins Returns. You could see some of the art from our collection because we have the art for the live-action films. If it’s a film that’s not based already on a Disney property, we usually help after the fact with licensing merchandise or helping our consumer products people to take existing art and turn it into vintage-themed materials and merchandise.

Any artifact that’s especially near and dear to your heart?

I have to say there are two pieces that are probably my favorite overall. I love everything from Mary Poppins, every costume, every prop, because it was the first movie I ever saw as a child. The snow globe from Mary Poppins is very special to me because “Feed the Birds” is one of my favorite songs from Disney. It’s just one little message that it doesn’t take much to show love is really the whole theme of the movie, and [to] reach out and feed others emotionally as well as physically. I think that little piece just means so much to me. Then the other thing is the book from Sleeping Beauty, the art inside is gorgeous. I was really glad to be able to have it restored a few years ago so that we can share it in our exhibits. But I love everything.