10 Fascinating Artifacts at the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit
I recently visited the Inside the Walt Disney Archives exhibit, which is open at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, now through January 2, 2022.
The 10,000-square-foot exhibit is packed with more than 450 objects, including never-before-scene original artwork, costumes and props from the Walt Disney Archives in Burbank, California.
The exhibit originally debuted at the D23 Expo Japan in 2018 and is on loan to Graceland before moving to its next (to-be-determined) location.
The exhibit includes items such as Jack Sparrow’s compass from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; costumes from Beauty and the Beast, 101 Dalmatians, Pretty Woman, and more; Mary Poppins’ original carpet bag; Wilson from Cast Away and a prop storybook from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Born and raised in Memphis, I never thought my first trip to Graceland would be to see a Walt Disney Archives exhibit. That said, you won’t be strolling through Elvis’ world-famous Graceland Mansion admiring Mary Poppins’ wardrobe. The exhibit is set up inside the Graceland Exhibition Center, a beautiful new facility across the street from the mansion.
Below are 11 of the coolest artifacts I saw in the exhibit, but there are so many more to admire. It’s worth the trip to Memphis (and the city’s delicious barbecue doesn’t hurt, either).
1. Disneyland Park Maps
I’m a huge nerd for theme park maps. There were two Disneyland maps in particular that I could have analyzed for an hour.
The first was a bird’s eye view of the park with each land highlighted in a different color. The map also illustrated the massive parking lots surrounding the southern half of the park. Those lots are now occupied largely by Downtown Disney and Disney California Adventure.
The second “map” was more of a schematic aerial illustration of the then 45-acre park. One thing I found interesting were the names of the lands in the smaller overview in the lower right corner. These included:
- Main Street
- Holiday Land
- Mickey Mouse Club
- Frontier Country
- The Hub
- Recreation Park
- Fantasy Land
- Lilliputian Land
- World of Tomorrow
- True-Life Adventureland
You can tell which names made it to the final cut of the park’s design.
2. Disneyland Survey Tools
Never did I think I’d see the tools used to survey the land Disneyland was built on.
The collection included various measures, measuring tape and brass survey markers.
3. Jungle Cruise Boat Model and Painting
The exhibit featured both a painting and a model of the “Congo Queen,” one of the Jungle Cruise boats.
A model of the same “Congo Queen” boat was also on display.
The model was used in “A Trip Through Adventureland/Water Birds” episode of the Disneyland TV show in 1956. The show helped promote the still very new Disneyland park.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean Animatronic
Fans of Pirates of the Caribbean will be treated to a recreation of one of the famous ride’s animatronics.
I won’t name them all, but you’ll find a handful of props from other famous Disneyland attractions.
5. Disneyland Press Preview Pass
Members of the media invited to Disneyland for its dedication in July of 1955 were given one of these paper passes:
6. Creepy World’s Fair Animatronic
Animatronics have come a long way since the 1960s, as demonstrated in the below head from a 1960s-era audio-animatronic.
The (now) mildly unsettling animatronic appeared at the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
7. Lion King Pride Rock Model
The devout Lion King fan in me was thrilled to see this model of the iconic Pride Rock.
Side note: Why is there not an entire Disney park land themed to Lion King?
8. Tron Light Cycle
This life-size Light Cycle bike from the Tron: Legacy is as close to Tron as you can get in the United States until the Tron Lightcycle Power Run coaster opens at Magic Kingdom next year.
If only I could take one for a spin.
9. Rex Animatronic from Star Tours
I was a little “starstruck” when I saw RX-24 (also known as “Captain Rex”) from Star Tours at Disneyland.
Fun fact: you’ll see RX-24 as a DJ at Oga’s Cantina inside Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios parks.
10. Wilson from Castaway
After Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in 2020, the Walt Disney Archives collection has grown to include props and other items from Fox movies, such as “Wilson,” the bloodied volleyball from Tom Hanks in Cast Away.
Wilson! I’m sorry, Wilson!
11. Animator’s Desk
The exhibit features an original Disney animation desk, chair and bookcase, staged to represent an artist working on the 1940 film, Fantasia.
I learned that Walt Disney commissioned a designer to craft desks tailored to different roles within the Animation Building in Burbank. Animators, layout artists, background painters and others all had desks that were uniquely designed to support their styles of work.
It was that attention to detail that still radiates through Disney parks, films and other properties.
I had a wonderful time at the Walt Disney Archives exhibit and highly recommend any Disney fan make the trip to Memphis to see it in person. Like I said, this list only scratches the surface.
Below is some information that will help as you plan your visit.
How long does it take to go through the Inside the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit?
I would allocate about 2 hours to explore the exhibit, more if you’re someone who likes to take your time and read all of the artifacts’ corresponding text. I will probably go back later in the year as I know I missed some things.
Inside the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit Location, Dates and Times
The Inside the Walt Disney Archives exhibit is open at the Graceland Exhibition Center (3717 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis, TN 38116) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Inside the Walt Disney Archives Tickets and Events
As of this posting, tickets to the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit were $15 for ages 11 and up, $8 for ages 5-10 and free for children 4 and under. Discounts are available for groups and D23 gold members. VIP access with a personal tour guide is available for $50 per person. Buy tickets at the Graceland website.
Coinciding with the exhibit are fun events such as an adult Disney trivia night, a Walt Disney Archives Tour & Tea Party, a Haunted Mansion (virtual) panel and more. See a list of the events here.
And if you’re making the trip to Memphis (which I also highly suggest), the I Love Memphis and Choose901 websites offer great tips and recommendations for other things to see and do while you’re in town.
Have you visited a Walt Disney Archives exhibit before? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below.