A look inside the Disney 100 Exhibition which premiered at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia:
99% of the time, when something exciting happens related to Disney it’s occurring (at least at first) in either California or Florida. As someone who doesn’t live in either of those states, I don’t often get to participate in things like opening day attractions, special one-time events, or previews. As a Disney blogger I know I can’t compete in certain areas with the people who can visit the parks all of the time.
But now, as someone living in Pennsylvania, my time has finally come to experience something on the first day. At the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, they just opened a special Disney exhibit on February 18th, and I was there on the first day of the Disney 100 Exhibition at the Franklin Institute.
The Disney company has now been around for 100 years – that means they’ve accumulated quite a lot of history in that time. It’s not possible to display all of that in one museum exhibit, but there are a lot of cool things to see and learn about.
If you live near Philly or are considering a trip, I think it’s worth visiting the Disney 100 Exhibition, whether you only know a little bit about the company’s history – or you already know quite a lot (I’m not saying I could have done guided tours through the exhibit without the plaques, but…)
For this blog post, I figured I’d share a little bit about my experience visiting the Disney 100 Exhibition at the Franklin Institute, and then get into some of the items that they have on display, the set-up, and the highlights.
My trip to the Disney 100 Exhibition at the Franklin Institute
I managed to get tickets to the first day of the exhibit, and the way it’s done at the Franklin Institute you have a timed entry – these can sell out, and they did at least for the first weekend. And it was definitely packed. There was a line to get in that was about 20 minutes.
If I had planned ahead I could have gotten an earlier entry time (I had 12:30 pm, but they started at 9:30 am so I would recommend that if you can). Most of the exhibit, at least for the first half, was one long queue. The staff kept saying you didn’t have to wait in line and you could walk around, but everyone wanted to see everything so you kind of did have to wait if you wanted to see it all.
Despite that, there was a ton to see so it never really felt like waiting. I guess if you didn’t want to read all the details or just breeze through it that would be frustrating, but I wanted to see it all so I didn’t mind. It took me three hours to get through the whole thing, but I definitely took my time.
They have some interactive elements set up as well for kids, but a lot of the exhibit is artwork and items from films or theme parks, so kids may not have the patience to spend that much time there as I’m not sure the art would hold their attention that long.
There are a number of different rooms and sections that focus on different parts of the Disney company, and I loved seeing how they broke it all down.
Of course, you end up in a gift shop – they had some special Disney 100 Exhibition merch available, as well as general Disney stuff. That first day a lot of the Disney 100 merch was wiped out, especially specific shirt sizes. I did pick up a mug though.
Where it all Began
Although this room was the most crowded due to being the first one of the exhibit, it was definitely one of my favorites. Seeing some of the items from when the Disney company first began was really amazing, and even though I know most of it, it certainly made me a little emotional to read again about all of that history along with the accompanying artifacts and prints.
This room focused on the first 20 or so years of the Disney company, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the Alice shorts, the introduction of Mickey and Minnie, and the beginning of Snow White.
Some of the earliest short films that Walt worked on were called the Laugh-o-grams. One of the first items in the exhibition is Walt’s Laugh-o-gram megaphone, which Walt himself actually used during filming in 1922. It’s survived over 100 years!
While many people might not realize it, there is one official contract that marks the start of the Disney company (and why we are celebrating its 100 years now in 2023!). That contract was for a series of shorts called the Alice Comedies, and it was signed on October 16, 1923, which you can see here. After that Walt invented a character named Oswald, but he later lost the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It was that loss that led him to create a new character… and that’s when Mickey Mouse came along.
It’s great to see some of the older items in this room, some of which are originals (some are copies or reproductions). You’ll find the telegraph Walt sent to Roy on his way home after losing Oswald, as well as an actual story script page from Steamboat Willie, and the oldest known drawings of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
One fun thing is that in order to make this exhibit feel more robust, they had a few screens in this room playing different clips from the Alice Comedies, the Oswald cartoons, and the earliest Mickey and Minnie shorts.
Where Do the Stories Come From?
This area of the exhibition focuses on many of the major Disney films, taking you through them from Snow White to Frozen. There was a lot of concept art on display here, though I will point out that most of the art was copies or recreations rather than original drawings. There were some original props here too from select films.
Although the art may not have been originals, it was still cool to see a lot of the early concepts for some of the movies, or the “works in progress.”
Starting towards the beginning of the room, they had the prop Snow White storybook from the animated film (and later, the one from Sleeping Beauty). Other items of note from earlier films included a model puppet of Pinocchio which animators used and the Snow Globe used by Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins.
Most of the other props were from more recent films (in the past ten years or so ). But it was still neat to see those things up close! The displays included the glass slipper from the 2015 live-action Cinderella, a Winnie the Pooh doll from the live-action Christopher Robin movie, and Lumiere and Cogsworth from the live-action Beauty and the Beast.
This room had a few interactive components too, including a virtual copy of the Sleeping Beauty book which allowed you to turn the pages, which were then flipped on a screen above the book.
The Illusion of Life
This room was all about bringing Disney characters to life. I love how much Walt really cared about his characters, and the importance of giving them personality and making sure that personality came across through animation.
The first section had a number of animator models on display. Walt would have artists sculpt 3D models for his animators to base their work on. There was a whole bunch of them here – some from early on, some more recent, some in color, some gray.
From there we also got a look at some costumes and character drawings from several other films. Of note in this room was the red dress worn by Emma Stone in the recent Cruella film, and the Ariel costume from the new live-action Little Mermaid coming out this year.
The Spirit of Adventure and Discovery
While admittedly this section was mostly the “Star Wars and Marvel room,” there were some other films tied in under this category as well. The first section featured Pirates of the Caribbean, The Jungle Cruise, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Then we moved into the Star Wars stuff, where they had a number of props and costumes from the more recent films. Han Solo’s dice were here which were used by Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in The Last Jedi.
They also had a porg puppet from The Last Jedi, a BB-8 model, the hilt of Rey’s lightsaber from The Rise of Skywalker, and a stormtrooper costume.
Of course, after Star Wars you have to feature some cool Marvel stuff! One of the most iconic items was Captain America’s shield from Civil War. They also had a Black Panther costume on display, as well as a number of different headpieces worn by Marvel characters (such as Loki, Star-Lord, and the first Iron Man helmet).
The Magic of Sound and Music
Many Disney films are known for their music, so the next part of the exhibition was a celebration of sound and music. Upon entering you found one of the costumes worn by Amy Adams in Enchanted.
Another screen was in this room, playing clips from movies featuring some of the most popular Disney songs. Around that area they also had some original sheet music (or reproductions of originals) and concept art. Another small interactive part of this display included an area where you could put on headphones and listen to famous Disney songs in other languages from around the world.
There was another neat interactive section with headphones, where they showed how they made some of the sound effects for what happened in movies. Some of the items used to create these sound effects were on display, and some just had pictures, but there were also videos playing that showed exactly how they made all sorts of different sounds.
Towards the end of this hall was a section on the Disney Broadway musicals, where you could see a costume from the Lion King on Broadway. There were also some playbills of earlier Broadway productions (and I have several of these myself at home!).
The World Around Us
We had already seen so much, but we were only about halfway through the Disney 100 exhibition! The World Around Us had a heavy focus on nature and conservation. This was the one section that maybe felt a little bit disjointed as it tried to tie in anything remotely related.
They were some details on the documentaries Walt made when he was alive, but not very much. Then there was some info on the more recent documentaries. There was some artwork from films that featured nature, like Bambi and The Jungle Book. And finally a bit about Animal Kingdom and Pandora: The World of Avatar.
From there we moved on to the “Innoventions” room, which took a look at the technology that is used to bring movies (and theme parks!) to life.
Seeing some of the early technology and inventions that were used was particularly fascinating, as so much was revolutionary at the time – and even now many of these things are still very impressive! There was a small model of the multiplane camera used to make Snow White (I saw the real one when I got to visit the Disney Archives!). This room had a lot of videos playing which was really helpful to actually see these items in action – watching how they actually used the camera helps it click and shows you exactly how it works. There were videos accompanying a lot of items in this room.
Another highlight of this room was the audio-animatronics. I had learned some of this when I did the Backstage Magic tour, but it was still great to see some of this really up close.
Pixar had a small presence in this room too – though I’m a bit surprised there wasn’t more about Pixar throughout the Exhibition. It’s really mindblowing to think about how they created those first CGI films before computers were so commonplace. Seeing one of the first computers used is quite funny.
Your Disney World
The section on the development of the theme parks and looking at the Disney theme parks around the world was a large area, and definitely a highlight for me as a theme parks fan. There was a good bit about the beginning of Disneyland and some really fantastic artifacts.
For example, there was a draft of the brainstorming for the sign outside of Disneyland welcoming guests. Things are written on it, crossed out, and edited – so cool to see how it changed!
Some other items from early on in Disneyland included a copy of the original ticket book (if you’ve ever heard of an “E ticket” attraction, this is where it comes from!), the Engineer Mickey Mouse that was with Walt on the opening day of Disneyland, and some of the earliest concept art of Disneyland.
On display they also had some different items from attractions – including a reproduction of an original Matterhorn vehicle, a ride vehicle from Peter Pan’s Flight, a doll from It’s a Small World, and one of the demons from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride when it was at Disney World.
At the end of this room was a model of Cinderella castle. It had a fun animated background that changed from daytime to nighttime, and then when it hit night there were fireworks going off in the background.
The Wonder of Disney
Disney has obviously captured many fans throughout the year, and the dedication and love that Disney fans have for the movies and the theme parks is definitely something unique. So this room shares how the world showed its fascination with Disney in different ways throughout the year.
There was a good bit of early merchandise, including a handmade Mickey doll, items from the Mickey Mouse Club, and some of the earlier Disneyland brochures.
This gallery had some items which showed how unique Disney fans can be – with everything from a “Pooh for President” hat when that was an event celebrated at Disneyland, to the spellbook from the cult classic Hocus Pocus.
This room also had the one real “photo opp” of the exhibition, which was a statue of Goofy and a sign in the background that said “Philadelphia” with different Disney characters inside of the letters. I don’t know that It was an official photo spot, but it was certainly set up in a way that worked really well.
We Are Just Getting Started
It’s hard to even call this a gallery or room of the exhibition because it was so small. It had a small display with the upcoming films or theme park attractions coming in the future, and then maybe 2 props from the movie “Peter and Wendy,” which is coming out this year.
And then it exited right into that gift shop I mentioned!
It was such a great experience to be able to see so much of this Disney history and to learn more about the company right here in Philadelphia. Even though it was very crowded that first day, the Disney 100 Exhibition at the Franklin Institute was really well put together and has a ton of content. Highly recommend if you get the chance to check it out!
Have you visited the Disney 100 Exhibition at the Franklin Institute? Are you hoping to go?