1. The contract that created the Walt Disney Company, 1923
On October 16, 1923, Walt Disney signed a deal with early industry titan Margaret Winler to create a series of cartoon-live action hybrid shorts called the Alice Comedies. The contract, the last page of which can be seen above, established the Walt Disney Company.
2. An original script and storyboard for Steamboat Willie, 1928
This original page from the script of Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse short, was found in Walt Disney’s files several years after he died. The artwork was done by Ub Iwerks, the man who headed up the animation for the early Disney films, while the story came from Walt. Disney is actually the studio that came up with the storyboarding device, which is now a regular part of film pre-production.
3. Sketches for the Technicolor revolution, 1932
After initial success, the Technicolor corporation was having trouble getting movie studios to use its new technology to add color to their films. During the Great Depression, moviegoers didn’t spring for frills, and producers didn’t want to spare any profit margin. Walt Disney, though, decided to make his short Flowers and Trees with what was known as Process 4, the company’s newest advancement in the technology. It was such a spectacular success — winning the first Oscar for short film — that he negotiated an exclusive three-year contract on the process. Ironically, it was Ub Iwerks, the man who created the design for Mickey Mouse, who made the first Technicolor cartoon, 1930’s Fiddlesticks, while he was on a decade-long sabbatical from Disney.
4. A brainstormed list of alternate names for the seven dwarves, circa 1935
The now-iconic names of the Snow White’s dwarves could have been very different. For example, Doc could have been named Dink, Grumpy was almost Squing, Bashful nearly Wiggsy, Dopey was in danger of being Doopo, and Happy was almost Toots. They also totally changed another dwarf, one they had originally conceived of as Deafy.
5. Animators working with a live deer for Bambi, circa 1939
Originally, Disney cartoons were not very lifelike, so as they started moving into films, animators had to find a way to learn realistic movement for their characters. For many years, that required bringing live animals into the studio, including rabbits, skunks, and squirrels. For Bambi, they also brought in a pair of deer from Maine, who ended up staying at the studio as pets for years.
6. Art from the first attempt at The Little Mermaid, circa 1939
The 1989 classic was not Disney’s first attempt at bringing Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairytale to the big screen. In the late ’30s, when the company was beginning its run of classic princess films, they had famous artist Kay Nielsen work on concept artwork for a movie that never ended up getting made.
More of Nielsen’s artwork.
7. The original menu at the Disney Studio canteen, circa 1940
Because there was very little surrounding the Disney studio at the time it was built, the company made sure there were as many amenities as possible on campus. That included a big commissary, where you could get a sandwich for a quarter. The good old days.
8. Walt at the drawing board, circa 1947
This promotional photo from the mid-’40s shows Walt returning to his first love: drawing. He acted mostly as a producer and story man for Disney, but he grabbed a pencil to pose for the cameras.
9. Plans for “Mickey Mouse Park”, circa 1953
The precursor to Disneyland, Mickey Mouse Park was Disney’s plan for a small-scale attraction to entertain those visiting the studio. It was planned to be built adjacent to the creative hub in Burbank, California. Obviously, they decided to go much bigger with their theme park, and now the animation studio sits on the land designated for Mickey Mouse Park.
10. Construction on Disneyland, circa 1954
This shot captures the construction of two pieces of the original Disneyland: The pyramid is the top cone part of the train station, while the other structure is a bandstand that was moved around several times before being sold. It is now at a garden nursery.
11. Annette Funicello as an Oz character, hanging with Walt, 1957
Walt Disney held the rights to all the Oz books by L. Frank Baum — except, of course, the one made into a movie by MGM — and sought for years to make a movie adaptation. This is a shot for Rainbow Road to Oz, the movie Disney was going to make with the original Mouseketeers. (Annette Funicello, the most famous of all Mousketeers, is dressed like Princess Ozma.) Though Disney did an Oz TV episode, complete with costumes and songs, the movie was never made. (Here’s a clip of that TV episode.) Fun fact: This is said to have been the late Funicello’s favorite shot of her and Walt.
12. Walt’s apartment in Disneyland, 1957
Forget staying at the resorts; Walt Disney had his own home inside Disneyland. Right above the firehouse on Main Street USA, it had a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a patio. He would stay there with family sometimes, as the photo above with his son-in-law Ron, daughters Diane and Sharon, and wife Lillian, shows.
13. Hilariously out-of-date merchandise, circa 1959
These stuffed dolls were made by Gund in the late 1950s. They would make one-size-fits-all bodies, then pop on different rubber heads. Some, as you can see, looked better than others.
14. Concept art for Mary Poppins, circa 1962
As a live-action film filled with animation, Mary Poppins needed to be carefully choreographed — especially the musical numbers. Here is one of many storyboards for the song “Jolly Holiday.”
15. The original napkin sketch for Epcot, circa 1966
Epcot got its name because, originally, Walt envisioned something he called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. He made this quick sketch some time around 1966; the thing that looks like a flower near the middle is what would have been the futuristic small city. It would also have a separate entrance for industrial trucks and an airport nearby, as well as room for camps, motels, and a theme park.
Aside from the community, which got sidelined, much of the plan remained intact, and in 1982, Epcot opened to the world.
16. Disney’s original Star Wars collaboration, circa 1984
Long before Disney bought Lucasfilm or even teamed up to make the Disneyland (and now Disneyland Paris) attraction Star Tours, the company published educational books and records with a Star Wars theme. One, Star Wars Adventures in ABC, contained poems pegged to each letter of the alphabet, and was narrated by C-3PO.
17. Concept art for Tale Spin, circa 1990
The best part of being a kid going to school in the 1990s was running home to watch television after the final bell. Part of that was due to the delightful show Tale Spin, which ran from 1990-91 and became a cult classic. Above is some concept art for Baloo’s Platform.
18. The New Mickey Mouse Club, circa 1993
The third edition of the famous after-school series featured, in retrospect, quite the all-star cast. Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and Britney Spears were part of the gang from 1993-95. These publicity shots are precious.
19. John Lasseter with Woody and Buzz, circa 1994
This photo from Pixar’s archives — which features the computer animation studio’s leader holding the two characters that put it on the map — would be re-enacted many times and in many situations over the next 20 or so years. Why mess with a good thing?
Even more of these are being unveiled by D23, the official Disney fan club, at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.