Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Story of the Petrified Tree

On the shores of the Rivers of America in Disneyland USA is one of the park's most interesting, unsung attractions. Virtually every Disney fan who knows of the existence of the Petrified Tree knows the story of how it arrived in the Happiest Place on Earth: how Walt bought it for Lillian as a birthday present because it was filled with opal and how she donated it to the park. What is the story of this natural marvel before it got to Disneyland? How did it form and what do we know of the environment when it lived millions of years ago?

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum

Anything with the name Disney attached to it invites the image of the multimedia conglomerate with its chains of theme parks, cross-platform franchises and intermittently successful tentpole films. It is an industry, an empire in full expansion mode swallowing up every available license like a neighbouring Gallic province. As shareholders look to the bottom line of immediate returns and go about laying off its creative producers, it can be increasingly difficult to see Disney’s output as a work of art. There are even pressures within the Disney fan community to stifle you from looking at it in that way. Any artistic criticism - in the proper academic sense of the term as the rational evaluation of art - is frequently shouted down with endless thought-terminating clich├ęs like “Disneyland is not a museum” or assertions that one should embrace the Disney “magic” without thinking too hard about the product’s integrity.

One of the beautiful things about the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio is that it gives the individual some space to consider these questions. After all, it is a museum. As a museum, it is a place for contemplation of the life and work of not only Walt Disney, but the legion of artists he brought together like Mary Blair and Ub Iwerks. It allows the visitor to examine both the technical craft as well as the visual artistry, in an environment that is itself incredibly well designed.