My Tour Of Disney Studios

One of my lifelong dreams has been to visit the Disney studio and I got my wish this past Saturday thanks to D23.  Now if D23 can fix it so I can write a song for a Disney film, I can knock another goal off the bucket list. 🙂

Disney does not give tours of their studios to the public.  But they started doing some limited tours for D23 members over the summer.  I was anxious to get on this one.

On Friday night, my girl and I went to the El Capitan theater to catch opening night of A Christmas Carol.  A much better film than I expected it to be.  Though I’m not sold on virtues of motion capture animation.  Jim Carrey did a great, and thankfully understated, acting job.  Definitely worth seeing.

If you’ve never been to the El Cap, here’s a couple pics:
El Capitan
This is the live, pre-movie entertainment.  Definitely white bread stuff, but fun.
El Cap Holiday Show 2

Ok, then off to the studios on Saturday.  We checked in and they split us into groups of 20 or so.  Good thing.  I was worried about having to see the place in a group of 100.  Our first stop was the Disney Archives.  A fabled place to me.  Dave Smith (seen below), head archivist, showed us some great items from the archives.
Dave Smith
One very cool item was the very first ticket to Disneyland.  It was bought by Roy Disney.  Unfortunately, my pic of it came out all blurry. 🙁  By the way, the admission price in July 1955 was just $1.  Later that year you got admission and a book of ride tickets for $2.50.  My how times have changed.

Here’s some other great Disney archives stuff:
This is a Praxinoscope from the mid-1800’s.  One of the forerunners of animation. It uses a mirror (in the center0 to reflect the pictures on the inside of the wheel.  As they flash by it looks like movement.

This is the actual wardrobe prop from the Narnia film, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  It stands about 6 feet tall and the carvings are plot points from the movie.  It was carved especially for Disney by a company in Europe.
Narnia Wardrobe

This is a small mechanical bird that Walt Disney picked up many years ago.  It was this little toy that triggered his first thoughts about audio animatronics.  I’m positive I’ve seen a clip of Walt holding and talking about this little toy in one of the old Disneyland TV shows, but I wasn’t able to find a clip online.  If anyone has it, let me know.  I’d love to see it again.
Bird Cage 2

This is the bedknob from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  One of my favorites. 🙂  In the back you can also see the prop books from the film.  On the right is the spell for Substitutiary Locomotion. On the left is the story of the Isle of Naboombu.
These are original models made by Walt’s team as they prepared to experiment with animatronics.  The bust on the far left is Buddy Epsen.  Second from the left is animator Ward Kimball.

Animatronics Models

There was so much more I wanted to linger around in the archives.  A whole display of Donald Duck food items.  Donald Duck chili beans or fish fillets anyone?  They also had an amazing amount of books and tons of animation models, awards, and even a Victor Talking Machine.  And that was just in the front office.  I could spend weeks there.

But our next stop was the back lot of the studio.  Now truthfully, the outside of soundstages and buildings on any studio lot aren’t that interesting to look at. Just big non-descript buildings for the most part.  And unfortunately they didn’t take us inside any of the soundstages.  And inside the buildings we were relegated to the hallways.  So not too many pictures of those.

The animation buildings in particular were great though.  A ton of really beautiful artwork on the walls that I’d have liked to spend more time checking out.  And they actually have the original animation buildings from the old Hyperion lot where the old shorts and Snow White were created.  Nice to soak up some of that history.  Though now the offices in that building are used for other business.

This is the Team Disney building, worldwide headquarters for the company.  It’s pretty impressive, and you have to love the seven dwarfs holding the place together. 🙂

Team Disney Building

In front of the Team Disney building is the Legends Plaza where all the Disney Legends have placed their hands in bronze casts that are hung on pillars in the area.  This statue is a larger version of the trophy they are given at the ceremony.

Legends Statue

And waaaay in the back inside the curl of the scroll on the statue is hidden this little tiny mouse.  Though according to the cast member I asked, he’s not included in the trophies.

Hidden Mouse

This is the door to the old Ink and Paint department.  They keep all the old original paints here as well as descriptions for all the characters so they can be recreated when needed.

Ink and Paint

Here’s where I get to a little gripe.  We didn’t get to go inside any of these doors.  We saw the Hall of Kings as it’s called.  Where the most famous animators had (and have) their offices.  Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas had the offices at the very end of the hall.  We were told about the recreation areas of the animation building, where the artists blow off steam to crack a creative block.  But we didn’t get to see any of it.  A little disappointing.  But I can’t exactly complain too much about a free tour. 🙂

We also did not get to see the newer Animation building across the street.  I’d only seen it from the freeway previously.  So Agnes and I cruised by and took a photo anyway. 🙂

Sorcerers Hat

Here’s the iconic street sign at the corner of Mickey Ave and Dopey Dr.  It’s actually a prop that was created for The Reluctant Dragon and people liked it so much they kept it around.  While the two street names are accurate, the navigation to the different buildings isn’t at all.  So if you go, the Multiplane camera is not to your left.  It’s in the archives because they don’t use it anymore. 🙂
Mickey Ave 1

And I have to say that Disney’s lot has some of the craziest squirrels I’ve ever seen.  Definitely Hollywood squirrels.  If you bend down with a camera, they’ll come scampering up to you and pose for a picture, mere inches away from your lens.  Absolutely fearless.  I didn’t have a chance to catch one myself, but this chubby little fellow on a park bench made me laugh. 🙂


At the end of the tour we were set loose in the cast member store.  Strangely, there wasn’t a lot of stuff that said “Disney Studios” on it.  But I picked up a Chip and Dale shirt and, as is our tradition on trips, a new Xmas ornament for our tree.

So, even though there was lots more I’d like to see, we had a really great time.  It was still a three hour tour (without being marooned on a desert island!)  Seeing the place where my childhood (both the past one and my current, ongoing one) was manufactured was a real joy. 🙂

Phil Johnson

MP3 Song of the Day: “Happiest Place On Earth” from my DVD “What Color Is Your Laugh?”
We all know Disneyland is expensive, but they have secret ways of making money that you don’t even know about.

PS… Have you gotten your 8 free Roadside Attraction songs yet?
And yes, I have a couple Disney themed songs. 🙂

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