From “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” to “A dream is a wish your heart makes”: Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney are together at last in an unprecedented Disney exhibit at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is the nation’s official repository for the memory of the man who, his supporters say, ended the cold war and defeated global communism. And for the next ten months the Reagan Library also is featuring the largest exhibition ever assembled of Walt Disney treasures, organized by the Official Disney Fan Club D23. It’s also the largest temporary exhibit in the history of the Reagan Library: 12,000 square feet, with 500 objects including drawings, costumes, models and other stuff, over half of which have never been seen by the public.
I had one question: why?
The National Archives operates the Reagan Library and Museum. The mission of the Archives is to “serve American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government.” So why is it displaying drawings of Bambi and Cinderella and the actual car from The Absent-Minded Professor?
And what does any of this have to do with Ronald Reagan? The answer: not much.
Reagan and Disney did do some things together. On one memorable day, October 20, 1947, both testified before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, on the first day of its “investigation” into communist infiltration of the film industry. Both were friendly witnesses. The next day, ten other witnesses refused to testify and were sent to prison. The Hollywood blacklist had begun.
But the Hollywood blacklist is not mentioned in the Reagan Library Walt Disney exhibit.
The exhibit opens with the statement that “Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan were two eternal optimists who shared a belief in the essential goodness of the American way of life.” That’s a start, I guess.
Next, when Disneyland opened in 1955, “Mr. Reagan, who was then working in the new medium of television, was chosen as emcee for the historic event”—along with Art Linkletter and Robert Cummings. In the first gallery a continuous loop shows black-and white video of a very young Reagan in a bowtie reading from script in hand about how “our very historic past” is represented at Disneyland.
After that Reagan disappears, and instead we get some great stuff—for those who care: the original script for Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon; hand-drawn artwork for Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty; and then lots of objects from Disney live-action films, including dozens of costumes, along with a submarine model from the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (where Kirk Douglas sang “Whale of a Tale”). Also, “a faithful recreation” of Walt’s office at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, including the baby grand piano played by Leopold Stokowski.