Disney Archive Director Becky Cline Details New London Exhibition, How to Handle 100-Year-Old Storyboards

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In celebration of Disney’s centennial, the Mouse House is touring a 20,000-foot exhibition showcasing the company’s history and innovation. “Disney 100: The Exhibition” recently rolled into London, where visitors can marvel at Cinderella’s glass slipper and get up close and personal with items from Disney’s parks, films and TV shows.

Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives, has spent four years working on the exhibition, which recently opened in London. She sat down with Variety to discuss how the exhibition team picked which items from the company’s vast archives to put on display and her favorite piece of Disney history.

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What was the process of creating this exhibition?

We worked with some of our partners around the company to pull assets that would tell the complete story of the 100 years. What we wanted to do was select assets that would tell a unique story. We separated the exhibition into 10 galleries. The first gallery is chronological, it tells the story of Walt Disney and the early silent films up through the birth of Mickey Mouse and then it goes into different galleries based on different themes, such as Storytelling.

Are there any unique items that have been flown over for the U.K. portion of the tour?

One piece that we included just for the U.K. exhibit is Walt Disney’s copy of “Mary Poppins,” the book, that is autographed to him from PL travers, who wrote it. We were able to add it into the Storytelling gallery and we showed it for a short time. That particular piece we don’t want out under the light for too long so we were able to do it just for London. So if we can, where we can, we do try to add in a few special things for the location we’re in.

What is the most delicate item in the exhibit?

We have a lot of original art in this exhibition. We also wanted to include something that’s very important to our history, which is the first script for “Steamboat Willie.” It was the very first [Disney] storyboard ever. It was hand drawn by Ub Iwerks and typed up, we believe, by Walt and it was something that he kept in his desk his whole career. So there is an original page from the “Steamboat Willie” script in each version of the exhibition. It’s hard with paper, you have to be real careful not to put it out for too long under too much light. That’s a delicate, delicate piece.

How do you take something like that on a tour? Presumably it doesn’t just get popped into an envelope.

No, all of the original artwork in the exhibit is [stored in] frames that have an internal environment. So they’re kept at a certain temperature and humidity inside the exhibit. Everything is handled with white gloves. Every asset is handled by people who are trained to prepare and handle different artefacts. So there’s props, there’s ride vehicles, there’s audio animatronic pieces. There is paper, obviously. We don’t take the art out of the frames but if anything is out in a display case that has to be handled it’s always done with gloves and care.

What’s your favourite item in the exhibition?

From a completely sentimental point of view, the very first film I ever saw as a child was “Mary Poppins” and I was absolutely enchanted. I wanted to be Julie Andrews when I grew up so that film is very dear to my heart. We have some really wonderful props from that and some of them are on display in this exhibition, including the snow globe, which was really fun because we were able to do a special effect with it. We’ve never displayed it this way before, but we were able to add projection mapping so that you can actually see the birds flying around St. Paul’s, and then they come out and fly out around you. So that to me was really special. The storybook from “Sleeping Beauty” is also spectacular. It’s a beautiful piece of prop work. It’s really big and has a hammered brass cover with faux jewels. And it’s got gorgeous, gorgeous artwork.

The exhibition has a lot of interactive elements. Why did you decide to include those?

We always want to make sure that Disney takes a step a little above and beyond; we’re all about quality and innovation. We’re taking this to cities where people maybe have not visited one of our theme parks and so they have an idea in their head about what a visit to a Disney event would be and we wanted to make sure that it had a little bit of that Disney magic, that it wasn’t just a museum exhibition. We didn’t want you to just read things on the wall, we wanted you to see and look at the really beautiful things that we’re sharing. You could spend the whole day in that exhibition because there’s so much to do and see.

In terms of the Walt Disney Archives, you can’t keep every prop or storyboard so how do you choose which items to keep from each project?

We watch the film in advance to see what items are iconic to the production. When you’re talking about something like “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” we took the 20 foot model of the Black Pearl. If the movie is named after a prop, you better have that prop. We look at other things that would tell a story in an exhibition or that we think would be of interest to people if you published it in the book. We take costumes that are important to the storyline. We also take costumes if a celebrity wore them. So Angela Lansbury played the balloon woman real briefly in “Mary Poppins Returns,” we got her costume because it was Angela Lansbury. We make wish lists, and then we tell the production what we want after the production is wrapped and then they turn over those things to us and then we take care of them like fine art after that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

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