CELEBRATE 100 YEARS OF WONDER AND MAGIC WITH A JOURNEY THROUGH THE HERITAGE ARCHIVES
By Rhonda Reinhart
The Walt Disney Company doesn’t officially turn 100 until October, but the anniversary party has already started. On January 27, the festivities kicked off in Anaheim, California, with several new Disneyland attractions, including a nighttime spectacular that takes park visitors on an adventure through 100 years of Disney animation. The celebration continued February 18, when The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia debuted Disney100: The Exhibition. The 15,000-square-foot exhibit space features more than 250 rarely seen artworks, props, costumes and other memorabilia from the Walt Disney Archives.
Speaking of treasures from the archives, a castle’s worth of Disney artifacts have crossed the auction block at Heritage over the years. In honor of the company’s milestone anniversary, we pulled together some of our favorites from major dates in Disney history. See below for a glimpse into the wonderful world that has been delighting fans since 1923.
On October 16, 1923, Walt Disney signed a contract with Margaret Winkler, the most important woman in early animation, to produce a series of “Alice Comedies.” The date marks the beginning of the Disney company, first known as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. Two posters from the Alice series sold in a July 2022 Heritage auction, one for $24,000 and the other for $19,800.
Although Alice helped launch the Disney brand, audiences didn’t meet the company’s most beloved character, Mickey Mouse, until November 18, 1928, when Steamboat Willie was released at the Colony Theatre in New York. The theatrical short, which also featured the debut of Minnie Mouse, was one of the first cartoons to use fully synchronized sound. These animation drawings of Mickey and Minnie from Steamboat Willie realized $43,200 in a December 2020 Heritage auction.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney’s first feature-length animated film, premiered December 21, 1937, at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. A massive hit, the production soon became the highest-grossing film of all time – until it was knocked out of the top spot by Gone With the Wind. This production cel from the film, featuring Snow White with Bashful, Happy and Dopey, sold for $33,600 in a February 2022 Heritage auction.
Disney released its first completely live-action film, Treasure Island, on July 19, 1950. The New York Times called the adventure flick “grand and glorious entertainment,” and The Washington Post likened it to “a treasure chest of precious stones.” This Treasure Island concept painting by visual effects artist – and Disney legend – Peter Ellenshaw realized $4,080 in a December 2020 Heritage auction.
When Disneyland opened July 17, 1955, it became the blueprint for every amusement park that came after it. Nearly 70 years later, Disney fans still flock to the Happiest Place on Earth for classic attractions like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and “It’s a Small World.” This press preview pass from Disneyland’s opening day sold for $6,600 in an August 2021 Heritage auction.
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room debuted at Disneyland on June 23, 1963, and became the first attraction to use the groundbreaking Audio-Animatronics technology, which allowed animators to synchronize movement, audio and visual effects. In the show, tropical birds and tiki statues come to life in a Polynesian paradise. This Disneyland entrance poster advertising the attraction realized $19,200 in a December 2018 Heritage auction.
On April 22, 1964, four Disney exhibits opened at the New York World’s Fair, including “It’s a Small World.” The now-landmark ride, which featured “animated figures of children from 26 lands” singing the titular theme song, moved to Disneyland in 1966 and today can be found at various Disney parks around the globe. This concept painting by Disney great Mary Blair for the attraction’s castle façade realized $66,000 in a June 2019 Heritage auction.
When Walt Disney World debuted in Florida on October 1, 1971, one of its opening-day attractions was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Modeled after the original Disneyland version, the ride kept rolling in the Magic Kingdom until September 1998, when it was closed to make room for a Winnie the Pooh attraction. In a May 2022 Heritage auction, one of Mr. Toad’s park-used buggies from the massive collection of Hollywood voice actor Scott Rummell sold for $87,000. Read more about Rummell’s impressive trove of Disney memorabilia in “The Happiest Collection on Earth.”
Two months before its theatrical release, an unfinished version of Beauty and the Beast premiered at the New York Film Festival. The September 29, 1991, screening resulted in a standing ovation, and the movie went on to become the first animated feature film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. A few years later, on April 18, 1994, Disney made its Broadway debut with a wildly popular stage production of the fairy tale adaptation. This original Beauty and the Beast key art created for a possible book cover realized $5,040 in a December 2022 Heritage auction.
On November 22, 1995, in partnership with Pixar Animation Studios, Disney released its first animated feature film generated completely on computers. Toy Story grossed more than $192.5 million at the domestic box office and spawned several successful sequels. In 2006, Disney bought Pixar in a deal worth $7.4 billion. This cast-signed movie poster from the original Toy Story sold for $3,480 in a May 2022 Heritage auction.
RHONDA REINHART is editor of Intelligent Collector.