Disney exhibit to join Elvis at Graceland center
Walt Disney’s career was on the verge of collapse. He’d created a highly popular cartoon character, Oswalt the Lucky Rabbit. When the cartoon’s distributor, Universal Pictures, seized the rights to Oswalt and pilfered away several artists that worked for Disney, he and his brother, Roy, thought their burgeoning careers in the new art of cartoon making were over.
During a train ride from New York to Los Angeles, a new character was conceived by Disney — Mortimer Mouse. His wife didn’t care for the name and renamed him Mickey.
The first two cartoon shorts with Mickey Mouse were flops. But when the third, “Steamboat Willie,” premiered at a Broadway theater on Nov. 18, 1928, it became a smash hit and the world of cartoon making would change forever.
Through the years, the Disney company has made many movies and cartoons and acquired the rights to others. One side-effect of generating so many classic movies is a cache of artifacts from those movies, and the Disney archives are among the largest in the world, Walt Disney Archive Director Rebecca Cline told Talk Business & Politics.
For the first time ever in the U.S., many of these artifacts will be displayed at the Graceland Exhibition Center in Memphis, Tenn. Some of the artifacts include original drawings of Mickey Mouse that date to the late 1920s, the original outfits worn by Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in the movie “Mary Poppins,” the Wolverine suit from the X-Men movies and even the model set used for Pride Rock in “The Lion King.” Wilson, the volleyball that became Tom Hanks’ only companion in the movie “Castaway,” is there along with many others. All told, about 450 pieces are included in the exhibit. Objects include original artwork, movie stills, paintings, costumes, and props.
“We’re all about storytelling here at Disney … this gives us a chance to tell these stories in this region of the country,” Cline said.
The 10,000-square-foot exhibit will be on display until Jan. 2. Items in the archive were displayed several years ago in Japan, and Cline said they were shocked by how popular the exhibit became. Plans were soon formulated to build a traveling exhibit. The first challenge was finding a partner and that’s when Graceland stepped in, Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden told Talk Business & Politics. Graceland has a massive archive overseen by Elvis Enterprises VP for Archives and Exhibits Angie Marchese.
“It was like a no-brainer when we were approached about this. I love it,” Soden said. “We have a significant archive of our own that Angie and her team maintain. There were no aggravating challenges that I’m aware of.”
One problem that plagued the project from the start, however, was the COVID-19 pandemic. It pushed the start of the exhibit forward by about a year, Marchese said.
The global impacts to tourism-related business due to the pandemic have been devastating, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 1950, the number of people who took vacation or recreational trips was about 25 million worldwide. By 2019, that number had ballooned to 1.5 billion. The pandemic impacted an estimated 100 million jobs across the globe and caused many countries’ economies to contract in 2020. IMF estimates it could be 2023 at the earliest before the tourism market corrects to pre-pandemic levels.
Graceland, the home of cultural icon Elvis Presley, is one of the largest tourism draws in the South, reeling in millions of visitors from all over the world during the last several decades. It has an estimated $150 million economic impact on the region annually.
Many hours were devoted to piecing together the displays, Marchese said. It took months to meticulously put them together. Bringing two of the greatest cultural icons in history — Disney and Elvis — has been a unique challenge and worth the effort, she added.
In addition to the archives, classic Disney movie screenings will be held. A series of Tour and Tea parties are planned along with Disney Trivia Nights. A zoom panel discussion with the creators of the Haunted Mansion is slated, too.
“You cannot get any cooler than this. It brings back so many memories,” she said.
Officials don’t have an estimate as to how many people will visit the exhibit during the fall and first few weeks of winter that it will be in Memphis. Programs like this were the vision when the center was opened several years ago adjacent to the Graceland Mansion. Officials hope that visitors to the mansion will take the time to visit the exhibition center as well, Soden said.
“I love the Disney story,” Soden said. “Everyone thought Walt was crazy at the time. He literally changed the world.”