From the enchanting world of Peter Pan in 1953 to the daring adventures of Cruella in 2021, London has been a timeless backdrop for Disney’s animated and live-action films, spanning several decades.

It’s only fitting that London plays a prominent role in Disney’s centenary exhibition, a globe-trotting extravaganza set to span the next five years.

Established precisely a century ago on October 16, 1923, by two visionary brothers, the Walt Disney Company has evolved from a modest animation studio in California into a multi-billion-pound entertainment empire that has captivated the hearts and minds of countless generations, leaving an indelible mark on popular culture.

In honor of the company’s remarkable centenary, an extensive collection of over 250 seldom-seen artifacts, props, and artwork takes center stage, marking the most extensive assembly ever curated by the Disney archives.

Among the marvels showcased are Cinderella’s glass slippers from 2015 and the leather wallet used to recreate the sound of the dwarfs’ squeaky shoes in the timeless Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from 1937.

The exhibition is not only a visual treat but also an interactive experience, offering visitors a unique glimpse into Disney’s magic, including a copy of P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins in the Park” novel, adorned with a handwritten note to Walt Disney by the author.

In a conversation with the BBC World Service Global News Podcast, Becky Cline, Director of the Walt Disney Archives, shared the challenges in encapsulating Disney’s diverse array of stories and the company’s technological advancements over the years.

Instead of following a chronological narrative, the exhibition traces its roots back to 1923, focusing on Walt Disney and Roy Disney, the company’s founders. Each gallery is designed to reflect one of Walt Disney’s guiding principles, offering a fresh perspective on Disney’s extraordinary legacy.

Among the exhibition’s special highlights is the St. Paul’s Cathedral snow globe from the iconic Mary Poppins (1964).

As it appears in the film, Julie Andrews holds this precious prop during the song “Feed the Birds,” and the exhibition ingeniously projects lifelike birds onto this emblematic piece.
Renowned animator and director at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Eric Goldberg, lauds the exhibition for capturing the breadth of Disney’s achievements, emphasizing the significant role Disney has played in people’s lives. The images and monitors displayed evoke nostalgia and recollections of Disney’s enduring presence.

While Disney has faced criticism in the past for its portrayal of non-white characters and elements of sexism, it has sought to address these concerns in recent remakes, such as Aladdin (2019) and The Little Mermaid (2023), by incorporating more diverse casting and revising scripts. This move keeps Disney engaged in the broader cultural conversation.

Dr. Sabrina Mittermeier, a researcher of the Walt Disney Company at the University of Kassel in Germany, suggests that Disney is still in the process of addressing these concerns. She highlights the need for Disney to evolve beyond the traditional princess narrative and adapt to the changing times.

The Disney 100-Year Celebration Exhibition will have two similar units that will tour globally. One unit will remain in London until January 2024, while the second unit will journey to Chicago in November 2023, with additional locations around the world to be announced soon.

Last Updated: 17 October 2023