If you are a Disney fan and looking for something cool to watch, the documentary Adventure through the Walt Disney Archives (which was previously only available for a one-time screening for D23 members) provides a glimpse behind the magical curtain of The Walt Disney Company. As you explore the Studio lot, a warehouse of iconic treasures and theme parks, all with producer and host Don Hahn (The beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Maleficent) as a guide, viewers will hear Disney’s Executive Chairman Bob igger, Marvel Studios’ Kevin feige, Pixar Pete Doctor, film historian Leonard Maltin and others, as they gain a better understanding of the detailed history that has helped shape every aspect of the business.
During this individual telephone interview with Collider, director John gleim spoke about how this hour-long documentary came together, clarifying what to present, how vast the archival collection truly is, the vast knowledge of archivists and researchers, the magic of ‘being in Walt Disney’s office and compiling all the interviews together.
Collider: It’s such a delicious documentary. I enjoyed it immensely and feel like I could have watched a 10 hour version of it.
JOHN GLEIM: I would love to do a 10 hour version.
How do you take all this material and edit it in what we see?
GLEIM: Yeah, that was really the hardest part. We also shot tons of interviews. This is truly a love letter to the archives and it was originally made to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the archives. And I didn’t want to do a simple documentary like “The Archives Were Created in 1970”, because you can read an article about it. I wanted people to see the places, meet some of the archivists, and really experience what it’s like to be in the archives and see some of these awesome things that are there. It was really about working with Becky Cline, the director of archives, and figuring out what the big topics were. It’s documents, dimensional objects, all these different costumes and all these different categories. And then, it was about the various locations of the archives. There’s the Reading Room, which is the main office of the archives and where Becky’s office is located. And then there are the various warehouses and other places. We also wanted to show that archives also work outside their buildings.
Then I put together what I thought was cool. I am a big fan of Bed buttons and brooms. I’m a huge fan of visual effects, like matte paintings and stuff like that. And then I said, “Now I want to hear from you. I’ve given you examples of what I think is cool, but I’m just guessing, in some cases, which sounds good. I want to hear from the activists. What is important to you? What are the iconic things? And what are also some obscure things that people might not consider important to preserve and why are they important to preserve? So we took all this mishmash of ideas, places, people, and artifacts, and tried to build a story around it. What inspired me was the 1941 film The reluctant dragon, where Robert Benchley visits the studio, trying to see Walt Disney. We had Don Hahn on board really early and thought he would be a great host, so we put Don Hahn in that role of Robert Benchley, trying to reach the Walt Disney office which is also a location. important for the archives because they are the ones who were responsible for restoring it.
Thanks for including Bed buttons and brooms.
GLEIM: Yes, it has a reputation for being a worse movie than Mary poppins, and there are so many cool things in it. It follows a similar structure, but it’s still a different movie. Just putting it in that WWII era is really interesting, and there’s some great animation in there as well. Obviously, Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson are fantastic. I could go on about this. The archives contain some very good stuff from there. They have a bed handle, which makes a fun little cameo appearance, there’s the matte paint that’s in there, and they’ve got the Naboombu Island children’s book. They’ve got a bunch of props from there and they’ve got a bunch of really fun behind-the-scenes photos too. It was a pretty well-documented movie, which makes it fun.
How did you experience this trip yourself and take all the steps that helped make Disney what it is today and the history that has been preserved?
GLEIM: It was amazing. I’m already doing quite a bit with the archives and that’s part of why I wanted to show off all the good things I got to experience there, but then take it a step further and see how big the collection is, the whole thing. care that the archives take to preserve these artefacts, and all the archivists and being able to talk with them about the stories behind all of these artefacts, the story just rolls on from there. One of my favorite things to talk to them about is chance that happens, with outside researchers and historians coming to work with the archives. They will find a random interview in a magazine that contains this information and they can bring that information to the archives and the archives can say, “We have another interview with this person.” Being able to make all of these connections is so exciting. When we go to Walt’s house on the Walking Way, which has been an amazing experience, all discovering that famous photo of Walt that has been used all the time, for years and years, everyone has assumed that it was at Hyperion Studio. Through some research and different people looking at different things, they were able to find out that this was taken from him, and I love stories like that. It’s so much fun. There is always more to discover. Archivists are always making new discoveries, all the time.
What do you think would surprise people most about the archives and what is in them?
GLEIM: Yes, Disney is the biggest entertainment company in the world, but you would always think that there is a finite amount of stuff to preserve, and there isn’t. There are four million photographs. I’m a big movie nerd and love all the behind the scenes photos. I was in there one day when they were scanning backstage photos of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea and that was the coolest thing ever, just being able to see that stuff. I am always impressed with, when I speak with the archivists and researchers out there, their vast knowledge of everything. It’s not just about names and dates, but also about contextual things and being able to tell stories about things. I love this part. That is why it could be 10 a.m. or 8 p.m. It could go on forever. We’re only scratching the surface of how Disney archives things. There’s the Walt Disney Archives, but there’s also the Animation Research Library, and Pixar has its own archives, and Lucasfilm has its own archives. I would also like to branch out into these places and do more because it’s awesome.
I really liked the format we ended up on. He was very inspired by The reluctant dragon, but it was also inspired by the Disney TV shows of the ’60s, where Walt would just walk around the studio and meet a fantasy and say, “Oh, what are you working on?” There’s just that fun spirit that I really liked, and I tried to inject some of that into this movie to make it light and fun, but you will still be able to see all this cool stuff and learn what the the archives do. Another secondary goal was to teach some of the history of Walt Disney himself. It’s easy to forget the person who started the business. With Walt, there is always more to learn about him. One of the things I tried to do is if you’re a Disney fan and know most of Walt’s story, there are still some really cool artifacts that you might not have. never be seen before. But if you’re not so familiar with Walt and his history, you can learn some of it as well. I think it’s really cool. This is also the great part of ending up at the Walt Disney office. This is another place where I never tire of it. You just soak up Walt’s energy, and I love it.
You also get a real feel for the collection of people connected to Disney, from Bob Iger and Kevin Feige to Mark Hamill. What was it like putting the interviews together with people encompassing Disney?
GLEIM: It was a blast and it was very difficult to choose clips among them. I love to hear how Bob is a fan and Kevin is a fan. There is a story Mark Hamill told where he saw Walt Disney when he was at Disneyland that blew me away. I loved doing it. Everyone is so excited to talk about the archives and what they do, which made these interviews so great.
Adventure through the Walt Disney Archives is available to stream on Disney +.
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