To celebrate the 65th Anniversary of the classic film “Peter Pan”, we were invited to Walt Disney Studios in Burbank for a surprise tour of Walt Disney’s office and to meet up with Kathryn Beaumont (voice of Wendy and Peter Pan) and Mindy Johnson (award-winning author). Check out Erika’s once in a lifetime experience touring Walt Disney’s office and meeting Kathryn and Mindy.
Erika is a resident contributor of AnyTots covering Southern California events:
The celebration started with a tour of the Walt Disney Studios. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe as I walked through the studio. Knowing that Walt Disney and his peers walked through these buildings and paths was amazing. I admit that I’m a history geek, and the studio does not disappoint.
Our first stop was a conference room where we were introduced to Eric Goldberg. This guy exudes charm as he talks about his background as a Disney animator. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that he animated Genie from “Aladdin.” Did you know that he based the ending scene where Genie is free and wearing a tropical shirt and goofy hat after Robin Williams? Apparently, Williams wore a similar outfit in a Walt Disney World tour video. I’ve always loved that scene and thought it was fun to learn that piece of trivia. Either way, his list of animation work is amazing.
Mr. Goldberg taught us about the history of Peter Pan animation. He sketched as he told us about the studio’s “9 Old Men” that were involved in the animation of the movie. The 9 Old Men were the 9 core animators at Disney Studios back when the movie was being made. Mr. Goldberg shared that Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, aka “Frank and Ollie,” were BFF’s that animated Captain Hook and Smee. As he shares a ton of history about Peter Pan and details of the animation, he does so while making spot on impressions of Smee and Hook. By the end, we realize that he was sketching a picture of Captain Hook and Smee.
Our next stop on the tour was a walk-through of Walt Disney’s formal and working offices. Did you know that studio employees have to enter a lottery to get a tour of Walt’s old office? I had no idea and was amazed at my luck to have this opportunity.
We first got a look at the secretary’s office. It was a pretty large room and had a door that connected to Walt’s formal office.
Walking into Walt’s formal office was a bit surreal. Walt passed away in 1966, and his office is arranged just as it looked back in 1966. I immediately wondered if this was the same office that he filmed all of those World of Disney specials in and which I watched as a kid. The tour guide let us know that his office never made it to film. Those were always filmed inside studio sets.
Upon entry, you see his desk, much as it looked when he was in that room. His desk contains a large bell that his secretary once rang so that Walt would remember to eat lunch. The story goes that she got so tired of calling him out of his working office to eat lunch that she rang the bell. Walt liked the idea and asked her to ring that bell everyday thereafter so that he would remember to come out and eat lunch!
Surrounding the desk are many miniatures. Walt Disney loved miniatures and collected several. The wall behind his desk is also lovingly adorned with pictures of his two daughters. The windows next to his formal desk overlook the studios. The guide pointed out the spot that Walt stood on for a now famous picture of Walt standing in his office overlooking the studios.
As you walk further into Walt’s formal office, you will see a piano and large bookcase covering an entire wall. As I look at the piano, I am imagining Walt Disney sitting at the piano with studio employees and composing songs for movies that millions of children have enjoyed for generations. If you have ever watched the movie, “Saving Mr. Banks,” I am sure it must have looked something like that. The book behind the piano displays books just as they were displayed when Walt was using the office. Some books are even tilted and piled in just the same way.
Next, we walked through a connecting door into Walt’s working office. This is the office where he would work on animation and planning for the parks. There you will find more miniatures, one even created by Walt himself. There are numerous objects that were gifts from other people. Walt Disney would purposely pull out and display items gifted to him when he knew the original gift giver was visiting. Walt, he was just like us!
On a nearby wall, there is a large picture of Disneyland plans and the park as it was in 1965. You can see that many things were still in the planning phases and or not there yet, including the “It’s a Small World” ride. If you turn around, you will see Walt’s in-office kitchen. Walt Disney knew how to make work comfortable!
There was another adjoining room where Disney would often sleep after pulling an all-nighter at work. The original furniture was not there, but you can see pictures of it. This room contained framed artwork that poured in from around the world after Walt Disney’s passing. We were asked not to post these pictures as the studio would like to keep this private.
After the awe-inspiring tour of Walt’s offices, we were invited to take a walk through the Disney Archive offices. How did I get so lucky? I don’t know, but I’m not asking any questions!
The gentleman in the archives walked us around the room explaining each piece of memorabilia. The memorabilia included things such as the very first Mickey Mouse watch ever made and Walt Disney’s Studio Member badge (Badge #1). There was also a display of what a typical animator’s office set up looked like in the past.
Next up, we got to see some Peter Pan memorabilia that had been picked out of the archives for us to see. My favorite piece was the Crocodile Tic Toc Clock (see what they did there?). I also loved the old pictures of Kathryn Beaumont (voice and model reference for Wendy). There was so much history contained on that little table. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
The final leg of our tour was a round table interview with Kathryn Beaumont and Mindy Johnson. Kathryn Beaumont was the voice of Wendy and Peter Pan. She was also the voice of Alice in Wonderland! Mindy Johnson is an award-winning author that was there to talk to us about the history of Tinker Bell.
Ms. Beaumont was just as charming as her character in Peter Pan. It was a bit surreal listening to her talk. She shared that she was chosen for the role because her accent would work for both British and American audiences. Meaning, her accent was undoubtedly authentic but was easy for Americans to understand. Sounds funny doesn’t it? She is speaking English after all, but I understood what she meant. Ms. Beaumont’s voice was very soothing as she described how Walt and the animators used her as a live reference model for drawing a young girl.
Ms. Beaumont went on to teach second grade children for several years. She told us how children would sometimes watch Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland and figure out that she was the original voice. One child even searched for a white bunny stuffed animal to gift her. How sweet!
Author Mindy Johnson was there to tell us all about the character of Tinker bell. She shared that the development of Tinkerbell took several years. Tinkerbell started out in plays as a spot of light. Once Disney took on the task of creating film for Peter Pan, it took time for animators to decide on the hair color and appearance of Tinkerbell. The model for Tinkerbell as we know her today was based upon Ginni Mack, a Disney studios ink and paint artist.
I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure at Walt Disney Studios and hope to visit again in the future. I will always remember my walk through a place where so many magical ideas have come to life for many generations to enjoy.
Pick up Disney’s Peter Pan – available now on Digital and on Blu-Ray ™ on June 5th.