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New Museum Reveals the Man Behind the Mouse

New Museum Reveals the Man Behind the Mouse

Richard Benefield, executive director of the Walt Disney Family Museum, poses with many of the awards bestowed upon the innovator. The museum is scheduled to open on Oct. 1, By Eric Risberg, AP Photo

Contro Costa Times via YellowBrix

January 29, 2010

Walnut Creek, CA -From the moment one delves into the new Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio, it becomes apparent that this is no Mickey Mouse operation.

Yes, the cartoon rodent who helped spawn a vast entertainment empire is here in all his glory. But he’s just a small part of a wide-ranging, state-of-the-art presentation intended to please casual fans and Disney geeks alike.

Housed within a former military facility with a sweeping view of the Golden Gate Bridge are original artworks from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and other Disney classics, early animation artifacts, Academy Awards and family mementos, including the miniature train that ran around Walt Disney’s backyard and provided inspiration for Disneyland.

Is this place destined to be the happiest museum on Earth?

“Disney taught people how to dream and imagine. And the magnitude of his achievements is astonishing,” says Richard Benefield, founding director of the museum, which opens Thursday. “But until now, there never has been a place where you can step back and evaluate the full impact of this man.”

“Actually existed”

And make no mistake, he was a man. The primary impetus behind the museum is a desire by Disney descendants to let the world know that there was a living, breathing force behind the moniker now emblazoned on everything from books and toys to TV networks, movies and theme parks.

“My kids have met people who didn’t know my father actually existed,” says Diane Disney Miller, 75. “They think it’s a made-up brand name. The man has gotten lost.”

Miller, co-founder of the museum, also was motivated by what she deems to be negative portrayals of her father over the years, including a 1994 biography by Marc Eliot (“Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince”) that depicted him as a bigot.