How Adventure Thru The Walt Disney Archives Decided What Items To Highlight From Nearly 100 Years Of Disney History

Don Hahn sitting in Heimlich train car from Disneyland
(Image credit: Disney+)

The Walt Disney Company has been around for almost 100 years, and so it’s not hard to imagine that the company has an absolutely massive archive representing the history of animated films, live-action movies, and theme parks. A new television special on Disney+, Adventure Thru the Disney Archives will take viewers through some big moments in Disney history, but as you might expect, what you see in the special only scratches the surface of what the Walt Disney Archives include, and it was tough to decide what to show off. 

I recently took part in a roundtable with many of the talents behind Adventure Thru the Disney Archives, including filmmaker John Gleim, Director of the Walt Disney Archives Becky Cline, and the project’s host, former Disney producer Don Hahn. I asked Gleim how he decided which particular items to showcase, and he explained that he worked with Cline, as well as several of the other archivists, to find a mix of what they all thought was particularly special, along with a few things that he personally wanted to spotlight. He explained:

So, with Becky's help, figuring out what the different main categories would be like, costumes or documents or physical objects, things like that. And then I gave my general wish list. It was like, 'Well, I'm a big fan of Bedknobs and Broomsticks.' So I'm like, ‘Something from that.’ And so, I wanted to show some really iconic things. But I also wanted to show some rare things that maybe audiences hadn't seen either. And so then, I gave the archives team like, ‘Well, what do you want to show? What do you think is really cool?’ And so combining both of those things. That's sort of how we came up with the artifacts that we feature.

There were several more high-profile items that were filmed for the special — which was originally shown to Disney D23 Fan Club members last year — than what actually showed up in the final product. The special isn’t just a look through the archives, either, but showcases a narrative that sees Lion King producer Don Hahn taking a tour through various parts of the archive as he attempts to get to Walt Disney’s office. After highlighting several different pieces of priceless memorabilia within each sphere, it came down to the final edit to decide which items had the best stories for viewers to enjoy. Glein continued:

With each archivist, we probably shot five or six different artifacts. And then just through the editing process, kind of figured out which ones were the most interesting or which ones where the story was told best, or which showed best on camera, things like that. So it was very, very difficult to pick things because part of you wants to just show all the cool iconic stuff like the storybook from Sleeping Beauty. I love that. And it's like this is a we're celebrating 50 years of the archives. So we want to show some of those super iconic things. But I also wanted to show some obscure stuff and also tap into the archivists and be like, ‘Well, what do you what are you most excited about? Because that might not be something that you think of?’

Certainly, Adventure Thru The Walt Disney Archives could be an ongoing series on Disney+, and not just a special. There is so much footage and iconography that didn’t make the cut, and so much more that was never even filmed in the first place. Still, for fans of Disney, there’s a lot to enjoy in what now exists. The special not only focuses on the treasures that are stored at Walt Disney Studios, but the filmmakers also visit one of Walt’s homes to reveal where some of the genius' iconic photographs were taken. It covers a lot of ground, but here's so much more that we don't get to see. 

Adventures Thru the Walt Disney Archives arrives on Disney+ on November 19. 

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.