RJ Writing Ink’s Review of the Disney100 Exhibition

“From the magic within our hearts, to the adventure beyond the horizon, there is only one Disney.”

-That guy who did the promo for Disney movies from 2007-2009

Disney is a name that pretty much anyone in the world with access to electricity or the Internet knows about. To some, it’s a name synonymous with magic, ingenuity, and capturing the child in all of us. To others, it’s a ruthless corporation that might be on the path to world domination. Love it or hate it, though, it takes hard work for a business to remain alive, active, and, most importantly, relevant after a hundred years of existence. Yet Disney’s managed to do just that, and this year, they’re celebrating a hundred years on the books. Besides several major events in its various parks and properties, Disney is giving the public a chance to look back on its long history. Welcome to Disney100: The Exhibition, on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia from February 18th- August 27th, 2023. 

As a lifelong Disney fan and history buff, this exhibition was a must-see for me, so with the weather getting warmer, I bought a ticket and made the drive to Philly for the day. I didn’t regret it in the slightest.

Disney Through the Ages

Disney100 Exhibition has a Goofy Statue
Source-RJ Writing Ink, The Franklin Institute

The Disney100 Exhibition is something intricate in its design but simple in its execution. When people walk in for the first time, they’re sent into a dark room where a one-minute introduction film begins playing on the wall, courtesy of a certain man and the mouse that started it all. From there, visitors are led through ten separate galleries, each focusing on a different part of Disney’s century of life. It starts slow at first, focusing primarily on Walt Disney and how he and his brother Roy founded the company in 1923 and their early, pre-Mickey successes and failures. From there, though, the magic truly begins as visitors get a glimpse into Disney’s history.

The main draw to the exhibition is the props and various artifacts from the hundred years of Disney’s history, ranging from the obscure to the iconic. For example, in one gallery focused on their fairy tale retellings, you can find real-life versions of books used in classic films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty.

The props are the tip of the iceberg, though. Accompanying them are sketches, paintings, and footage from the many films and cartoons Disney’s made throughout the years. The one downside is that many of them aren’t the originals but reproductions of them. Either Disney deemed them too risky to put on public display, or, sadly, they lost the originals. It takes a little of the authenticity away, but I doubt casual fans will care.

And yes, there are some Star Wars artifacts there. Disney owns Star Wars now, so they have the right. 

A Totally Immersive Disney Experience

The Nautiulus Submarine Model from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at the Disney100 Exhibition
Source-RJ Writing Ink, The Franklin Institute

From the very beginning, Disney’s always been about story-telling, and, much to my delight, that didn’t change with the Disney100 Exhibition. In fact, Disney and the Franklin Institute went the extra mile to make the exhibition as immersive as possible in the form of music and visuals. Look closely at the walls around you, and you might notice the Tinker Bell flying bell as she brings magic to various displays. Step up to one of the video players, and you can listen to a short story from some of the people who’ve worked at Disney in the past and present. 

Did I mention that one gallery’s dedicated entirely to the music of Disney? Because it is! Getting to hear snippets from the soundtracks of the films and shows we grew up with invokes carefully-crafted feelings of nostalgia. It works, too. By the end of the exhibition, I was filled with happy feelings, remembering all those times I watched films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King on VHS.

A Must-See for the Disney Lover in Your Family

By the end of my time in this ninety-minute exhibition, I had just taken a trip through the majority of my childhood. While it didn’t leave me with the sense of euphoria I expected, I did get plenty of feelings of nostalgia from everything. That, and they had the gift shop right at the end of the exhibition, which also helped. Say what you want about Disney, but they know how to sell stuff.

Do I recommend going to see the Disney100 Exhibition? If you’re a Disney fan and can afford the trip to Philadelphia, then yes. It won’t be anything mind-blowing or life-changing, but if you grew up watching Disney films or shows on Disney Channel or Disney XD, then you’ll find something here that will pique your interest. Just make sure you or your parents have your wallets ready for that gift shop, though!