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A tale as old as time — well, at least the last hundred years — has landed at the Franklin Institute for its world premiere.

Opening Saturday, Disney100: The Exhibition celebrates the upcoming centennial of the entertainment company, created in October 1923 when Walt Disney scored a distribution agreement for an animated series called the “Alice Comedies.”

The traveling exhibition, which took four years to develop, remains at the Franklin through the end of August, when it’s packed up and shipped to Chicago. A twin exhibit opens in Munich this April.

Why did Disney choose Philly for its global launch? The science museum’s focus on families and central location were among the factors that made it the “perfect place” for Disney to kick off the 100th anniversary exhibit, per Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives.

“We’re all about Walt Disney, who was a creative inventor,” Cline said. “And the idea of coming here where they’re honoring Ben Franklin, who was also a very creative inventor, seemed the right fit.”

It’s the second year in a row that a popular touring exhibition has kicked off at the Franklin Institute. Last year’s world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition was considered a huge success; within a month of opening, it was on track to be one of the museum’s most successful in its almost 200-year history. 

Visitors coming to Disney100 are welcomed by a life-sized holograph of Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney himself — created with a combination of archival video and audio and AI technology.

Following that are 10 galleries. Each meant to “[celebrate] one of Walt Disney’s philosophies,” Cline said, they explore topics like storytelling, adventure, and Disney theme parks.

Minnie Mouse arrives at the Franklin Institute along with the world premiere of ”Disney 100: The Exhibition.” (Emma Lee/WHYY)

They include some interactive elements alongside “crown jewels” unearthed from the Disney Archives, like story sketches, sheet music, models, and costumes. Also featured are just a handful of props from more recently-acquired Disney properties, like Captain America’s shield from “Civil War” and a BB-8 puppet used in recent Star Wars movies.

The whole experience is set to a background score that feels positively Disney-ish: a collection of familiar tunes blended with music custom created by composer Steve Mazzaro.

The glass slipper used in the 2015 live-action remake of Disney’s 1950 animated film. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

So far, the Franklin Institute has seen a “very strong” showing on ticket pre-sales, said museum president and CEO Larry Dubinski — a Disney fan himself — who thinks widespread familiarity will drive success.

“I think people are very excited about this exhibition,” Dubinski said. “This is a brand that really everybody can relate to.”

Anyone who feels so-so about Disney might feel so-so about the exhibition. But for lovers of the entertainment company, the installation is both a nostalgic trip down memory lane and an opportunity to learn more about what’s made the signature “magic” possible for 100 years.

Scroll on for some cool things to look for if you go.

The special effects filming model of the Nautilus, used in ”20,000 Leagues under the Sea, is 11 feet long. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Early Mickey Mouse drawings

The 1928 film “Steamboat Willie” was one of Mickey and Minnie Mouse’s earliest appearances, and a story script page is on display in the gallery, along with an animation drawing of the main character.

A story script page for ”Steamboat Willie,’ one of the earliest animations featuring Mickey Mouse. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Another gem nearby: the earliest known drawings of Mickey and Minnie.

The sketches are located in the first gallery of the exhibit — “Where It All Began” — and they come right after sections dedicated to earlier Disney projects like the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

The earliest know drawings of Mickey and Minnie were sketched in colored pencil and graphite on paper in 1928. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Sleeping Beauty’s storybook(s)

There’s not one, but two Sleeping Beauty storybooks featured in the exhibition. One’s pretty hard to miss: on a podium with a big screen behind it, you can turn the pages of the physical book to also change the page shown on the screen.

A video screen responds to a visitor turning pages of a ”Sleeping Beauty” story book. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The other book is in the same area, but in a case toward the middle of the room that’s easier to miss. It’s the elaborately bejeweled tome used in the title sequence of the 1959 film.

Find them both in the “Where Do the Stories Come From?” gallery, which runs through the narrative origins of beloved films from “Snow White” to “Frozen,” and features props and visual development art from them.

The dazzling storybook room in the Disney 100 exhibit enshrines the books that inspired many of Disney’s early animated films. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Models of beloved characters across the eras

The set of 25 small maquettes on display spans Disney’s many decades, with the oldest (Jiminy Cricket from “Pinocchio”) cast in 1940 and the newest (Meilin Lee from “Turning Red”) cast in 2022.

The little 3D sculptures, made out of either plaster or resin, served as reference tools for animators in the early 1930s, and Disney started producing and using them again in the 1970s.

Animators used models as reference tools. A collection of these are on display behind glass in the Animators Model Shop at the ”Disney 100” exhibition. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

They’re part of the exhibition’s “Illusion of Life” gallery, which shows how Disney characters and their personalities go from conception to reality.

An animatronic head used in the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Behind the creation of sound effects

Did you know the fire noises in “Bambi” are actually a bunch of bamboo sticks rubbing against each other? Tucked in a corner of the “Magic of Sound and Music” gallery — a section that largely spotlights the entertainment company’s iconic music — you can watch and listen to little videos that reveal the objects behind the sound effects in Disney films.

A multimedia installation allows visitors to discover how sound effects were created for early Disney movies. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Walt Disney’s affinity for nature

Disney the man had a fascination with the natural world, even serving as “honorary chair” for “National Wildlife Week” in the 1950s. 

In the “World Around Us” gallery, the exhibition explores how Disney — both the dude and the company — have incorporated the environment into their work throughout the years, from nature documentaries to Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney produced his first nature documentary in 1948, and the tradition continues with the Disneynature series. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Going from storyboard to screen

If you’ve ever wondered how animation actually works, Disney100 delivers. The exhibition’s “Innoventions” section gives visitors of how the sausage got made a century ago, and how things are different now given technological advances.

The gallery gives a side-by-side look at how early movies like “Dumbo” looked in the storyboarding stage — a process developed by Disney — versus how they ultimately turned out.

Storyboarding was first developed by Disney in the 1930s to map out the story and pace the scene. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

You can also get a glimpse at a multiplane camera developed at Walt Disney Studios in the 1930s, which the company used to make animated movies from 1937 to 1988, and a Pixar Image Computer from the ’80s.

Disney’s multiplane camera, developed in 1937, brought depth and dimensionality to animation by creating multiple layers of background and middleground. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Disney100: The Exhibition will be at the Franklin Institute from Feb. 18 through Aug. 27. 

During the day (9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.), tickets cost $45 for adults and $41 for children, and include general museum admission. It’s $25 per person to visit during the evenings (5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays), and the rest of the museum is closed during that time.

An interactive feature of the Disney 100 exhibit allows visitors to explore characters in depth. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
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Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...