Christmas at the Walt Disney Family Museum

Over the weekend we made a banzai run up to San Francisco to check out the special holiday programming at the Walt Disney Family Museum. The combination of “Home for the Holidays at Carolwood,” a new exhibit that includes a fantastic scale model of Walt Disney’s Carolwood Drive home and miniature railway, and the museum’s exclusive documentary, Christmas with Walt Disney, is a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday if you’re a Disney fan.

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“Home for the Holidays at Carolwood” is set up in the theater lobby downstairs. One of the original train cars from Walt’s backyard Carolwood Pacific railway is on display outside the exhibit. The rest of the train can be seen on permanent display in the museum’s Gallery 9: Disneyland & Beyond.

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There’s also information on Walt’s barn, which originally stood on the Carolwood Drive property and now resides in Griffith Park, where anyone can visit once a month.

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The model is huge, occupying almost the entire lobby area. When it’s working, a train circles the house replica on an exact re-creation of the track Walt had laid in his backyard.

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I’ve seen the documentaries and the photos, but viewing this model is the first time I’ve really understood exactly what Walt’s Carolwood Drive home looked like, how it sat on the property, and the railroad’s relationship to the house (which has been torn down and replaced by this $90 million monstrosity).

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Walt’s Barn and teeny-tiny orange trees.

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We arrived just as a family was being chosen to throw the switch and turn on the Christmas lights for the day.

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Who knew there was also a massive detached garage? This one has a tiny light-up Christmas tree in the window!

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As usual, Patrick took a bazillion photos, so settle in….

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Tiny little figures placed around the model represent Walt, Lillian, Diane and even Salvador Dali and his wife!

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Walt and Lillian

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New figures have been appearing throughout the run of the exhibition, and sometimes the docents aren’t sure who they are. We’re thinking maybe this is a grandkid…

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This is Diane Disney Miller and Ron Miller with their daughter Joanna (thanks for the ID, Jenna @WDFM!) and that’s the Pixar ball!

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Mr. and Mrs. Salvador Dali
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Whoever these ladies are, they’re sure interested in that gentleman…

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…But he has eyes only for the train!

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The level of detail in the model is incredible!

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Just in case you want to replicate Walt Disney’s steps…

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On the walls behind the model are enlargements of Christmas cards sent and received by Walt Disney and the Disney Company. There are so many fabulous mid-century pieces—Disney really should sell reproduction Christmas cards at the holidays.

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Oh wait—I think they do sell these two!

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Ward Kimball’s family Christmas card

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Bill Peet’s family Christmas card

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One wall of the gallery has a ginormous enlargement of a background from Lady & the Tramp (which is the Disney movie with my all-time favorite backgrounds, so I was particularly excited about this!).

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Don’t you just want to go to there?!

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When Patrick had shot the model six ways from Sunday, we moved to the theater for a screening of Christmas with Walt Disney. Even the theater was decked out for the holidays, with an inviting fireside tableaux complete with a gorgeous retro Christmas tree!

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Before the movie they play a segment from the old Disneyland TV show focusing on Ollie Johnson’s, Ward Kimball’s and Walt’s trains. Having seen the Carolwood model gave me a whole new appreciation for this segment. I never realized that Ward’s train was full-size, not a scale model!

Christmas with Walt Disney is a documentary produced by Don Hahn (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) exclusively for the Walt Disney Family Museum. It is fabulous! Diane Disney Miller shares her memories of spending holidays with her dad, and there is candid footage of the family you’ve never seen before. It’s easy to think of Walt as a stern authoritarian, but seeing him nuzzling little toddler Diane in home movies reveals a tender side you don’t often hear about.

Christmas with Walt Disney shows twice daily through Dec. 31, and the model will be on display until January 9 (staff say they’re hoping to bring it back next Christmas). If there is any way you can get to the Walt Disney Family Museum before then, these are totally worth a special trip!

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7 Responses
  • Jennifer
    January 31, 2017

    I’m so bummed I missed this in December – I hope they bring it back next year! Thanks for another great post. 🙂

    • Carrie
      January 31, 2017

      From talking to the guides, I think they are going to bring it back as an annual tradition!

  • Jessica
    January 30, 2017

    What a great article. Thank you for sharing

  • Jo
    December 23, 2016

    This is really neat, Carrie! I’ve only seen a single picture of Walt Disney’s Carolwood Drive home so it’s amazing to see what the home and yard actually looked like. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Carrie
      December 25, 2016

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Tim
    December 22, 2016

    That model is incredible! Like yourself I’ve never completely reckoned with how the property was laid out. Thank you for the detailed pictures, there’s a lot to take in!

    Did they indicate at all if Walt decorated his house for Christmas with those color lights and with things like the tree in the window?

    • Carrie
      December 25, 2016

      They didn’t say. I have a feeling it was just for the model, but now I’m going to try to find out!

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