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Photograph: Jesus J. Montero

A first look at 'Disney 100: The Exhibition'

Walt Disney returns to Chicago to commemorate its 100th anniversary.

Jesus J. Montero
Written by
Jesus J. Montero

It all started with a mouse. 

A mouse named Mickey, who became the spark that ignited a century of storytelling and unparalleled wonder. 

The magical legacy of Walt Disney continues to unfold, and fans can now check out Disney 100: The Exhibition, a new exhibit with 10 immersive galleries, 14 interactive installations and over 250 pieces of art, props and costumes. It’s housed within the Exhibition Hub Art Center in Bucktown. The city of Chicago emerges as a silent collaborator in Disney's saga—it’s here that Walt Disney and Mickey’s journey began, where inspiration and dreams took flight.

Jodi Benson, the Rockford native who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid, made an appearance at the exhibit’s ribbon cutting ceremony last week. Benson talked about the role connecting her to generations of fans. 

“I love that [The Little Mermaid] can pass over different generations with our little ones. Parents and their little ones watch with their grandparents. It's such a great generational bond,” Benson said. “It's exciting for me to watch that love start to grow again in our little ones.” 

A black-and-white film of Benson and Howard Ashman—The Little Mermaid’s playwright—showed behind-the-scenes footage of the two working on the movie. Those were the vivid, joyful memories Benson reflected on as she walked through the exhibit. 

“It brings back a lot of memories and lots of feelings,” she shared. “I'm grateful for those wonderful people that I've been able to work with and tell our story so authentically and so beautifully. The fact that it lives on forever is just pure magic for me.”

Jodi benson standing in front of an exhibit
Photograph: Jesus J. MonteroJodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid.'

Similar to Benson, I, too, also found myself reminiscing about the past. Remembering the family movie nights, midnight premieres and the magic-centered narratives. With each step you take, you’ll also remember your favorite memories and learn about the work behind the Disney magic. 

The vast, 35,000-square-foot Disney haven provides tons of excitement, from discovering memorabilia to seeing and understanding the genesis of Disney, which fans of all ages can enjoy. 

Walt Disney's employee badge and other memorabilia on display.
Photograph: Jesus J. MonteroWalt Disney's employee badge and other memorabilia.

Walking around the exhibition, you can view the early tech of Pixar, sketches from timeless Disney movies and TV shows, the celestial landscapes of Star Wars and the props of Marvel films. My personal highlight was the section dedicated to the music of Disney classics and the sounds that were used, and how your favorite Disney tune was created.

By the end, I learned that Disney 100: The Exhibition is more than just a collection of exhibits. It’s a journey behind the scenes into the very soul of a century-long legacy, where the magic of storytelling unfolds in the most enchanting and profound ways.

Disney100: The Exhibition is now open through the end of January 2024. Tickets are available online.

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