After its successful tour of Japan, the Disney Cats & Dogs exhibit makes its first U.S. appearance at The Walt Disney Family Museum. Officially opening this Saturday, June 24th, I had the pleasure of getting an early tour of the gallery, which celebrates Walt Disney’s love of dogs, and the studio’s rich legacy of canine and feline characters. From Walt-era pioneers like Pluto and Figaro to some of the most recent characters like Bolt and Mochi, the exhibit is furry fun for the whole family.
Housed in the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall, a separate building from the main museum, Guests follow a dotted path full of sketches of some of your favorite furry Disney stars.
The two-story exhibit begins on the ground floor, welcoming you in with a colorful mural of some of the timeless characters you’re about to explore in-depth.
The gallery begins with Walt Disney and the pets he and his family loved. From Walt’s love of stray dogs in Marceline as a child to Sunnee, a Chow he gifted to Lilian on Christmas Eve in a hatbox, this first room is full of heartwarming stories that instantly connect the museum’s namesake with the rest of the gallery.
The transition from the real-world to the animated one is fulfilled by a brief explanation about real animals serving as live-action reference models in films like Bambi and One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
This area also features the first of several hands-on activities. A QR code invites Guests to submit photos of their own pets to be featured on digital screens in the gallery. And a desk is set up for kids to learn how to draw a cat or dog, with instructions they can take home to keep practicing.
Mickey Mouse’s best friend is Pluto, and since Mickey is often viewed as an extension of Walt, the first character-themed room goes to Mickey’s best pal.
Animation artwork from some of Pluto’s most memorable appearances adorn the walls, alongside a small section devoted to his main squeeze, Fifi. A section also pays respects to Pluto’s star animator, Norman Ferguson. The center of the room features a zoetrope activity, with kids encourages to draw a dog or cat running on the provided strip of paper.
Next, it’s on to Disney’s first dog-centric film, Lady and the Tramp. You’ll explore storyboards, character design explorations, and animation artwork from the film while the sounds of “Bella Notte” fill the room via a projected sing-along. If you brought your sweetheart along, this room also features a picture-perfect photo opportunity courtesy of Tony’s.
A room devoted to One Hundred and One Dalmatians (or 101 Dalmatians) showcases the challenges of designing fifteen unique puppies who could stand out against a cast of similar-looking extras. This gallery also pays close detail to the modern art style of the film, and how it broke tradition by being set in the then-present early 1960s.
The next room is a twofer, celebrating Oliver & Company and Bolt. A table in the center offers several craft opportunities (thaumatropes and origami dogs and cats) while the wall rotates through projections of animation artwork from the gallery.
I hung around for a while to see the entire rotation of artwork, which Guests will also find featured throughout the gallery.
The evolution of characters like Oliver and Dodger are explored through concept art, but one of the most interesting pieces in the Oliver & Company section is a look at laying out one of Disney’s first attempts at integrating hand-drawn animation with computer imaging through Georgette’s stair walk in “Perfect Isn’t Easy.”
And the Bolt section gets into the in-universe graphic design, such as a bus decal to promote the show within the film and consumer products, like a bobblehead. This section makes no mention of the film’s evolution from a Chris Sanders film titled American Dog, and the exhibit also doesn’t include Sanders’ directorial hit, Lilo & Stitch (technically an alien, Stitch is adopted by Lilo as a dog and is often included as one in Disney merchandise).
The ground floor concludes with a gallery devoted to The Aristocats. It tells the story of a film that started with more opulent goals, eventually simplifying designs down to a more traditional Disney style.
The transition upstairs is lined with movie posters from films featuring the dogs and cats in the gallery. A coloring activity awaits kids on the upper landing, with two different views of San Francisco that they can color and draw themselves and their pets in.
The upper gallery boarders the lower level, offering nice views of areas you’ve already explored.
The first floor is full of films that star cats and dogs, whereas the second floor is about supporting characters. First up is Figaro, introduced in Pinocchio and getting a second life in the Mickey Mouse shorts as Minnie’s pet cat (note: all of the artwork featured is from Pinocchio).
The upper level continues with another cat and one decidedly less lovable, Lucifer from Cinderella. His gallery showcases how the character evolved from concept to film.
Lucier’s corner features a break space for little ones in the form of a comfy couch and a table full of children’s books, which stay on the theme of dogs and cats. Several of them are Disney-related and available for purchase in the museum gift shop.
You can actually get lost walking past the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The character’s transformation from John Tenniel's illustrations in the novel to Disney’s specific version is displayed along the walls. As this is in the back of the gallery, the Cheshire Cat also points Guests down to the first level, although the gallery was designed to be explored in clockwise circles, utilizing the main staircase in the front of the building. So just like Alice learned, you might not want to follow this cat’s advice.
Fun fact: Nana was originally going to join Wendy, Michael, and John on their adventure to Never Land. Her gallery showcases rare artwork of the Darling’s nurse maid along for a fun adventure with Peter Pan.
Named after the traditional Japanese dessert, Mochi from Big Hero 6 gets a tiny but mighty section all his own.
The most pampered pooch of them all, Percy. Character artwork shows some of Percy’s potential wardrobe options, while storyboards from the beloved bath sequence have been enlarged to showcase to fun of that memorable scene.
The most obscure Disney dog featured is “Footstool,” the nameless dog from Beauty and the Beast who has but a few seconds of screentime in dog form and is otherwise an anthropomorphic ottoman.
They saved the best for last, my personal favorite Disney dog, Max from The Little Mermaid. Concept sketches, color studies, and animation art bring to life Prince Eric’s faithful pal.
I unintentionally had the Disney Cats & Dogs exhibit all to myself and took one last opportunity to take a few photos of the downstairs portions. I love the way each section is so clearly defined by color.
As a pawrent of two pups and a Disney fan, a special exhibit full of artwork of Disney dogs was of personal interest to me. It offers some fun surprise-and-delight moments, like personal photos of Walt Disney and his family with their dogs and a Lady and the Tramp photo opportunity. And overall, I’m thrilled with the final result, but there were a few characters I expected to see who were missing. Humanoid dogs and cats like Goofy, Pete, and Julius (from the Alice Comedies) are missing, for example.
Dive deeper, and you’ll find more missing cats and dogs. Bruno from Cinderella provided a good nemesis for Lucifer and played a vital role in freeing the film’s heroine. Likewise, Lady and the Tramp were thwarted by Si and Am, and the gallery devoted to that film doesn’t feature any of the other lovable canine stars (Jock, Trusty, Peg, etc…). Little Brother from Mulan is another fan-favorite Disney dog that some attendees are sure to miss. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that one of Disney’s titular animated dogs is missing, Copper, the hound from The Fox and the Hound.
Criticisms aside, the Walt Disney Animation Research Library and Walt Disney Archives have assembled a loving tribute to arguably the most iconic felines and canines in Disney’s stable. Disney Cats & Dogs not only serves an audience of adult Disney fans, but offers enough engaging moments to keep kids busy and entertained. After delighting fans in Japan, it finally comes home to The Walt Disney Family Museum, where it will be on display until January 14th, 2024.
The Museum Store features a selection of items imported from Japan’s touring exhibit. Two canvas art prints (Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians) are reasonably priced at just $35 each.
Souvenir bags (Lady and the Tramp and Pluto), two styles of scarves (dogs or cats), postcards ($2.00 each), a notepad, and boxed figurines (Lady and the Tramp or The Aristocats) are the other items offered that are unique to the exhibit.
All of the souvenirs are a nice way to commemorate the arrival of Disney Cats and Dogs at The Walt Disney Family Museum.
Following a member preview and a D23 event, Disney Cats & Dogs will open to the public in The Walt Disney Family Museum’s Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall on Saturday, June 24th. The exhibit is scheduled to be on display until January 14th, 2024. For more information and to plan your visit, go to WaltDisney.org.