Graceland in Memphis Hosts Major Walt Disney Archives Exhibit

What a delicious looking candy apple. Scrumptiously juicy. Gloriously red. Covered in tempting caramel. The sweetness seems ready to melt in your mouth.

Ah, but this is a Walt Disney apple. Most people are aware of what that means.

Yep, this is the poison caramel apple used in the 2007 Disney film Enchanted. And we know what happened to the beautiful young lady who took a bite of the poisoned fruit in that fairy tale.

However, this is only one of the treasures now on display in the wonderful Walt Disney Archives at Graceland Exhibition Center in Memphis. After premiering at the D23 Expo Japan in 2018, the extraordinary exhibit is now on loan at only its second American stop. It will be at Graceland through Jan. 2, 2022.

“This is the first time the exhibit has ever been in the South,” says Angie Marchese, Vice President of Archives and Exhibits for Elvis Presley Enterprises. “The only other place it has been in the United States was in Santa Anna, California. Having it here is great because it is within driving distance for so many people.”

American Cruise Lines also offers cruises that begin in Memphis with an overnight stay at the Guest House at Graceland before the cruise begins. The beautiful new Guest House is across the street from the Graceland complex, named Elvis Presley’s Memphis where the Disney exhibit is now on display.

The Graceland mansion and the complex are both within easy walking distance from The Guest House. Although I wasn’t on an American Cruise Lines riverboat for my visit, I did see one of the cruise line’s bus shuttles at The Guesthouse along with a welcome sign for cruise passengers.

Although Elvis Presley and Walt Disney never met, Angie says, the two do share common bonds. “Elvis and Disney are among the biggest names in American pop culture.”

Elvis also is part of the Walt Disney Archives since Disney acquired the 20th Century Fox archives a few years ago. “Elvis’ first movie, Love Me Tender, was filmed at 20th Century Fox,” Angie says. “Actually, Elvis filmed several movies at 20th Century Fox.”

In the TV room at Graceland mansion is another Elvis/Disney connection. Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie had a Disney Snow White album. The album can be seen propped on a counter in the TV room.

“There’s also a gigantic Pooh bear in Lisa Marie’s room at Graceland,” Angie says. “Elvis definitely had a fondness for Walt Disney.”

1937 film still from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (cover photo); The Disney Archives has more than 10,000 catalogued costumes; Science fiction creature; Poison caramel apple from Enchanted; Wilson the volleyball from Cast Away; Walt Disney welcomes visitors to the exhibit

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Elvis was Lilo’s favorite singer

Then there’s the Lilo & Stitch connection. In the animated film, Elvis was Lilo’s favorite singer and the cartoon character liked to dress up as Elvis. The popular movie spawned a three-year TV series.

“I’ve worked here at Graceland for 32 years so my daughter Isabella has always known about Elvis but Isabella loved Lilo and Stitch,” Angie says. “In 2002, Lilo and Stitch introduced Elvis’ music to a whole new generation of young Elvis fans.”

As for why Walt Disney Archives is at the Graceland Exhibition Center, Angie says that is the reason the center at Elvis Presley’s Memphis was built across from the Graceland mansion – “To bring world-class exhibitions of American pop culture to the South.”

Opened in May 2018, the huge Exhibition Center has hosted such pop culture icons as Muhammad Ali, a motorcycle exhibit, Journey into Space and a dinosaur display. The Walt Disney Archives exhibit contains original artwork, costumes, props, old ride animatronics and even some of Walt Disney’s personal belongings.

The 10,000-square-foot traveling exhibit presents behind-the-scenes access to the legacy of Walt Disney and his talented company. Among the treasures are Mary Poppins’ original carpet bag, Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap, Zorro’s sword, Jack Sparrow’s compass from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, magic bedknob from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and much more.

For Michelle Howard of New Orleans, the film costumes are among the most eye-catching items in the archives. “The autoharp and dress that Reese Witherspoon wore as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line is my favorite,” Michelle says. “Reese deserved to win her Oscar for that role. She was great.”

Other costumes include the red dress Julia Roberts wore as Vivian Ward in 1990’s Pretty Woman; pink outfit on Nicole Kidman as Satine in 2001’s Moulin Rouge; garb Glenn Close donned as Cruella De Vil in 2000’s 102 Dalmatians; Belle’s gown on Emma Watson in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and many others.

In another display case are the scary claws worn by Disney villains and heroes, including those of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men movie franchise as well as the prosthetic hands and sad face worn by the creature in 2017’s The Shape of Water.

                                                  Wilson the volleyball

Although he enjoyed traveling through time visiting the archives exhibit, Gary Mitchell of Nashville says it is the simple white volleyball and the important part it played in the 2000 movie Cast Away that most impressed him.

“Who would have thought that a movie about a guy on a deserted island could hold your attention for two hours – just mainly Tom Hanks and a volleyball,” Gary says, gesturing to the volleyball bearing a faceprint that Tom Hank’s character inadvertently made with his bloody hand in the movie.

“For four years, the Tom Hanks’ character was stuck on that island with no other human being so Wilson became his friend. Do you know why he named the volleyball ‘Wilson?’” Gary asks, hurrying to answer his own question. “The volleyball’s manufacturer was Wilson Sporting Goods. So he named his make-believe friend Wilson.”

At the end of the movie, when Tom Hanks builds a raft and makes it off the island, Wilson washes out to sea. “That movie and that scene still sticks with me,” Gary says. “You almost believe that Wilson is a human being.”

Disney-themed events scheduled

Throughout the exhibit stay, Graceland will host a wide array of Disney-themed events, including movie screenings of Disney classics at the Soundstage and nearby Guest House at Graceland, trivia nights, Princess and Pirate Day, Tour & Tea parties and Halloween costume party.

A birthday celebration weekend will be held for Walt Disney who was born 120 years ago on Dec. 5, 1901. He died Dec. 15, 1966, at age 65 from complications of lung cancer.

“Walt Disney affected so many lives and his legacy still does. There is something in this exhibit for everyone,” Angie says. “When I was a kid, it was the Mickey Mouse Club. We would sit down and watch that every day.”

For younger children, items from Frozen or Beauty and the Beast might be what gets them excited, Angie adds. “Through these exhibits, we rekindle memories and create new memories.”

If you go:

Where: Walt Disney Archives at Graceland Exhibition Center in Memphis

When: Exhibit runs through Jan. 2, 2022.

Admission: $15 for adults, $8 for children 5-10, free for children 4 and under

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch


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