Disney World Miniatures

Walt Disney (1901-1966) loved miniatures and miniature railroads. When I wrote a biography of him a few years ago, I looked at his interest in miniatures and how that helped inform his amusement park designs. Here is one excerpt from that biography:

Walt, like thousands of hobbyists in the postwar period, became fascinated with the creation, collection, and display of miniature scenes, furniture, and rooms as well as model train sets. Walt’s interest in trains went way back but found new expression in the development of actual train models of different scales.

Critics think this was Walt’s attempt to get control of his life. Tracing this to his deepest personality traits, biographer Neal Gabler claimed that Walt was trying to “create an even better fortress for himself,” and proving that he had the ability to craft “a better reality,” one that would be in his control. To Gabler, control was the key term to explain Walt during this period. He explained that the miniatures were another way “for Walt to assert his control at the very time he seemed to be losing it.” But attempts to control or organize the world in our own image are not a psychological flaw as Gabler seems to suggest. It is instead what all humans do, all the time. Walt, in this sense, is doing the most human of activities: creating a miniature world, only this time not just in his head or on the screen, but right there in front of him. It was, perhaps, a necessary step toward visualizing the new amusement park he had started thinking about.

You can read the entire chapter here: BOOK_EXCERPT_Walt_Disney_A_Biography.

At Disney World in Florida, some of Walt’s miniatures and models created for the design of Disneyland and Disney World are on display (a larger collection of his miniatures are owned and displayed by the Disney Museum in San Francisco). I describe one of his handmade creations this way:

One scene he created was called “Granny’s Cabin” and it consisted of a miniature set from the combined live-action/animation film So Dear to My Heart, which was released in 1949. Walt displayed the scene at Festival of California Living in Los Angeles, which was held at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, a huge indoor exhibition space (the famous façade of that now burned-down building provided inspiration for the façade designs at later Disney theme parks). The model recently went on display at Disney World and the tag describing the object states, “Hand-built by Walt Disney himself, this animated diorama was an early attempt at dimensional storytelling, and helped inspire the concept for Disneyland Park four years later.”

To miniaturists, the model looks rough and unfinished but the idea behind it is fascinating: dimensional storytelling. It is a great way to think about miniatures.


Another innovation Walt worked on became know as animatronics. An early experiment in animatronics was the miniature “Dancing Man” figure.  Actor and dancer Buddy Ebsen (remember him from The Beverly Hillbillies?) was filmed to create realistic movements for the scaled figure (he was about 12 inches high). Ebsen’s movements were translated into mechanical controls for the Dancing Man. Walt designed and built the stage that the figure danced on.


A video of Ebsen dancing.

Models of the rides and scenery at Disneyland and later Disney World can also be seen now at Disney World. All these are displayed in the Hollywood Studio section of Disney World, in the exhibit “One Man’s World.”

Sleeping Beauty Castle model
Explorer’s Landing Fortress model, Tokyo Disney
“it’s a small world” facade model
California Adventure entrance model

I have previously shown how my own miniature gardening was affected by the miniature landscapes at Disneyland. At EPCOT in Florida, there is an extensive miniature landscape and railroad outside the Germany Pavilion  of this World Showcase.

Germany landscape and train
Germany model buildings

In the Norway building at EPCOT, visitors can view models of buildings and landscapes from the popular movie Frozen.

Norway’s influence on the design of Frozen

Finally, during Disney World’s annual Garden Festival, displays of miniature gardens and bonsai are displayed at EPCOT.

Bonsai display

There are other examples of miniatures all through Disney Wold’s parks and at the two parks in California (Disneyland and California Adventure). Part of the fun in visiting these places is searching for these miniatures. Keep in mind, also, that the entire parks are a miniaturized version of the world!







One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.