Here’s what it’s like inside the new Disney exhibit celebrating Mickey’s 90th birthday

A peek inside ‘Mickey: The True Original Exhibition,’ which includes artwork from over two dozen artists. Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Disney

Mickey Mouse turned 90 in 2018 and Disney has been holding a year-long celebration of the mouse. There’s Mickey Goldfish, new Mickey clothing, and the mouse even has his own Oreos.

Now, Mickey’s getting his own art exhibit in New York City called “Mickey: The True Original Exhibition.” Starting Thursday, November 8, fans will be able to stop by a 16,000-square-foot exhibit in the Chelsea neighbourhood of NYC that’s part art show, part interactive exhibit, and a partial Mickey museum commemorating some of the largest milestones in the mouse’s career. And, because it’s also Minnie’s birthday, expect to see some of her throughout the exhibit as well.

Los Angeles-based designer and creative director Darren Romanelli, also known as DRx Romanelli, has been working on the exhibit with Disney and a team for the past two years. Romanelli is known for remixing and creating custom clothing and furniture for brands ranging from Converse to Coca-Cola.

Romanelli’s also a big Disney fan. He grew up going to Disneyland with his family and continues that tradition with his two young daughters. That love for the mouse probably helps explain why he was also responsible for working on Mickey’s 75th anniversary for Disney. That event consisted prominently of murals in Los Angeles and New York.

Over the years, he worked Disney projects like “Chicken Little” and Tinkerbell. When it came time for Mickey’s 90th, it was a natural fit to return. What better place to launch than in the big Apple where Walt Disney debuted his first Disney short featuring Mickey Mouse?

“New York made the most sense, because that’s where Walt took the train to premiere ‘Steam Boat Willie’ in 1928, and we were incredibly excited about finding the space under the Highline,” Romanelli told INSIDER. “So, in my mind, for all I know, Walt’s train stopped there. You never know.”

Romanelli had access to the Disney archives to not only see what collectibles they could borrow for the exhibit but to get inspiration for what he could highlight. The result is a sprawling exhibit which takes fans through 13 rooms with art by more than a dozen contemporary artists. There’s also a giant gift shop with some Mickey exclusives at the very end. Romanelli said he looked for artists who represented what it meant to be a true original who could use their unique style to bring Mickey to life in a new way.

INSIDER received an early look at the exhibit before it opens to the public. If you’re a fan of the mouse, you’ll want to head to this one for the original art, never-before-seen archival footage, and antique Mickey Mouse toys and paraphernalia. The gift shop has exclusive clothing and bags.

Tickets for the event are $US38. (You can buy them here.) The exhibit will run from Thursday, November 8 until Sunday, February 10.

If you can’t make it out to NYC, we have you covered. Keep reading to see what it’s like inside “Mickey: The True Original Exhibition.”

“Mickey: The True Original Exhibition” is located in Chelsea in New York City.

If you’re familiar with the area, it’s right next door to Chelsea Market on 10th avenue. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER, Disney

At the end of October, the entire building was wrapped in yellow, black, red, and white, and adorned with images of the mouse. Now, a lot of that yellow has been peeled away to unveil the space to the public.

If you’re not familiar with New York City, here’s where the exhibit is on a map.

This is the entrance to the gift shop, which is available to the public. INSIDER was told it’s open daily except on Monday. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER, Google Maps

Guests can take the E subway line to 14th street and walk over one avenue to the exhibit. We’ve drawn out a handy guide above to help.

The 16,000-square-foot exhibit hosts 13 rooms, celebrating the life and legacy of Mickey Mouse.

The full experience is 14 rooms if you count the large gift shop open to the public. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Each room is given a name like “Mickey Mouse Club” or “Sorcerer’s Way,” which highlights something from the mouse’s history.

“We decided on special rooms to showcase certain chapters of Mickey’s history. And for each moment that we’re showcasing elements of the archives and celebrating these stories, there’s a site-specific contemporary installation from an artist that we’ve selected, who is a true original in their own right,” said Romanelli.

“There’s this language between the archives and the contemporary that’s really infectious, and important, and interesting,” he added.

Before you head inside, snap a photo with Mickey or Minnie’s ears on the wall.

Disney will donate up to $US2 million dollars to Make-A-Wish for public photos fans share using the hashtag #ShareYourEars. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

For the third consecutive year, Disney is asking fans to share pictures of themselves wearing ears on social media. Disney told INSIDER the company will donate $US5 to Make-A-Wish for anyone who shares a public photo on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #ShareYourEars, showing off any actual or creative Mickey Mouse ears.

The first stop in the exhibit is the welcome room.

Fans are greeted by Mickey on a large screen saying ‘Welcome’ in various languages. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

As the name suggests, the room acquaints or reacquaints fans with the mouse’s 90-year history. A small video highlighting Mickey’s history plays before you move on to the more interactive elements.

It opens up into a large, spacious room celebrating Mickey’s creation in 1928.

These photos do not do the wall justice. Neon lights do not photograph well, but it’s a beautiful collage of Mickey in various poses. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

The neon images on the wall were created by Disney character art director Jeff Shelly. Shelly told INSIDER the poses and expressions of both Mickey and Minnie Mouse are representative of the model sheets used by animators and artists to note how the characters should look.

The writing on the wall includes notes you may see on these artist model sheets like “can have shoulders when needed” and “pants have pockets.”

You can follow Shelly’s work on Instagram here.

Turn around and you’ll see Mickey Mouse’s steamboat from his first original cartoon has been brought to life.

In case you’re wondering, the wheel on that ship does turn. Behind the boat is a mural made by artist Katherine Bernhardt who incorporated Mickey’s favourite food, hot dogs, into her original view of the mouse. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Fans can step aboard and take a photo on the ship that appeared in the 1928 Mickey short, “Steamboat Willie.”

If you want to watch the original Mickey cartoon, it’s available for fans to watch in a small room off to the side. The short plays side-by-side with a reimagined version made by fans.

Don’t miss Walt Disney’s Academy Award that’s sitting in the room, too.

That’s the real thing straight from The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

That’s no replica. That’s one of Disney’s first Oscars, an honorary one for the creation of Mickey Mouse, in 1932. (He won another the same year for a short.)

Security told INSIDER someone will always be watching over the Oscar during the duration of the exhibit to make sure no one takes off with the award.

“Hiding Mickey” celebrates Mickey’s timeless design.

This Mickey is found in the Iconic Design room of the exhibit. Romanelli said he expects it to stop people in their tracks when they see it. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

The piece was created by New York City-based artist Daniel Arsham. The Mickey above shows off his style of stretching figures out along a wall.

You can view more of his work, and some behind-the-scenes photos of his “Hiding Mickey” piece, here.

You can take photos alongside Mickey and Minnie in the “It’s Black & White” room.

Be on the lookout for some hidden Mickeys in this room. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

These sets are inspired by Mickey Mouse’s 1933 “Building a Building” cartoon featuring Minnie. They are also by Disney artist Jeff Shelly.

Our favourite pieces in this room are two optical illusions where you need to stand in just the right spot to see the full piece.

You have to stand in just the right spot to see Mickey playing a piano and playing with his dog, Pluto. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Don’t worry if you don’t know where to stand. Disney placed grey Mickey shoes on the ground for visitors to step on to capture the perfect photo.

When you walk up close to either portrait, the entire illusion fades.

You have to be extremely accurate at designing this to make it work just right. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Shelly also worked on these two pieces in the exhibit.

Another stand-out piece is a floor-to-ceiling crochet inspired by 1935 short, “The Band Concert.”

This is located in the Burst Into Colour room. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Disney told us that the artist, London Kaye, started this piece blindfolded to see how the acrylic yarn colours blended together.

You can follow along with her work here.

If you need a break, lounge out on some Mickey-shaped loungers while you bask in the artwork of an over-sized Mickey shirt.

Disney has its 1935 short playing on the wall for all to watch. Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Disney artist John T. Quinn worked on the 36-foot Mickey mural that takes an impressionistic approach to “The Band Concert.” The short plays along the wall for fans to watch while kicking back on black loungers shaped like Mickey’s face. You can follow Quinn here.

The T-shirt, meanwhile, is from Amanda Ross-Ho’s installation, “Untitled T-shirt,” which was originally on display in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel lobby.

“I’ve always been fascinated with her ability to create these larger-than-life artworks,” Romanelli said of Ross-Ho. “She’s done giant-sized backpacks, giant-sized blankets. But something I’ve been fond of are her giant T-shirts. If you Google Amanda Ross-Ho giant T-shirts, you’ll see she’s done all kinds of editions over the years. So we went to her and said, “Would you be interested in doing a giant Mickey ringer T-shirt?”

Sorcerer’s Way celebrates one of Mickey’s most iconic looks from the 1940 film, “Fantasia.”

The entryway into the Sorcerer’s Way room features the iconic broomsticks and buckets. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

As you make your way through the exhibit, you twist and turn often not knowing what room comes next. Sometimes you turn a corner to find a complete surprise.

That’s what happens when you enter the “Fantasia”-themed Sorcerer’s Way room and you’re met with an archway of 3D buckets overhead.

Make sure you take a peek inside one of the two wells or you’ll miss out.

A short clip shows sorcerer Mickey casting waves. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Inside the wells are archival pencil test drawings of Mickey from a popular scene of the movie.

Become the sorcerer’s apprentice himself by taking a photo under Mickey’s hat.

Taller people may need to bend down a little, but we didn’t see people really having any issue. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Or if that’s not your thing …

… go up against him yourself.

Action poses are necessary. Jethro Nededog/INSIDER

If you’re on your own at the exhibit, there are plenty of Disney employees who are happy to take your photo.

Another room transports you back to the Mickey Mouse Club.

The room is supposed to look like the Mickey Mouse Club set. Romanelli said since the ’90s are relevant again, they decided to recreate the set in that style. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Video screens across the room play old episodes of the show. The original series ran on ABC from 1955-1959. It was later revived on the network from 1989-1994. Watch closely and you’ll see Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears.

Special Mickey-themed ice cream from Ample Hills is also waiting in the room for guests to try along with archival costumes and the four-string Mousegetar seen on the original ABC series.

Pro tip: Try out the jukebox in the room. It really works!

The collection room is for the diehard Disney fans.

A larger-than-life Mickey stares at different iterations of the Mouse from over the years. Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Disney

There are three walls full of antique and vintage Mickey Mouse toys, dolls, and paraphernalia on display.

There are vintage Mickey toys, a jack-in-the-box, and even a tricycle.

Do you remember having a Mickey Mouse Kodak camera? Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER, composite

As you make your way around the room, it all ends on a quote from Walt Disney.

“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

While you’re in the room, take a closer look at that giant-sized Mickey Mouse made by Romanelli himself.

The nearly eight-foot-tall figure is a giant [email protected] Mickey, a Japanese company that makes these X bears. It’s estimated to be 3000% the size of a normal [email protected] collectible. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Romanelli reconstructed a few hundred vintage Mickey and Minnie Mouse T-shirts and sweatshirts. Some of the items included are personal items while others were sourced.

The shirts were stacked in one of the rooms of his office as he came up with the design over a period of five-to-six months.

Little ones will also be drawn to a giant sculpture in the room made out of over 100 Mickey stuffed animals.

Comforters and blankets are behind the stuffed animals. You can look at the dolls, but don’t touch them. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Shinique Smith told INSIDER it took her a few months to piece the entire thing together. The accumulation of the stuffed animals took the longest, but Disney helped her, sending her some unique dolls, including a corduroy Mickey and a re-issue of Charlotte Clark’s popular 1930s-style Mickey.

Another tough decision was deciding the placement of each mouse.

“I worked on it flat to begin with, like a painting,” said Smith of the piece. “All of the panels [were] laid out to see how they moved together and then I put them up.”

Her favourite Mickey is one you can see near the bottom right. It’s a little Mickey who looks beach ready in trunks and flip-flops. There’s even a Minnie hanging out at the top if you’re tall enough to see.

At the bottom of the sculpture is one of Disney’s 90th anniversary Steamboat Willie dolls. When you press it, he starts playing the iconic whistle from the short while dancing.

You can see more photos of Smith’s Mickey sculpture and follow her work here.

The best room is saved for last. Kenny Scharf designed a trippy cosmic cavern featuring a mix of pop art and the mouse.

There are so many references to Mickey in this room. Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Disney

Scharf’s room, which is located behind a black curtain, is inspired by Mickey Mouse’s wristwatch. Music plays as you hang out in the psychedelic setting. You may even hear a David Bowie tune when you step inside.

“Kenny’s been doing these caverns since the ’80s,” said Romanelli. “So to have one that has all different types of Mickey watches integrated and installed throughout the cavern is really special and is kind of a nod to this classic time. He’s taking you back in time.”

The cooler part? You don’t have to buy a ticket to the exhibit to experience this room.

The room is located through the gift shop. Disney

The Cosmic Cavern is open to the public for everyone to experience.

When you’re all done with everything, a gift shop is stocked with items celebrating Mickey’s birthday.

The bags and shirts seen above show off an abstract interpretation of the mouse. Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Disney

There’s everything from T-shirts and sweatshirts, to toys and hats, and books filled with artwork.

Naturally, there are also a few Mickey exclusives that can only be purchased inside the 90th pop-up. INSIDER was told T-shirts and sweatshirts with Mickey sketches on them and the table of bags and shirts seen above are exclusive to the event. You don’t need a ticket to access the store.

There’s much more artwork to see and explore.

This piece is called Mickey’s Japan Tourism. Kirsten Acuna/INSIDER

Keiichi Tanaami’s piece is a digital print, silk print, and crushed glass on paper that’s mounted onto a wood panel. It’s extremely intricate. You can see more of Tanaami’s work here.

Romanelli hopes that fans will leave the exhibit feeling a new appreciation for the mouse who started it all.

Romanelli stands with Keith Haring’s famous Mickey Mouse artwork from 1981, which can be seen inside the exhibit. Courtesy Disney

“When you go from room to room, my goal is that when people leave this exhibition, they have rekindled their love for Mickey, and that they’re celebrated,” said Romanelli. “They’re celebrating new memories while rekindling old memories.”

You can read more about “Mickey: The True Original Exhibition” and find tickets for the exhibit here.