Some people just walk by it without giving it a second thought. Others have a family tradition to take a photo in front of it during every visit. With five locations around the world, the Partners statue is more than just a likeness of Walt and Mickey – it’s a symbol of the legacy that a man and a mouse left behind which touches all of us.
The Partners statue isn’t the first piece of artwork showing Walt and Mickey holding hands with one another. Back in 1981, Disney Legend Charles Boyer created the first version of Partners, a lithograph poster in the style of Norman Rockwell that was given out to cast members commemorating Disneyland’s 200 millionth guest. Boyer’s poster (and legacy) was so beloved that he was later honored with a window on Main Street in Disneyland advertising the master illustrator’s “Partners Portrait Gallery”.
Further proof of the admiration for Partners came in 1987 when Disney CEO Michael Eisner requested that the Disneyland Employees Federal Credit Union change its name to remove the word “Disneyland”. The credit union decided on Partners Federal Credit Union and a copy of the Boyer lithograph hung in the lobby of its Disneyland branch for over 20 years.
Moving to the 90s, Disneyland’s hub (area in front of the castle) had been taken over by tacky, temporary events that had been encouraged by CEO Michael Eisner. Imagineering executives Marty Sklar and John Hench, feeling this to be intrusive of guest’s view of the castle down Main Street, devised a plan to address it. The two coaxed artist Blaine Gibson out of retirement to work on this project.
Gibson was Disney’s master sculptor who worked on the Abraham Lincoln figure for the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair and went on to sculpt figures for Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and the Hall of Presidents. If you walk into the lobby of the Hall of Presidents today, you can see a display dedicated to Gibson’s sculpted works, including a bust of Walt Disney sculpted in 1990 and completed in 1991 – likely sculpted in preparation for Partners. A copy of this bust is also on display at the Television Hall of Fame Garden in Los Angeles.
This isn’t the first bust of Walt that Gibson had sculpted though. In the 1960s, at the urging of Dick Irvine, he took his first crack at it as a gift for Walt. It turned out less-than-great – Blaine himself said, “it wasn’t quite right”. To make matters worse, Walt was less-than-thrilled by the idea of a sculpted representation of himself. “Statues are for dead people” was his response upon seeing it.
Back to the 1990s and Disney was preparing to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 65th birthday. Sklar and Hench enlisted Gibson to come out of retirement to help with the plans. Gibson had been retired from the company since 1983, coming back to sculpt busts for the Hall of Presidents as new ones were elected to office.
Working with the assistance of sculptor Rick Terry from his home studio in Sedona, Arizona (which is actually available to rent via Airbnb by clicking here. New to Airbnb? Use our sign up link here for a coupon), the sculptor toiled for nearly a year to perfect the concept and complete the statue. Working off the basic handholding premise from the Boyer lithograph mentioned earlier, Gibson ideated a number of concepts including a version with Mickey holding an ice cream cone. This one was ultimately rejected because it looked “a little too much like Walt was taking his child out for a walk”, according to Imagineering creative director Jonathan Friday.
Gibson eventually settled on the version we see today, describing it as if Walt were telling Mickey, “look what we’ve accomplished together… look at all the happy people who have come to visit us today”. The statue was unveiled in Disneyland’s central hub on November 18, 1993, 65 years to the day that Steamboat Willie premiered.
“I thought that it was an honor to do a statue of Mickey and Walt who was, in my opinion, the real genius behind all of this. For me, it was a labor of love. Walt gave me and many others some of the happiest times of our lives, and this project was important because it wasn’t just for Walt… it was about Walt.”
– Blaine Gibson
Gibson chose to depict Walt as he looked in 1954. “I think that was when Walt was in his prime. It was tough trying to match the media image of Walt Disney, the one the public knows, to the real Walt, the one we knew.” A larger than life personality deserves a larger than life statue – while Walt stood at 5 foot, 10 inches tall, Partners beats that by a full 7 inches.
One of the most well-known details of the statue is the “STR” logo on Walt’s tie. Walt had been making trips out to the California desert since the late 1930s to ride horses, play polo, and take in nature as a means of unwinding from the daily grind of work. In 1946, Walt became a member of Smoke Tree Ranch (STR), a gated community and resort in Palm Springs. He built multiple homes on the property throughout the years and was so in love with the community that he would often sport the “STR” logo, usually embroidered or tacked on his tie. Look closely at the Partners statue and you’ll see it there too.
A lesser-known detail is Walt’s two wedding rings. He wore a conventional one on his left ring finger, though on the statue, Mickey’s thumb is right on top of it making it difficult to see – but we know it’s there. His right hand’s ring finger is clearly donning an Irish “Claddagh” ring. Walt and his wife Lillian bought these traditional Irish rings honoring Walt’s paternal heritage during a 1948 trip to Ireland. The design of the ring contains hands, a heart, and a crown, which represents friendship, love, and loyalty, respectively. Look for it on the hand of Walt’s outstretched arm the next time you see one of the Partners.
“I hope this time I’ve captured that magical spirit of his”
– Sculptor Blaine Gibson
Since the debut of the original Partners statue in 1993, 4 other duplicate versions have been installed in Disney locations around the world. Each one is an exact replica of the sculpt, with different dedication plaques as well as subtle color differences in order to complement their surroundings.
The original Partners stands in the hub in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle in Walt Disney’s original park. The unveiling happened on November 18, 1993, during “Mickey’s Worldwide Kids Party” celebrating the 65th anniversary of the debut of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie. Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney revealed the statue with the dedication plaque containing a quote from Walt Disney:
“I think most of all what I want Disneyland to be is a happy place… where parents and children can have fun, together.”
The statue was rededicated on December 5, 2001, in honor of Walt Disney’s 100th birthday. Disney Legend Richard Sherman was part of the ceremonies, playing Walt’s favorite song, Feed the Birds, to an adoring crowd. The rededication plaque was placed on the flowerbed in front of the statue and reads:
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, the statue “Partners” is dedicated as a tribute to the Dreams, Creativity and Vision of WALT DISNEY whose legacy reaches into a new century around the world here, “Where the Magic Began”.
– The Disneyland Cast
The second Partners was installed in the hub in front of Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle on June 19, 1995. This version of the statue features a more polished and pronounced bronze coloring, with gold highlights on Mickey. The dedication plaque reads:
“We believe in our idea: a family park where parents and children could have fun – together.”
– Walt Disney
Some may tell you that Walt is intentionally facing toward Epcot to show Mickey his future plans; Others may say that he’s directing his aim at his brother Roy’s statue down Main Street – but as you’ve read above, the sculptor’s intention was Walt telling Mickey to “look at all the happy people who have come to visit us today”.
If you didn’t know, Disney’s Japanese resort is actually owned and operated by The Oriental Land Company, who simply license the theme park rights from Disney. The third Partners statue was presented to the park as a gift from the Walt Disney Company in honor of Tokyo Disneyland’s 15th anniversary on April 15, 1998. Its plaque is inscribed in both English and Japanese and states:
Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse in Celebration of 15 Years of Sharing Happiness, Wonder and Inspiration, the cast of THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY presents this gift to TOKYO DISNEYLAND in Friendship and Appreciation”
The statue is located in front of Cinderella Castle, but on the opposite end of the hub, near the start of World Bazaar (their version of Main Street). The park’s original dedication plaque sits directly in front of the Partners one and reads:
To All Who Come To This Happy Place WELCOME.
Here you will discover enchanted lands of Fantasy and Adventure, Yesterday and Tomorrow. May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of Joy, Laughter, Inspiration and Imagination to the people of the world. And may this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America.
April 15 1983
E. Cardon Walker
Chairman of the Board
Walt Disney Productions
Partners number four was dedicated in honor of Walt Disney’s 100th birthday by the then CEO Michael D. Eisner and Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney. Even though the statue was dedicated on December 5, 2001, according to D23, it wasn’t installed in its current location on the Walt Disney Studios Burbank lot until a couple of years later, on February 10, 2003.
The statue here fittingly stands inside Disney Legends Plaza, surrounded by the handprints, sculpted busts, and signatures of fellow Disney Legends. It faces The Michael D. Eisner “Team Disney” Building, whose columns are notoriously made up of Seven Dwarfs – the idea being that success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was strong enough to help fund the construction of the Disney Studio in Burbank.
Its inscription reads:
Walt’s 100th. Walt Disney once said, “We should never forget that it was all started by a mouse.” But we at The Walt Disney Company know it was all started by a man. He was born 100 years ago today, but his legacy as a storyteller and entertainer lives on… it urges us all to continue to work… to make the magic fresh and new… for young and old, for generations to come.
While this version of Partners is the only one that you can get close enough to touch, it’s unfortunately closed to the public as it’s on the private property of a working office plaza – though tours can be arranged through Adventures by Disney, Disney Movie Insiders, and periodically through D23.
The fifth and final (though we suspect not the last) Partners statue stands in Disney Bros. Plaza, on the far side of Disney Studio 1 in The Walt Disney Studios Park in Disneyland Paris. The area was actually meant to have a statue of Charlie Chaplin, but for some reason, Walt & Mickey took its place (we suspect due to some sort of licensing or trademark issue).
Likely due to the last-minute switch, the statue wasn’t officially installed until July 19, 2002, about three months after the park opened.
The park’s dedication plaque, signed by then CEO Michael Eisner is located at the foot of the statue and reads:
“To all who enter this studio of dreams… welcome. Walt Disney Studios is dedicated to our timeless fascination and affection for cinema and television. Here we celebrate the art and the artistry of storytellers from Europe and around the world who create the magic. May this special place stir our own memories of the past, and our dreams of the future.”
The infamous statue of Walt and Mickey looking optimism is a reminder about the values that both the man and mouse represent. In turn, it’s inspired much more than Walt or Blaine could ever have imagined.
Sharing the Magic
Partners wasn’t the last statue that Blaine Gibson lent his hands to. In 1999, he once again came out of retirement to work on another Disney tribute, this time to Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney. The statue, title “Sharing the Magic”, made its debut in Magic Kingdom’s Town Square on October 1, 1999, the 28th anniversary of Walt Disney World’s opening and the kickoff to the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration. The statue depicts Roy sitting on a bench next to Minnie Mouse, hand-in-hand – fittingly so as the Millenium Celebration’s theme song was entitled “Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand”. The statue was dedicated later that month on October 25th.
Inspired by a photograph of Roy surrounded by Disney characters, and with the assistance of both Rick Terry and Peter Carsillo (who worked mainly on the Minnie portion), Gibson worked to capture the essence of Roy, who is holding Minnie’s hand underneath hers, as if supporting it, “just like he always supported Walt’s dreams. Roy was very underrated.” according to the Gibson.
Duplicates of Sharing the Magic exist in both the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank (installed on February 10, 2003, within view of Partners – you can see it on the right side of the photo in the section above) and in World Bazaar at Tokyo Disneyland (presented as a gift from The Walt Disney Company on April 15, 2008 – the resort’s 25th anniversary).
During Disney California Adventure’s billion-dollar overhaul, the entrance area was re-dubbed as Buena Vista Street and a brand new Walt statue made its debut. This time, a true-to-scale version of Walt was purposely installed at eye-level, a reminder of Walt’s humble beginnings. Imagineer Ray Spencer explains that “Walt Disney could have been you or I, or anybody at that time, out on the street.”
Similar to Partners, the statue called Storytellers, depicts Walt and Mickey. Unlike Partners, though, this tribute depicts an optimistic younger Walt next to a travel trunk with Mickey atop. It’s as if they had just stepped off the train in Hollywood in 1923 with a suitcase and a dream.
Blaine Gibson, now in his nineties, was no longer able to work on projects for the company. Instead, Disney enlisted one of his apprentices, Rick Terry and Imagineer Ray Spencer to undertake the project. Storytellers was unveiled on June 15, 2012, during Disney California Adventure’s grand re-dedication ceremony. The statue is flanked by two plaques, both containing quotes by Walt. To the right, “we are just getting started” and to the left, “It was July 1923. I packed all of my worldly goods – a pair of trousers, a checkered coat, a lot of drawing materials and the last of the fairy tale reels we had made – in a kind of frayed cardboard suitcase. And with that wonderful audacity of youth, I went to Hollywood, arriving there with just forty dollars. It was a big day the day I got on that Santa Fe California Limited. I was just free and happy!”
Subsequent copies of Storytellers were installed in two other Disney Parks around the world. The first in Tokyo DisneySea‘s entrance plaza, a gift from The Walt Disney Company on April 15, 2013, on the occasion of the resort’s 30th anniversary. The second one was unveiled with the opening of Shanghai Disneyland on June 16, 2016, located between Mickey Avenue and the Gardens of Imagination, in front of the Enchanted Storybook Castle. The park’s dedication plaque stands directly behind it.
Unnamed Dreamers Point Statue
A brand new Walt statue was announced during the 2019 D23 Expo. The currently unnamed statue will make its debut when Epcot’s Future World re-emerges as World Celebration in the next couple of years. The statue, to be located in an area called Dreamers Point, will depict Walt sitting on a series of steps surrounded beautiful gardens, an interactive fountain, and a “wishing tree”.
With the statue becoming a regular sight in the parks, came demand from fans to be able to take a piece of the magic home. Disney recognizes this with a number of ever-rotating official merchandise options featuring the iconic statue plastered onto phone cases, mugs, jewelry, and even Hallmark Christmas ornaments. Capturing the whimsical sculpt that we’re all so familiar with on such a small scale doesn’t always work out perfectly though, as evident by this creepy looking etched 3D crystal.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for through official channels, there’s always an endless supply of items on eBay as well as unauthorized, fan-made products available online (if you know where to look).
While Partners hasn’t penetrated pop culture quite as much as, say, Seinfeld, we do see its lingering influence. The main place we’ve seen this is in The Simpsons. Long before Disney purchased Fox, The Simpsons had been poking fun at all aspects of The Walt Disney Company in many different ways.
Most notably, at least for fans of the show, was the fourth episode of season 6, in which our favorite yellow-hued family visits their local theme park: Itchy & Scratchyland. While the episode seemed to be an overall parody of Disneyland, we do get many theme park references sprinkled in, including Jurassic Park and the original version of Westworld.
Towards the end of the episode, we get a brief glimpse of Itchy & Scratchyland’s version of the Partners statue. Instead of Walt and Mickey, it’s Itchy & Scratchy creator Roger Meyers Sr. standing proudly with his hand holding his mouse creation (Itchy) and his arm around the cat (Scratchy).
It appears that their statute stands on a similar pedestal, surrounded by flowers like most of the real Partners statues. According to the park map seen during the episode, the statue stands in front of a castle, somewhere between “Searing Gas Pain Land” and “Unnecessary Surgery Land”. Behind it, we see a mountain with a gondola-type ride through it – this is clearly a parody of Disneyland’s Matterhorn which did indeed have their Skyway attraction passing through it when this episode aired in 1994.
Nearly 20 years later, The Simpsons hit the road again to visit another theme park. In the tenth episode of season 26 titled “The Man Who Came to Be Dinner” we find the family on a day out to Dizneeland, “The Happiest Hell On Earth” (according to their welcome sign).
After (barely) clearing security, the gang gets their first glimpse of the park and see a familiar site…
Though a season two episode made it clear that Dizneeland is “Not affiliated with Disneyland, Disney World, or anything else from The Walt Disney Company”, this is pretty dang close. If that isn’t Walt and Mickey, then it’s a pretty good knockoff – D’OH!
Moving away from Springfield and into the video game realm, we find two more tributes to Partners.
First is in the 2010 video game called Epic Mickey that was developed by Disney Interactive Studios‘ now-defunct subsidiary, Junction Point Studios. The premise of the game is that Mickey Mouse gets stuck in an alternate universe called Wasteland, where forgotten Disney characters like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit live. At one point in the game, players encounter a twisted version of Partners, where Walt is being enveloped by the pedestal he’s standing on and Mickey has been replaced by Oswald.
The second example appears as an easter egg in another defunct game, 2015’s Disney Infinity 3.0. The game was developed by Disney Interactive Studios in partnership with Heavy Iron Studios as a “toys to life” game, allowing players to transport physical toy figurines into the virtual game world via a “portal” station. When players placed their MagicBands from Walt Disney World onto the portal, they could unlock the Partners statue into the game’s “Toy Box”.
The coolest part about this is the detail that we know this is the Walt Disney World version of Partners as its pedestal is the only one with a unique, irregular shape whereas all others are round or rectangular.
Our final stop in the realm of pop culture lands us in South Park, Colorado. The crude TV series gave us a treat with 2020’s The Pandemic Special episode, showing how the cartoon town is handling the COVID-19 crisis. We won’t go into details about the very non-Disney premise, but let’s just say that Mickey Mouse himself gets roped into the origins of the pandemic outbreak. Mickey is introduced into the episode with an establishing shot of the Disney Legends Plaza, complete with a fairly accurate depiction of Partners. In fact, the entire scene of the plaza is incredibly accurate to the real thing.
Partners will always hold a special place in our hearts not only because it represents the partnership that spurred one of our favorite companies and places to visit, but because seeing it reminds us to take time to reflect on the world around us with the ones we love. What’s your favorite part about this famous statue? Did we miss any other details that you think we should add? Let us know in the comments below or by sending us a note.
Take a look at the WanderDisney locations related to this blog post: