Walter “Walt” Disney was the American entrepreneur.
His animation was well ahead of his time and his perfectionism gave the public the film portrayals of the classic stories widely known today.
The Disney Animation Company was established on October 16, 1923, by Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney.
After struggling for a few years, the company found success after the premiere of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a partnership cartoon with Universal Studios.
Disney lost the rights to Oswald after a disagreement with the company over a wish to reduce Disney’s compensation. Universal owned the rights to Oswald, so Disney was left with a studio with nothing to produce.
The loss of Oswald the Rabbit left Disney longing for a new character to replace him. His idea for Mickey Mouse was based off of a pet mouse he had adopted. He then had Ub Iwerks—his co-animator for Oswald—revise the sketches to create a character that would be easier to animate. Disney himself provided the voice for Mickey, bringing him to life.
Steamboat Willie (1929), the first animation to be accompanied by sound, marked the first appearance of Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mouse was then featured in a long-running series of shorts that brought much success to Disney; these were the Silly Symphonies we all know and love. Flowers and Trees was released in 1932 and was the first animation to feature technicolor, through the use of the primary colors on three strips of negatives.
As a result of this milestone, the episodes of Silly Symphonies that followed its production were released in technicolor.
These productions were merely steps for Disney’s career.
His real breakthrough came with Snow White, released in 1937. It was the first feature length animated picture, produced in full color and with full hearts.
Disney worked tirelessly on this project, with his animators drawing a total of two million sketches and paintings for the film.
The animation studio filmed live action scenes and based their drawings on those, to create realistic and fluid motion. Their hard work did not go unnoticed; Snow White would become the highest grossing Disney film in history, when adjusted for inflation.
Walt Disney’s success was due, in part, to his ability to alter his style with the times. World War II was a time of great tension and anxiety for the United States. Animation was not in the minds of the people, yet Disney was still able to keep his company afloat by producing war propaganda films.
In the 1950s, Disney was discontent with the theme parks of the era. After visiting the local fair with his daughter, Disney envisioned a theme park where his employees could bring their children. He planned to build the park across the street from the studio.
Disneyland was opened on July 17, 1955, and became the first of many Disney parks across the globe.
At the grand opening, Disney said, “To all who come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”
When Disney passed away in 1966, the company fell into an economic and creative rut. The release of The Little Mermaid in 1989 renewed the company and thus marked what is known as the “Disney Renaissance.”
The Disney Company has since entered a new age of superior animation beginning with the adoption of Pixar.
Pixar revitalized the look of animation through the use of computer-generated graphics as opposed to hand-drawn ones. Animation now appeared more realistic as characters could be 3-D. This new technique was less difficult, less time consuming, and less expensive.
Walt Disney changed the world with a mouse: he not only created an extremely successful company, he crafted a legacy that resonated with generations of children in the United States and beyond.
We all remember watching Snow White and Pinocchio, and some of the sweetest childhood memories we have are of Main Street U.S.A.
It can only be described in the words of Disney himself, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”