Walt Disney is such an enormous figure in Hollywood and such an important person in the world of animation that it would be impossible to do justice to his legacy with one blog. I am convinced he is the most creative filmmaker in the world and nearly every one of his quotes is observant and intelligent. He has also accomplished more in his career and has conquered more mediums than any other producer.
It is a challenge to talk about him because he has already been covered by everyone else countless times before. Many of my closest followers on social media are film fans (my people!) and are well-versed in Disney’s life. Therefore I will do my best to mix fact with personal opinion just to keep it original. Throughout these chronicles I will highlight the important moments in the Disney studio’s history, each blog separated by decade, and by the end I will reveal why I think this studio is still the number one studio in Hollywood.
Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago but he moved to Kansas City, Missouri when he was ten. He got introduced to cartooning when people paid him to draw things for them, but he eventually started drawing just for fun. He loved drawing so much that he copied the cartoons from the newspapers.
His friends introduced him to Vaudeville, helping shape his sense of crowdpleasing entertainment. His father made him wake up at 4:30 am to deliver the paper for six years (makes my childhood seem lazy) helping shape his work ethic, and his fascination with trains can even be traced back to his childhood because he lived right next to the train track.
He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, taking night courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He was the cartoonist at his high school newspaper drawing patriotic pictures about the war. When he enlisted in 1918, he was even the cartoonist for the army’s newspaper.
When he returned to Kansas City in 1919, he drew advertisements for commercial art studios. He eventually started his own studio with his financially savvy brother Roy O. Disney and studied animation by borrowing books on the subject. Newman Theater hired Disney to make Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams. Most of these were unoriginal and uninspired fairy tale cartoons, but the Laugh-O-Grams were popular enough that Disney could start his own studio. He worked with fellow Kansas artists Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudolph Ising and Friz Freleng.
Disney made the Alice in Cartoonland comedies for film producer Margaret J. Winkler, the woman who had previously helped distribute Felix the Cat and Max and Dave Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series. She eventually sold the Alice comedies to her husband Charles Mintz but Mintz wanted to cut down the cost on the expensive live-action/animation hybrid Alice shorts so he asked Disney to create an animated star instead.
Disney created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for Universal to great success. Oswald was so successful that Disney felt confident about asking his boss Charles Mintz for a raise, but instead Mintz offered Walt less money. Walt thought it would be impossible to make the cartoons for such a cheap price, but Mintz had already secretly hired away his animators (except Ub Iwerks who was faithful to Walt) and planned on making Oswald cartoons without Walt if he rejected the offer.
In one of the biggest backstabs in film history, Mintz had taken Walt’s animators, his character and his job at the same time. This led to Walt retaining the rights to all of his future creations, a decision that helped make the Disney studio one of the richest studios in the world.
Disney once again doesn’t give up and creates another cartoon character. He ends up being called Mickey Mouse. His first two cartoons Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gauchos are no more interesting than the average cartoon animal comedy and fail to find a distributor, but when Walt comes up with the idea for Steamboat Willie and hires Carl Stalling (future Looney Tunes composer) to create the soundtrack for the film, it not only scores a distribution deal – it is such a hit with audiences that Mickey Mouse becomes a star in a matter of weeks. The cartoon got laughs and cheers and put Walt Disney on the map.
In the mid-1920s, the public was starting to grow tired of cartoons because they were no longer doing anything new, so it can be argued that Mickey Mouse may have saved more than just Disney’s career.