Walt said that the studio needed a fairy tale feature again. The studio hadn’t had a hit in a long time and they needed one, because the ’40s weren’t a very creative period and therefore not a very profitable one, but Walt knew that if they made a movie about someone who audiences could empathize with, the company could get back on track. Disney was actually in so much financial trouble that the future of the company rested on the shoulders of their next animated film, which was the 1950 feature Cinderella. The film was as much of a gamble as Snow White but like that movie, people absolutely loved Cinderella and it single-handedly saved the studio (For those interested in the numbers, it cost $2 million and made $8 million at the box office).
Although Walt was involved in the story meetings, he was devoting more of his attention to the studio’s first live-action feature Treasure Island, which was shot in Britain and also came out in 1950. The studio would be successful in this arena as well and continue to release live-action films along with its animated films. The ones in the fifties mostly had western and patriotic themes – it wasn’t until the sixties that Disney started focusing primarily on making comedies.
The two most significant evolutions of the Disney company since the release of Snow White happened in the fifties. One was the creation of Disneyland, a theme park Walt had considered building for several years, and the other was television.
Disney had earlier success with television in 1950 with a special that aired on ABC about the making of Disney’s forthcoming animated feature Alice in Wonderland, and in 1954, ABC, a Disney shareholder who helped finance Disneyland, began airing an anthology series hosted by Walt Disney also called Disneyland that broadcasted various cartoons and features from the Disney library. The show was successful and has since become an institution as well as many people’s personal introduction to Walt himself. The show has lasted several decades under differing names, including Walt Disney Presents, Walt Disney‘s Wonderful World of Color and The Wonderful World of Disney. The success of the series has lead to the variety show The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955 (another huge success), and Disney characters like Davy Crockett and Ludwig Von Drake actually originated from these TV anthologies.
Of course, Walt wanted to keep creating animated films as well, but he started focusing less on their development in the fifties, entrusting those duties to his key animators. The animated features which came out at this time were Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955) and Sleeping Beauty (1959).
These films were all entertaining but Sleeping Beauty was by far the most ambitious (They began writing it in 1951, right after Cinderella became a hit). The film was stylized, expensive and gorgeous but when it came out it got mixed reviews from people who thought it felt too much like Snow White, and it actually lost money. I have to admit, Sleeping Beauty took a while to win me over but the older I got, the more I liked it when I revisited it. Now I’m a fan of Sleeping Beauty and so are millions of others who now regard it as a classic. Sometimes it takes time for people to appreciate certain films.
After the bleak events of the forties, the fifties gave Disney new life and it seemed like every new thing the company tried was successful. No more talk about the end of Disney. The company was dominating America and entering a new phase in its life.