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"The classic story of mouse and man."

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WALT DISNEY

Walt Disney arrived in California in the summer of 1923 with a lot of hopes but little else. He had made a cartoon in Kansas City about a little girl in a cartoon world, called Alice's Wonderland, and he decided that he could use it as his "pilot" film to sell a series of these Alice Comedies to a distributor. Soon after arriving in California, he was successful. A distributor in New York, M. J. Winkler, contracted to distribute the Alice Comedies on October 16, 1923, and this date became the start of the Disney company.

Originally known as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, with Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, as equal partners, the company soon changed its name, at Roy's suggestion, to the Walt Disney Studio.

Walt Disney made his Alice Comedies for four years, but in 1927, he decided to move instead to an all-cartoon series. To star in this new series, he created a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Within a year, Walt made 26 of these Oswald cartoons, but when he tried to get some additional money from his distributor for a second year of the cartoons, he found out that the distributor had gone behind his back and signed up almost all of his animators, hoping to make the Oswald cartoons in his own studio for less money without Walt Disney. On rereading his contract, Walt realized that he did not own the rights to Oswald - the distributor did. It was a painful lesson for the young cartoon producer to learn. From then on, he saw to it that he owned everything that he made.

Having lost most of his animation staff, Disney, Iwerks, and the few non-defecting animators secretly began work on a new mouse character to take Oswald’s place. The defectors became the nucleus of the Winkler Studio, run by Mintz and his brother-in-law George Winkler. When that studio went under after Universal assigned production of the Oswald shorts to an in-house division run by Walter Lantz, Mintz focused his attentions on the studio making the Krazy Kat shorts, which later became Screen Gems, and Harman, Ising, Maxwell, and Freleng marketed a Oswald-like character named Bosko to Leon Schlesinger and Warner Bros., and began work on the first entries in the Looney Tunes series.

The original Disney Studio had been in the back half of a real estate office on Kingswell Avenue in Hollywood, but soon Walt had enough money to move next door and rent a whole store for his studio. That small studio was sufficient for a couple of years, but the company eventually outgrew it and Walt had to look elsewhere. He found an ideal piece of property on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood, built a studio, and in 1926 moved his staff to the new facility. It was at the Hyperion Studio, after the loss of Oswald, that Walt had to come up with a new character, and that character was Mickey Mouse.

With his chief animator, Ub Iwerks, Walt designed the famous mouse and gave him a personality that endeared him to all. Ub animated two Mickey Mouse cartoons, but Walt was unable to sell them because they were silent films, and sound was revolutionizing the movie industry. So, they made a third Mickey Mouse cartoon, this time with fully synchronized sound, and Steamboat Willie opened to rave reviews at the Colony Theater in New York November 18, 1928. A cartoon star, Mickey Mouse, was born. The new character was immediately popular, and a lengthy series of Mickey Mouse cartoons followed.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Walt Disney soon produced another series - the Silly Symphonies - to go with the Mickey series. It featured different casts of characters in each film and enabled the animators to experiment with stories that relied less on the gags and quick humor of the Mickey cartoons and more on mood, emotion, and musical themes. Eventually the Silly Symphonies turned into the training ground for all Disney artists as they prepared for the advent of animated feature films.

Flowers and Trees, a Silly Symphony and the first full - color cartoon, won the Academy Award for Best Cartoon for 1932, the first year that the Academy offered such a category. For the rest of that decade, a Disney cartoon won the Oscar every year.

While the cartoons were gaining popularity in movie houses, the Disney staff found that merchandising the characters was an additional source of revenue. A man in New York offered Walt $300 for the license to put Mickey Mouse on some pencil tablets he was manufacturing. Walt Disney needed the $300, so he said okay. That was the start of Disney merchandising. Soon there were Mickey Mouse dolls, dishes, toothbrushes, radios, figurines - almost everything you could think of bore Mickey's likeness. The first Mickey Mouse book was published in 1930, as was the first Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip.

In 1934, Walt Disney informed his animators one night that they were going to make an animated feature film, and then he told them the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There were some skeptics in the group, but before long everyone had caught Walt's enthusiasm, and work began in earnest. It took three years, but at Christmas time, 1937, the film was finished, and it was a spectacular hit. Snow White soon became the highest grossing film of all time, a record it held until it was surpassed by Gone With the Wind. Now Walt Disney's studio was on a firmer footing. The short cartoons paid the bills, but Walt knew that future profits would come from feature films. Work immediately began on other feature projects, but just as things were looking rosy, along came World War II. The next two features, Pinocchio and Fantasia, were released in 1940. They were technical masterpieces, but their costs were too high for a company losing most of its foreign markets because of the war. Dumbo was made in 1941 on a very limited budget, but Bambi, in 1942, was another expensive film, and caused the studio to retrench. It would be many years before animated features of the highest caliber could be put into production.

During the war, Walt Disney made two films in South America, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, at the request of the State Department. His studio concentrated on making propaganda and training films for the military. When the war ended, it was difficult for the Disney Studio to regain its pre-war footing. Several years went by with the release of "package" features-films such as Make Mine Music and Melody Time, containing groups of short cartoons packaged together. Walt also moved into live action production with Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart, but because audiences expected animation from Walt Disney, these films included animated segments. Walt opened some new doors by beginning the award-winning True-Life Adventure series featuring nature photography of a style never seen before.

1950 saw big successes at Disney - the first completely live action film, Treasure Island, the return to classic animated features with Cinderella and the first Disney television show at Christmas time. The company was moving forward again. After two Christmas specials, Walt Disney went onto television in a big way in 1954 with the beginning of the Disneyland anthology series. This series eventually would run on all three networks - and go through six title changes, but it remained on the air for 29 years, making it the longest-running prime-time television series ever. The Mickey Mouse Club, one of television's most popular children's series, debuted in 1955 - and made stars of a group of talented Mouseketeers.

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Disney was never satisfied with what he had already accomplished. As his motion pictures and television programs became successful, he felt a desire to branch out. One area that intrigued him was amusement parks. As a father, he had taken his two young daughters to zoos, carnivals, and other entertainment enterprises, but he always ended up sitting on the bench as they rode the merry-go-round and had all the fun. He felt that there should be a park where parents and children could go and have a good time together. This was the genesis of Disneyland. After several years of planning and construction, the new park opened July 17, 1955.

Disneyland was a totally new kind of park. Observers coined the term "theme park," but even that does not seem to do Disneyland justice. It has been used as a pattern for every amusement park built since its opening, becoming internationally famous, and attracting hundreds of millions of visitors. Walt said that Disneyland would never be completed as long as there was imagination left in the world, and that statement remains true today. New attractions are added regularly, and Disneyland still is as popular as it was in 1955.

The 1950s saw the release of the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the first in a series of wacky comedies The Shaggy Dog, and a popular TV series about the legendary hero, Zorro. In the 1960s came Audio - Animatronics, pioneered with the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and then four shows at the 1964 New York World's Fair, and Mary Poppins, perhaps the culmination of all Walt Disney had learned during his long movie - making career. But the '60s also brought the end of an era.

Walt Disney was a chain smoker his entire adult life, although he made sure he was not seen smoking around children. In 1966, doctors discovered a tumor in his left lung. Five days later a biopsy showed the tumor to be malignant and to have spread throughout the entire left lung. After removing the lung on November 11, the surgeons informed Disney that his life expectancy was six months to two years. On December 15, 1966, five weeks after his surgery and ten days after his 65th birthday, at 9:30 a.m., Disney died of acute circulatory collapse, caused by lung cancer. The last thing he reportedly wrote before his death was the name of actor Kurt Russell, the significance of which remains a mystery, even to Russell.

A long-standing urban legend maintains that Disney was cryonically frozen, and his frozen corpse stored beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, but Disney's remains were cremated on December 17, 1966, and his ashes interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. The first known human cryonic freezing was in January 1967, more than a month after Disney's death. The urban legend remains, though later reported by a "Disney publicist", the source of the rumor was a group of Disney Studio animators with "a bizarre sense of humor" who were playing a final prank on their late boss.

Other rumors persisted and circulated after his death. Disney was long rumored to be antisemitic during his lifetime. However, in 2006 Disney biographer Neal Gabler, the first writer to gain unrestricted access to the Disney archives, concluded that available evidence did not support accusations of antisemitism. Disney got the reputation because, in the 1940s, he got himself allied with a group called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, which was an anti-Communist and antisemitic organization. He willingly allied himself with people who were antisemitic, and that reputation stuck and was never really able to expunge it throughout his life. Disney eventually distanced himself from the Motion Picture Alliance in the 1950s.

Disney was also rumored to be a racist. According to Gabler, although he was not, he would however occasionally make racially insensitive remarks that were commonly used by white Americans at the time and like many Hollywood film and cartoon producers during this era, Disney had engaged in racial stereotyping, and Disney cartoons of the period sometimes displayed racially insensitive material. The controversy developed in later years because of changing attitudes and certainly none of this material would be accepted by the public today and remains permanently in the Disney vault. Despite the times, there is no evidence that Disney expressed any hatred or bigotry against any racial group, publicly or privately, and he hired employees of all racial backgrounds, religions, and nationalities throughout his career. He also thoroughly enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, a film dealing with racial justice, claiming "That's the kind of film I wish I could make."

Plans that Walt left behind carried the company for a number of years under the supervision of Roy Disney. The Jungle Book in 1967 and The Aristocats in 1970 showed that the company could still make animated classics, and The Love Bug in 1969 was the highest grossing film of the year. Disney got into educational films and materials in a big way with the start of an educational subsidiary in 1969.

After the success of Disneyland, it was only natural for Walt to consider another park on the East Coast. Prior to his death the company purchased land in Florida, and the Walt Disney World project, located on some 28,000 acres near Orlando, was announced. It opened October 1, 1971. In Florida, the company had the space it lacked in California. Finally there was room to create a destination resort, unencumbered by the urban sprawl that had grown up around Disneyland. Walt Disney World would include not only a Magic Kingdom theme park like Disneyland but also hotels, campgrounds, golf courses, and shopping villages. It did not take long for Walt Disney World to become the premier vacation destination in the world.

Roy O. Disney, who after Walt's death oversaw the building and financing of Walt Disney World, died late in 1971, and for the next decade the company was led by a team including Card Walker, Donn Tatum, and Ron Miller - all originally trained by the Disney brothers. One of Walt Disney's last plans had been for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT, as he called it. While he died before the plans could be refined, they were brought out again in a few years, and in 1979 ground was broken for the new park in Florida. Epcot Center, a combination of Future World and World Showcase representing an investment of over a billion dollars, opened to great acclaim October 1, 1982.

WED Enterprises (later renamed Walt Disney Imagineering), the design and development division for the parks, had several projects in the works during the early 1980s. In addition to designing Epcot, it was hard at work on plans for Tokyo Disneyland, the first foreign Disney park. Tokyo Disneyland opened April 15, 1983, and was an immediate success in a country that had always loved anything Disney. Now that the Japanese had their own Disneyland, they flocked to it in increasing numbers.

Filmmaking hit new heights in 1988 as Disney for the first time led Hollywood studios in box-office gross. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Good Morning, Vietnam, Three Men and a Baby, and later, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Dick Tracy, Pretty Woman, and Sister Act passed the $100 million milestone. Disney moved into new areas by starting Hollywood Pictures, and acquiring the Wrather Corp. (owner of the Disneyland Hotel) and television station KHJ (Los Angeles), which was renamed KCAL. In merchandising, Disney purchased Childcraft and opened over 200 highly successful and profitable Disney Stores.

Disney animation began reaching even greater audiences, with The Little Mermaid being topped by Beauty and the Beast which was in turn topped by Aladdin (1992). Hollywood Records was formed to offer a wide selection of recordings ranging from rap to movie soundtracks. New television shows, such as Live With Regis and Kathy Lee, Empty Nest, Dinosaurs, and Home Improvement, expanded Disney's television base. For the first time, Disney moved into publishing, forming Hyperion Books, Hyperion Books for Children, and Disney Press, which released books on Disney and non-Disney subjects. In 1991, Disney purchased Discover magazine, the leading consumer science monthly. As a totally new venture, Disney was awarded in 1993 the franchise for a National Hockey League team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The Disney success with animated films continued in 1994 with The Lion King, which soon became one of the highest-grossing films of all-time. It was followed by Pocahontas in 1995 and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996. Toy Story pioneered computer-animation techniques. Disney also continued its strong presence in children's animated programs for television, with Aladdin and Gargoyles receiving high ratings.

Over in France, the park, now known as Disneyland Paris opened on April 12, 1992. Eagerly anticipated, the beautifully designed park attracted almost 11 million visitors during its first year. Disneyland Paris is complemented by six uniquely designed resort hotels and a campground. Dixie Landings and Port Orleans, and a well-received Disney Vacation Club enlarged lodging possibilities at the Walt Disney World Resort, and Mickey's Toontown helped increase attendance at Disneyland after its 1993 debut. Walt Disney World opened the All-Star Resorts, Wilderness Lodge, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Blizzard Beach, and redesigned Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom, and at Disneyland, the opening of the Indiana Jones Adventure increased the number of visitors.

Early in 1996, Disney completed its acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC. The $19 billion transaction, second-largest in U.S. history, brings the country's top television network to Disney, in addition to 10 TV stations, 21 radio stations, seven daily newspapers, and ownership positions in four cable networks. Among the many television programs produced by Disney's Buena Vista Television was ABC-TV's Home Improvement with Tim Allen whose relationship with Disney includes Toy Story (made with Pixar) and the Santa Clause franchise.

When production for the film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was first announced in early 2002, movie fans and critics were skeptical of its chances of being a success; the concept of Disney basing a movie upon one of its own theme-park rides seemed to many a crass marketing ploy. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Pirates became the first Walt Disney Pictures release to earn a PG-13 rating by the MPAA (all previous WDP releases were rated G or PG). The action-adventure/comedy set in the Caribbean during the early 1700s stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and grossed more than $653 million worldwide. The original film and it's sequels have proven to be to a successful franchise for Walt Disney Pictures.

Pixar was a high-end computer hardware company whose core product was the Pixar Image Computer, a system primarily sold to government agencies and the medical community. One of the buyers of Pixar Image Computers was Walt Disney Studios, which was using the device as part of their secretive CAPS project, using the machine and custom software (written by Pixar) to migrate the laborious ink and paint part of the 2-D animation process to a more automated and thus efficient method. The Image Computer never sold well. In a bid to drive sales of the system, Pixar employee John Lasseter - who had long been creating short demonstration animations, such as Luxo Jr., to show off the device's capabilities - premiered his creations at SIGGRAPH, the computer graphics industry's largest convention, to great fanfare.
 
As poor sales of Pixar's computers threatened to put the company out of business, Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, invested more and more money and took more and more ownership away from the management and employees until after several years he owned essentially all the company for a total investment of $50 million. Lasseter's animation department began producing computer-animated commercials for outside companies. In April 1990 Pixar sold its hardware division, including all proprietary hardware technology and imaging software, to Vicom Systems and continued its successful relationship with Walt Disney Feature Animation, a studio whose corporate parent would ultimately become its most important partner. In 1991, after a tough start of the year when about 30 employees in the company's computer department had to go Pixar made a $26 million deal with Disney to produce three computer-animated feature films, the first of which was Toy Story.

Even as late as 1994, Jobs contemplated selling Pixar to other companies, among them Microsoft. Only after learning from New York critics that Toy Story was probably going to be a success and confirming that Disney would distribute it for the 1995 Christmas season did he decide to give Pixar another chance. Toy Story went on to gross more than $361 million worldwide.

Pixar and Disney had disagreements after the production of Toy Story 2. Originally intended as a straight-to-video release (and thus not part of Pixar's three-picture deal), the film was eventually upgraded to a theatrical release during production. Pixar demanded that the film then be counted toward the three-picture agreement, but Disney refused. Though profitable for both, Pixar later complained that the arrangement was not equitable. Pixar was responsible for creation and production, while Disney handled marketing and distribution. Profits and production costs were split 50-50, but Disney exclusively owned all story and sequel rights and also collected a distribution fee. The lack of story and sequel rights was perhaps the most onerous aspect to Pixar and set the stage for a contentious relationship.
 
The two companies attempted to reach a new agreement in early 2004. Pixar demanded control over films already in production under their old agreement, including The Incredibles and Cars. Disney considered these conditions unacceptable, but Pixar would not concede. Disagreements between Steve Jobs and then Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner made the negotiations more difficult than they otherwise might have been. They broke down completely in mid-2004, with Jobs declaring that Pixar was actively seeking partners other than Disney. Pixar did not enter negotiations with other distributors. After a lengthy hiatus, negotiations between the two companies resumed following the departure of Eisner from Disney in September 2005.

In 2006, Disney acquired Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney’s pre-Mickey silent animation star. Aware that Disney's relationship with Pixar was wearing thin, new President and CEO Robert Iger began negotiations with leadership of Pixar Animation Studios, Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull, regarding possible merger. On January 23, 2006, it was announced that Disney would purchase Pixar in an all-stock transaction worth $7.4 billion. The deal was finalized on May 5; and among noteworthy results was the transition of Pixar's CEO and 50.1% shareholder, Steve Jobs, becoming Disney's largest individual shareholder at 7% and a member of Disney's Board of Directors. Ed Catmull took over as President of Pixar Animation Studios. Former Executive Vice-President of Pixar, John Lasseter, became Chief Creative Officer of both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, as well assuming the role of Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering.

Traditional hand-drawn animation, with which Walt Disney started his company, was, for a time, no longer produced at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. After a stream of financially unsuccessful traditionally-animated features in the early 2000s, the two satellite studios in Paris and Orlando were closed, and the main studio in Burbank was converted to a computer animation production facility. In 2004 Disney announced their final "traditionally animated" feature film, would be Home on the Range. But with the acquisition of Pixar, and the resulting rise of John Lasseter to Chief Creative Officer, that position has changed, and the 2009 film The Princess and the Frog will mark Disney's return to traditional hand-drawn animation.
 
After a long time working in the company as a senior executive and large shareholder, Director Emeritus Roy E. Disney (son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney) died from stomach cancer on December 16, 2009. At the time of his death, he owned roughly 1% of all of Disney which amounted to 16 million shares. He is seen to be the last member of the Disney family to be actively involved in the running of the company and working in the company altogether.

On August 31, 2009, Disney announced a deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment, Inc. for $4.24 billion. The deal was finalized on December 31, 2009 in which Disney acquired full ownership on the company. Disney has stated that their acquisition of Marvel Entertainment will not affect Marvel's products, neither will the nature of any Marvel characters be transformed.
 
In April 2011, Disney broke ground on Shanghai Disney Resort. Costing $4.4 billion, the resort is slated to open in 2015. Later, in August 2011, Bob Iger stated on a conference call that after the success of the Pixar and Marvel purchases, he and the Walt Disney Company are looking to "buy either new characters or businesses that are capable of creating great characters and great stories." Later, in early February 2012, Disney completed its acquisition of UTV Software Communications, expanding their market further into India and Asia.
 
On October 30, 2012, Disney announced plans to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion with plans to release Star Wars Episode VII in 2015. On December 4, 2012, the Disney-Lucasfilm merger was approved by the Federal Trade Commission, allowing the acquisition to be finalized without dealing with antitrust problems. On December 21, 2012, the deal was completed, and Lucasfilm became a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney.

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