"The classic story of
mouse and man."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
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.
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 Oswalds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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, Disneys 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.
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
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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