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Walt_Disney

Walt Disney's contributions to the development of film and family entertainment in general would be hard to measure.

Walt started his career as a film maker working for Warner Brothers.  He had just returned to the United States after serving as an ambulance driver in World War I.  At Warner Brothers he created the successful character of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Walt persuaded his collaborator, Ub Iwerks, to leave Warner Brothers with him so they could create Oswald Cartoons on their own.  Warner Brothers sued him for copyright infringement which is what prompted him to create Mickey Mouse.

One of the more famous Disney quotes has been, "Remember, it all started with a mouse."  But it more likely started with the Rabbit.  Walt claimed that it was the blowing of a trains whistle that inspired him to create Mickey.  Apparently the whistle blowed "A moooouse!  A mooouse!"  Probably, Mickey evolved from a more pragmatic conversation between Disney and Iwerks.  Mickey in fact was little more than a truncation of Oswald, round ears instead of long ones, and so forth.  It has also been said that the name Mickey came from Walt's wife Lillian who disapproved of Walt's choice of Mortimer.  A tall, strapping Mortimer would appear later in a Disney cartoon attempting to woo Minnie away from Mickey.

Walt had already been an innovator.  He made a series of Roger Rabbit style cartoons called the Alice in Wonderland Comedies in which a live action little girl interacted with animated characters.  He continued this inventive film making with Mickey. Mickey's first cartoon was Plane Crazy, in a story inspired by Lindberg.  But his next cartoon (and the first one Walt distributed) would be one that people discuss today, Steamboat Willie.  Al Jolsen had already come out in the Jazz Singer, the first sound motion picture.  Mickey Mouse now appeared in the first sound cartoon.  

Walt found out that his distributor was stealing from him, so he broke away from him and eventually distributed his films with his own distribution company Buena Vista.  But Walt's distributor persuaded Ub Iverks to leave Walt and work for him.  Ub Iverks owned one third of the Walt Disney Studios.  He eventually returned to Walt and worked for him in R & D creating such historic inventons as the multi-plane camera which created three dimensional backgrounds in animated films.  But his choice back then to leave the studio and sacrafice his percentage of the company cost him countless millions of dollars.  But Ub Iwerks' contribution may be overlooked by most people, but among Disney historians his name is as well known as any Disney character.

Walt not only innovated with film technology, he innovated in business as well.  Mickey's films were successful, but it was in merchandising the studio became truly successful.  Starting out with Mickey Mouse pencils and then expanding into watches and toys, the Mouse created a true financial empire.  

Walt had always wanted to be a film maker, and his idea of making the feature length films must have been at the front of his mind from the beginning.  The origins of those films can be found in Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies.  Clever and masterful, these short cartoons were not silly at all.  Flowers and Trees, the first color cartoon, had been one of the Silly Symphonies.

The shorts also had success with their musical scores.  The Three Little Pigs may be a well known cartoon today.  But it was so successful when it was in theaters that it was actually billed above the features.  And the song Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf was a phenomenally successful hit that was covered by other artists like Benny Goodman.  This song, by the way, was actually composed one of Disney's animators, Frank Thomas.  But it was the story that hooked people.  The Three Little Pigs was released during the Depression.  As people saw the wolf blowing away the pigs' homes, and the pigs banding together to defeat the him, they identified with the film's themes of resourcesfulness and togetherness.  The pigs losing their homes to the enemy, then cleverly overcoming him inspired the audiences and made the cartoon one of Walt's most successful films.

It was with Snow White that Walt truly established himself.  A ninety minute cartoon back then was a questionable notion to many people.  To acquire the funding to complete it, Walt had to show a rough cut of the motion picture to loan officers at the Bank of America.  But Walt got the money that he needed, completed the film, and a string of Disney classics such as Fantasia and Pinochio followed.

There might have been even more of these astonishing films if it hadn't been for World War II.  The Army occupied part of Walt's studio.  

To compensate for the dimished resources, Walt came out with movies like The Three Caballeros and Melody Time that were less complicated and relied upon short musical segments.  Learning from the lack of success he had with Fantasia, Walt used music from artists like Dinah Shore as opposed to Stravinsky.

Perhaps the most important Disney film from this time would be Victory Through Air Power.  To convince the Army to not take his entire studio, Walt had agreed to make training films.  In these, the Seven Dwarfs would demonstrate how to set up camps and so forth.  But Victory Through Air Power, in which an eagle defeats an octopus, was used by the military to explain the strategy behind D-day and was instrumental in that historic maneuver.

Walt said he envisioned Disneyland while taking his daughters to a carnival and wishing he had somewhere he could go where he had fun, too.  When we look at the design of the park, it might be considered that Walt thought of it when he saw people's faces light up when they saw the magic of a film studio.  The facades and costumes and even the language of the park (employees are cast members, employee-only areas are called back stage) are indistinguishable from those of a working studio.  He had first wanted the park to be a small area down the street from the studio.  But as the details came together he came to see a place much grander.

Like Snow White, the park was doomed to fail.  And the first day of the park's operation, with the asphault still soft and insufficient bathrooms, has historically been considered a disaster.  But Disneyland was the world's first theme park.  And it is impossible fo think of any amusement park today without comparing it (unfavorably) to the Magic Kingdom.

Today the rides at Disneyland, like the Indiana Jones Adventure, are thrill rides designed to attract a young audience.  And this is even more true of Disney's California Adventure.  It is hard to look at the Paradise Pier area of the California Adventure, and not think of that carnival that Walt had sworn he didn't want to build.  But back then, the rides were designed by cartoonists.  Many of them were created by Marc Davis, one of Walt's lead animators who is famous for such characters as Malificent and Tinker Bell.  Marc's sense of cleverness and story telling is what entralls us in such rides as the Pirates of the Carribean and the Haunted Mansion.  It is difficult to think of what makes Disneyland a special place without reflecting on the contribution of Marc Davis.

Many of the technological innovations that were the real magic of Disneyland came about through funding provided by corporations sponsoring the rides.  It may have been because of this opportunity that Walt considered building Epcot.  Not the World's Fair they have in Orlando today.  But a real experimental comunity.  

Under the mascarade of an organization called the Reedy Creek Development District, Walt bought up large areas of swamp land in Florida.  His idea was not to recreate the success of Anaheim in Orlando, but to create a real city with all of the imagination that he had in Disneyland.  The people would both work and live there.  And corporations would pay to have their newest ideas tested there.  New telephones.  New cars.  New ideas of commerce and urban design would be innovated and perfected in a real city.  This was in the mid sixties.  We will never know what Epcot would have discovered.

Walt opened Disneyland in 1955.  He had eleven years more to live bfore lung cancer would take him from us.  Back then, there was tobacco store on Main Street.  That store isn't there anymore.  Neither is Walt Disney.

From the first sound cartoon, first color cartoon, first feature length cartoon, to the first theme park, Walt had continued to assemble teams of creative people to help break down the barriers of what graphic arts could do.  His last great accomplishment would be the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which he launched while he was alive and which opened shortly after he passed away.  In the promotional footage he filmed while showing a model of the ride he smiles to a Disney ambassador and says, "Of course!  Anything is possible at Disneyland."

Just as the animatronic figures took the two dimensional world of cartoons and made them three dimensional, Walt had wanted to break out of the imaginary world and penetrate the real one.  Ronald Reagan had once asked Walt why he didn't go into politics.  And Walt said, "Because I'm already the monarch of the Magic Kingdom."