Walt Disney

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Walt Elias Disney (1901-66), animated film producer and creator of the world's first theme park, Disneyland. Walt Disney was born in Chicago but moved with his family to Kansas at age nine. He received some education at the Kansas City Art Institute. He left however at age sixteen to be a volunteer ambulance driver in World War I.

Walt started his career as a film maker working for Warner Brothers Studios. 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 Mouse. Apparently the whistle blowed "A moooouse! A mooouse!" It seems likely that 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. And 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 Mouse. Mickey's first cartoon was Plane Crazy, in a story inspired by Charles Lindberg. The best-remembered today, however, was the first "talkie" cartoon, Steamboat Willie.

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 Iwerks to leave Walt and work for him. Ub Iwerks 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. While Ub Iwerks' contribution may be overlooked by most people, 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 lucrative. Starting out with Mickey Mouse pencils and then expanding into watches, comics 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 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. The title song, composed by Disney animator Frank Thomas, was a huge popular hit, subsequently covered by other artists like Benny Goodman.

Snow White, released in (when?), was Disney's and the world's first feature-length animated film. But Walt got the money that he needed, completed the film, and a string of Disney classics such as Fantasia and Pinocchio followed. Not all were commercial successes, and Disney's financial situation was at times threadbare.

During World War II, Disney's studios became part of America's war machine, producing animated training films on many different topics.

After the war, the unfavourable economics of concentrating exclusively on animated movies finally caught up with Disney and his company, as they diversified into television and live-action movies, still retaining their family-friendly nature. Notable amongst these included the television show "The Mickey Mouse Club" which continues today as "The Mouseketeers" (Britney Spears was a Mouseketeer in the 1990s).

The story behind Disney's next innovation, Disneyland, has been that Walt took his daughters to a carnival and wished 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 actually thought of it when he saw people's faces light up when they saw the magic of a motion picture company. 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. Walt 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 supposedly doomed to fail. And the first day of the park's operation, with the asphalt still soft and insufficient bathrooms, has historically been considered a disaster. But Disneyland was the world's first theme park and an enormous success. And it is impossible to think of any amusement park today without comparing it (unfavorably) to the Magic Kingdom.

Today the attractions 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 Tinkerbell. 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. Much of what makes Disneyland a special place comes from 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 masquerade 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. Epcot's vision of the future turned out, like most 1950s futurism, to be wildly inaccurate, but in the 1990s a small experimental residential community finally moved in, with interesting if not entirely successful results.

Disney's organisation still dominates the world of animated feature films (at least in the English-speaking world) and his theme parks are known around the world. However, librarians oppose the Walt Disney Company's manipulation of the world's major legislative bodies into passing repeated retroactive copyright term extensions.


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