"He was a storyteller—a showman—a dreamer—a genius."Once Upon a Time
—Film critic Leonard Maltin, The Disney Films
, there was a boy who wanted to entertain people. He attempted various careers to find out how best to do that—acting, cartooning, filmmaking—until he decided to try and break into the new and expanding field of animation. Since cartoons were mainly a novelty at the time, he had little trouble absorbing all there was to be known about it, and then he began pushing the envelope. After several of his animators were recruited out from under him, and his mascot character
stolen away, it seemed all hope was lost for this aspiring animator.
Then he (or his pal, Ub Iwerks
, more likely) drew a rough draft of a little cartoon mouse
If you haven't already guessed at his identity, he was Walter Elias Disney
(December 5, 1901 — December 15, 1966).
Walt Disney's animation studio, Walt Disney Company
, which he founded with his brother Roy, became a pop culture phenomenon. Mickey Mouse became beloved by children everywhere during The Golden Age of Animation
, and soon after his Three Little Pigs
short met similar fame and success. Then, Disney decided that short cartoons weren't enough, considering the set fees for that format could not cover their big budgets enough for good profits, and that he would gamble on making a feature-length film. At the time, some scoffed at the plan, calling it "Disney's Folly" and saying the animation wunderkind had bitten off more than he could chew. They were quickly silenced when they saw the movie
(or, perhaps even more importantly, its profits
). Seventy years later, it is number 34 in the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Films list, and the only one to be animated.
After completely dominating the field of animation, and inspiring many new techniques in the field, Disney (a driven perfectionist who was never satisfied with any of his work) began to move in other directions — namely, television and theme parks. Again, he was ahead of his time in both fields, turning potential disasters into huge successes. His ultimate dream was never realized — a fully-functional city, where people could live and work, centered around an arts college, which his detractors have noted sounds disturbingly in the details like The Prisoner
's Village, or, more realistically, like an industrial paternalism project
. He died of lung cancer before EPCOT was finished, and without his guidance the plan soon became another theme park. However, thanks in part to his prescient foundation of the California Institute of the Arts which taught major film greats like Tim Burton
and John Lasseter
, his legacy lives on with the Walt Disney Corporation, one of the most powerful media enterprises in the world. The Disney studios are symbolized
by an image of Cinderella's/Sleeping Beauty's castle.
Walt Disney earned fifty-nine Academy Award nominations, and of those he won twenty-six, giving him more awards and nominations than any other individual.
There are numerous Urban Legends
. Rumors about Walt Disney being less friendly than many people would see him are common. He was rarely satisfied with the films his studio produced and was intensely critical of his employees (and perhaps justifiably afraid of unions, as he once had an entire animation staff sell him out to work with a competitor) but stories also abound of Walt's supposed racism, sexism and antisemitism, and supposedly he never actually drew anything, took credit for people's work, and was so extremely paranoid with the threat of communism he put innocent people in jail during the McCarthy Communist witch hunts. Many of these attitudes can be attributed to the time in which he lived - most of America at the time saw little problem mocking blacks, Jews, Native Americans, and women, and reporting suspected communists was actively encouraged by the government.
In truth Walt employed several Jewish and black animators, was close with his female employees, and devoted to his daughters. However, he didn't help his case with some of his actions - for instance, he was the only Hollywood figure prepared to meet Leni Riefenstahl, director of Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will
, when she visited Hollywood.
Perhaps the oddest Urban Legend
that after his death Walt's body was placed in a cryostasis chamber
under Pirates of the Caribbean
at Disneyland. (Everyone knows it's really just his head that was frozen in Cinderella's Castle at Disney World, of course. When it's not under Epcot.) The actual
truth is that he was cremated.
He is played by Tom Hanks
in the film Saving Mr. Banks
, about the production of Mary Poppins
In 1999, Time Magazine named him #24 on their list of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.
See Mr. Alt Disney
Tropes Related to Walt:
- Academy Award: He won two Honorary awards. One in 1931 for the invention of Mickey Mouse and one in 1938 for Snow White, which looked like this◊. Apart from that is Disney is also the person who won the most Academy Awards ever. For many years he won Oscars in the category "Best Animated Short", but he also received some for "Music" and "Special Effects". When he started making live-action films and documentaries he also won a few in those fields.
- Adaptation Overdosed: Disney has lent his name to animated cartoons, films, comic strips, theme parks, TV series,...
- Alter Ego Acting: Disney had a soft spot for Mickey Mouse, the character to whom he owned his success. He voiced him for many years and once said: "I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman."
- Book Ends: Walt's first and last works in any subject tend to match up surprisingly well.
- The very first Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie begins with Mickey entering the scene on a steamboat. Walt's last Mickey short The Simple Things ends with him being chased off screen by a flock of seagulls.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, his first animated film, introduces the villain by having her walk onscreen. His last animated film The Jungle Book ends with two of the protagonists walking off screen.
- His first (mostly) live action film Song of the South beings with the main characters riding in on a horse and cart. His last live action film The Happiest Millionaire ends with two of the main characters riding off in a motor car.}}
- Art Evolution: While Disney himself hardly drew any drawing himself after 1926 his animators achieved an enormous technical advancement between 1928 and 1940. Just compare Plane Crazy to some of the sequences in Fantasia and you'll see exactly what we mean. Disney is still associated with top notch art work.
- Author Appeal:
- Disney felt particularly passionate about rural America in the early 1900s. In later works such as Lady and the Tramp he nostalgically evoked this imagery. He also animated several American folk tales, such as Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed, or folkloric characters of American history like Davy Crockett.
- Creator Breakdown: Disney suffered a nervous breakdown in 1932 from the pressure of his studio. He recovered soon.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Disney didn't have a particular good relationship with his stern father. Later, when Walt started his career in animation, he had his first big hit with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but his producer happened to own the rights to the character and bought him and most of Disney's studio out. The experience made Disney a huge control freak and very anxious to keep the copyright over his own work.
- Disneyfication: The Trope Namer. Disney had a talent for making otherwise complex or in some scenes not always that engaging stories into mesmerizing tales that the general public could easily understand and enjoy. Unfortunately this has also lead to some drastic Adaptation Displacement where many classics of world literature have been altered, simplified and sugarcoated so much that his version became the official version, instead of the other way around. To this day you'll find people complaining about film or theatre adaptations of stories they only know from the Disney adaptations, because certain scenes are so different, despite being in the original book. This can be a bit forgiven in the case of the fairy tales (The Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty,...) because they were carried over by oral tradition and thus varied from storyteller to storyteller. With the literary classics it's a bit more controversial. Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone and Jungle Book are perhaps the Disney films that resemble the original source material the least. Even after Walt's death the Disney Studio is still criticized for deviating and sugarcoating from great literary works too much.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The early Disney cartoons from the 1920s show only a few sparks of the storytelling brilliance that Walt would become famous for and are stiff and crude, even when compared to other animation studios from that time.
- Follow the Leader: Before Disney animation already existed, but it was very crudely drawn and the stories were random events plots. By the end of the 1920s audience started to lose interest in the medium and if not for Disney's innovation of sound the genre might have died out as yet another fad. After the success of his new star Mickey Mouse Disney set a trend for beautifully drawn animation with fluid motions and stories that were both charming as engaging children's entertainment. Disney also managed to make audiences emotionally care for his characters and spent attention to both the mood, drama, comedy and music. For most of the 1930s all other animation studios were trying to copy this succesful formula. When Disney began making animated feature films he once again set the standard for how such films should be made to sustain the audience's attention for a hour or so. Every cartoon director is inspired by his work, even if only on a technical level.
- Mistaken for Racist: Disney has been accused of antisemitism, racism and sexism, but in truth he was just a plain All-American conservative man not more bigoted than the average man in his lifetime. The accusations also forget that two of Disney's most accomplished songwriters, the Sherman Brothers, were Jewish and that he gave the Afro-American actor James Baskett the starring and Oscar winning role in "Song of the South".
- Nazi Protagonist: During World War II, Walt produced many propaganda films in support of the ally cause. One of these was about a german boy named Hans, it was to show how Nazi Indoctrination can cause a small child to grow up into a bloodthirsty monster.
- Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: While his name has become synonymous with syrupy-sweet family fare, Bowdlerized Fairy Tales, and overly-simplistic, historically inaccurate, way-too-lighthearted treatment of grim stories, it's easy to forget that Disney fare (especially the stuff made in his lifetime) used Nightmare Fuel by the tanker truck. Look here for a partial list.
- Rail Enthusiast: This was shown in much of his work that featured railroads, such as Melody Time short The Brave Engineer and the Casey Jr. scenes from Dumbo. Despite the fantasy nature of the scenes, there are many small detais, such as certain moving parts and railroad terms, that were in fact very accurate.
- The Rival: Throughout the 1930s Max and Dave Fleischer were Disney's main competitors. Near the end of the decade this crown went to Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry.
- Saved from Development Hell: Walt had planned to adapt Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid after the success of Snow White, but plans for these films were put on hold in the 1940s. Both Beauty and the Beast and The Snow Queen were running into story problems while the budget for The Little Mermaid was running too high for the studio to comfortably sign off on it. In the 1980s both The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were picked up by Roy Disney for adaption, and both film adaptions (The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991) respectively) helped kick off The Renaissance Age of Animation. The Snow Queen was revisited by John Lasseter in the 2000s and ultimately released as Frozen in 2013, which went on to become the most successful animated film ever made.
- Scenery Porn: The Disney cartoons have always stood out among their competitors because of their technical advancement. The eye for detail in most of their work between 1932 and 1960 is amazing, with beautiful and colorful backgrounds full of atmosphere. Just watching some of the stills is enough to make you sigh in beauty.
- Slapstick: Prominent in his work.