The Walt Disney Company (commonly referred to simply as "Disney", so much so that in recent years it has begun crediting itself as such too) is the largest media group in the worldnote . Chances are that this company has had some sort of impact to your life. You may have very likely heard the name "Disney" at least once, have at least watched one of its cartoons, or have seen a movie under their name. They're that influential to the field of entertainment. In fact, in terms of the history of animated films, Disney could often be considered the studio that started it all and still dominates it.
Founded in 1923 as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio by Walt Disney and his older brother Roy, the studio started out by making short animated productions, then moved on to larger animated films, live-action films and eventually everything else.
They started out with making shorts featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit at Universal Pictures, but after only twenty-six shorts were made the rights to Oswald were taken away by Universal from Walt Disney and his partner Ub Iwerks, who (along with Roy and apprentice animators Les Clark and Johnny Cannon) were left to run the company themselves. Needing a new character, they created Mickey Mouse, who was the star of the first ever animation to feature synchronised sound, Steamboat Willie. Soon after the Silly Symphonies cartoons followed, which evolved to become the studio's animation evolution showcase where the latest techniques and narrative experiments were tried out commercially.
In 1937 they decided to go one step further and create their first full-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Everybody predicted failure and told them to stop before it was too late. It became the highest grossing movie of all time (until Gone with the Wind took the crown 2 years later) and won eight (admittedly honorary) Oscars. With the success of Snow White the company could expand and create the films from the forties such as Dumbo and Bambi. Unfortunately, World War II meant much of the European market was closed and most of the new feature films bombed. Around the same time there was also a bitter labor strike over the issue of unionizing animators that destroyed the studio camaraderie, with the striking animators complaining that Walt was a money-wasting control freak and Walt taking the strike as a personal betrayal while his studio was struggling. To keep the studio alive, the studio did instructional and propaganda films for the US government while the company's own movie-making was slow, meaning films that were in production from before the war didn't get released until afterwards (such as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan). After the war ended, Disney, still burdened with considerable debt, moved into the Documentary film genre with the True-Life Adventures and produced cheaper packaged animated feature films that were essentially animated shorts edited together.
Eventually, Disney gambled for a true feature with one story like in its prime and created the hit Cinderella. This success began one of the company's busiest eras, releasing five or six pieces every year - many eventually becoming classics. The first Disneyland was opened in 1955 and the studio moved into all live action dramatic films like Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The studio also moved into television with Disneyland that would become in various incarnations a long running television showcase for Disney's productions such as the "Davy Crockett" series while the syndicated The Mickey Mouse Club secured the youth audience.
Unfortunately, the 1959 failure of the lavish feature film Sleeping Beauty (due to the huge budget despite good box office), prompted both a downsizing of the animation studio and a retreat from fairy tales for years. These changes showed in their next feature, 101 Dalmatians, their first film to be ambiguously set in contemporary times. Furthermore, the studio took advantage of a new technology called xerography, a dry photocopying process that eliminated the need to hand-ink the animation, but it only allowed for black outlines, which forced a hard scratchy visual style for years. However, the studio also hit a creative peak in 1964 with Mary Poppins, one of the great film musicals that combined the best of Disney's artistry of animation and live-action into a cinematic classic. Unfortunately, Walt Disney, who had been losing interest in animation by then in favor of TV and theme park projects, died of lung cancer, and his brother Roy came out of retirement to run the company. One of his first acts was renaming Disney World as "Walt Disney World" in honor of his brother. The last films Walt Disney worked on, The Jungle Book and The Happiest Millionaire were released in 1967. Roy himself died shortly after Walt Disney World was opened in 1971.
In the years after that, the company continued with its creative momentum gradually draining with the more ambitious members of the management frustrated by the constant overhang of "What would Walt do?" Through the 1970s, the obvious answer to that of emulating Walt's penchant for taking big budgeted creative dares was not one of them, as the company's live action films became largely a bunch of family safe comedies and sequels to their one really successful post-Walt film, The Love Bug. To make things more complicated for them, Disney had developed a reputation in the 1970s as being the studio that caught actors on their way up or on their way down. Few established actors were willing to work with the studio because of this, and in turn the public had grown more skeptical to new releases without the "Walt Disney Presents" billing in the title. What's worse, Disney's position as the go-to studio for family friendly pictures was challenged for the first time after the end of the New Hollywood era and with the rise of all-ages blockbusters. Furthermore, the young artists involved in these blockbusters embodied much of Walt's best qualities, such as George Lucas taking ambitious creative risks with Star Wars and Jim Henson with The Muppet Movie as a man who proved to be as much an artistic giant with puppetry as Walt was with Western Animation.
The animation department was no better off with sporadic new films with limited budgets punctuated by endless rereleases of their older films on a regular schedule even while the graduates of Walt Disney's CalArts school came on board like John Lasseter and Tim Burton. Furthermore, while the studio was able to advance such as improving the xerography processing in animation to finally get rid of the scratchy outline visuals in The Rescuers, more ambitious animators, especially Don Bluth, finally had enough feeling creatively stifled by 1979 and walked.
When the senior management finally fell to Walt's son in law, Ron Miller, in that same period, the company was in its nadir, with only the theme parks being consistently profitable. To his credit, Miller did make some positive moves like taking a chance with innovative films like TRON and he planned to create more adult oriented fare through the new branch, Touchstone Pictures.
However, these efforts weren't enough and in 1984, shareholder Saul Steinberg launched a brief hostile takeover bid of the company with the intention of closing it and selling off its various assets. In response, Disney board chairman Ray Watson reached out to investor Sid Bass with the hopes of convincing him to buy a major stake in the company in order to ward off Steinberg. Bass agreed, but only on the condition that Disney's management underwent a serious change. And so, in a board room coup, Miller was ousted and Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg (both from Paramount) and Frank Wells (from Warner Bros.) were placed in charge of the company. In its ten years of existence, this management trio revived the company with inexpensive but well received adult fare like the comedy films with relatively faded stars at the time like Nick Nolte and Bette Midler. Eventually, the company purchased the noted independent film distributor/studio Miramax Films to produce more artistically ambitious fare, which paid off with the audacious and critically hailed 1994 box office hit, Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino.
The trio's faith in Disney's Animation proved a dicier proposition when the department's one grandfather feature film project, The Black Cauldron proved a major flop. However, the much cheaper and more successful subsequent film, The Great Mouse Detective in 1986 convinced the trio to give the animators a chance. This paid off handsomely as the expensive later film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit proved a sensation in 1988 and The Little Mermaid in 1989 set off the Disney Renaissance with a series of spectacular blockbusters that brought the company more money and prestige than they ever dreamed of. Meanwhile, the company made their own waves on TV with a new commitment to TV animation with superb big budgets and well done animated series like Adventures of the Gummi Bears, DuckTales and Gargoyles, dramatically raising the bar of what TV animation could be.
Unfortunately, the trio fell apart when Frank Wells was killed in a skiing helicopter accident and the moderator to Eisner's ego was removed. This led to infighting with Jeffrey Katzenberg who eventually left to form DreamWorks and Eisner assumed more control. The company started declining while in his increasingly inept hands, even as he made bold acquisitions like the ABC TV network. At the same time, the contracted computer animation house, Pixar, owned by Steve Jobs, transformed feature animation with its astounding series of critically lauded smash hit animated features while Disney's in house cel-animated films were increasingly overshadowed. Even worse for Disney, the new field of computer animation allowed competitors to finally sidestep the All Animation Is Disney public prejudice and allowed new competitors to get their own piece of the pie, most notably DreamWorks Animationnote .
Eventually, Roy E. Disney, Walt's nephew, and others had enough with Eisner's escalating business blunders. This climaxed with him alienating Steve Jobs and his Pixar studio by insulting them with claiming that their upcoming film, Finding Nemo, was sure to be a flop that would take them down a peg. After that film broke all box office records for feature animation and won an Oscar, Eisner looked like a complete incompetent at the worst possible time, with Disney's contract with Pixar being due to expire soon and Jobs loathing Eisner personally and eager to walk. To fix that calamity of losing such a valuable studio, the board of directors ousted Eisner and placed Robert Iger (previously head of ABC) in charge.
Since taking over as CEO, Bob Iger has taken a much more hands-off approach to things, most likely as an effort to undo the damage of his predecessor's legendary Executive Meddling. His primary accomplishments have been inking the multi-billion dollar buyouts of Pixar (A corporate feat made easier for the fact that Iger and Jobs' wives had been roommates in university), Marvel, and Lucasfilm, easily making back their money by sitting back and just letting them do what they do best. He also restructured studio management appointing John Lasseter as overseer for Feature Animation, Pixar, and DisneyToon Studios, with the former getting back to its roots and no longer trying to compete with Pixar and the latter getting out of the cheapquel game and focusing more on higher quality works like the Tinkerbell franchise and the Cars spinoff, Planes. As for Feature Animation, they managed to rebuild with a return to traditional animation with middling success like The Princess and the Frog and Winnie-the-Pooh, but really reestablished their place with successful CGI features like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. Furthermore, the essential innovative spirit of Disney found an echo again after so long as the studio suggested an artistic middle ground is possible with their Oscar winning short, Paperman, that experimented with a visual technique that fused the best qualities of hand-drawn and digital animation. Iger was originally set to retire from Disney in 2018 but Disney announced that his contract was delayed the next year and would serve as a consultant for the following three years.
Over the years, and particularly beginning in the 1990s, Disney has acquired various other companies and folded them into its overall mass media production pipeline, with examples such as Miramax Films (in 1993), ABC in 1996 (a deal which included ESPN, A&E, The History Channel, Lifetime, and DIC Entertainment), Fox Family Channel from Fox in 2001, The Muppets in 2004note , Pixar in 2006 (previously Disney had been merely distributors of their films), and most notably, Marvel Comics in 2009. Of those, Miramax and DIC were sold off (Miramax to an investor consortium named Filmyard Holdings in 2010, and DIC back to Andy Heyward in 2000). Since the ABC acquisition, Touchstone Television Studios (naturally the television division of Touchstone Pictures) has been renamed ABC Studios for better brand alignment. Likewise, Fox Family was renamed ABC Family, though this created an awkward situation as that network moved to air racier content away from the "family" image but was stuck with the "Family" namenote ; however, it finally renamed to Freeform in 2016. Disney has also launched its own media ventures independent of these acquisitions. These include the cable outlets Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Toon Disney which in 2009 was relaunched as Disney XD and Disney Television Animationnote , an entity unrelated to any previous Disney animation studio that produces strictly animated content for television and primarily for the aforementioned cable outlets.
On October 30th, 2012, they announced a $4 billion deal to purchase Lucasfilmnote and the rights to Star Wars with a new trilogy planned, the first of which came out in December 2015. Much like following the Marvel purchase, backlash ensued immediately with the expected cries of ruination from people who clearly have either forgotten about that one movie that was a product of the Marvel acquisition or are ignorant of the fact that Disney has made non-Disney branded films for almost three decades; and how many complaints there were about George Lucas' later handling of his Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises.
Finally, on December 14, 2017, Disney firmly solidified its position in the media world by announcing it would acquire the majority of 21st Century Fox, including 20th Century Fox (who, ironically, distributed the first six Star Wars films) and its divisions and television units, the FX Networks, the Fox Sports Regional Networks, and almost all of Fox's international assets from Rupert Murdoch for $66.1 billion. If approved by regulators, the deal would give Disney a massive global foothold unparalleled by any other media company, ensuring its future for a long, long time. However, the future note wasn't certain, given that Comcast were heavily pushing for a purchase of Fox themselves. Comcast eventually dropped out after Disney offered a higher bid of $71.3 billion, and shortly after, gained approval from The United States Department of Justice Antitrust Divisionnote . On July 27th, 2018, the deal was made official when Fox shareholders voted overwhelmingly in Disney's favor, paving the way for Walt's little animation studio to become the biggest media empire humanity has ever known... and, despite the DoJ's acquiescence, leading to howls of of trust-ism from many other corners of the industry and the world at large.
The company has also been a force in family programming for decades, with Disney-themed shows spanning all three "traditional" U.S. broadcast networks (see Walt Disney Presents).
Trope Namer of:
- All Animation Is Disney
- Disney Acid Sequence
- Disney Creatures of the Farce
- Disney Death
- Disney Dog Fight
- Disney Owns This Trope
- Disney School of Acting and Mime
- I'm Going to Disney World
- Alice Comedies (1923 - 1927)
- Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1927 - 1928)
- Classic Disney Shorts
- Pixar Shorts (1984 - Present)
- Roger Rabbit Shorts (1989 - 1993)
- Tangled Ever After (2012)
- Paperman (2012)
- Frozen Fever (2015)
- Inner Workings (2016)
- Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017)
- Disney Animated Canon
- Disneytoon Studios
- Other Feature Films
- Released under Touchstone Pictures
- Walt Disney Home Video
- Distributed but not produced by Disney
- Also see Walt Disney Animation Units for animation studios outside of Pixar.
- Walt Disney Home Video (1978-present)
- Walt Disney Pictures (1983-present; replaced Buena Vista Distribution)
- Touchstone Pictures (1984-present)
- Miramax Films (1993-2010; sold to Filmyard Holdings)
- Dimension Films (1993-2005; acquired by The Weinstein Company per contractual obligations)
- DreamWorks (via distribution agreement; 2009-2016; now with Universalnote )
- Hollywood Pictures (1990-2001, 2006-2007; now serves as catalog label)
- Disneynature (2008-present)
- Marvel Studios (2012-present)
- Lucasfilm (2012-present)
- 20th Century Fox (merger expected to close in 2019)
Networks and Programming Blocks
- Crime & Investigation Network+
- The Disney Afternoon
- Disney Channel
- Disney XD
- Disney Juniornote
- Disney Streaming Service
- The History Channel+
- Viceland (formerly History International, then H2)+
- Military History+
- Lifetime Movie Network (LMN)+
- Lifetime Real Women+
- One Saturday Morning
- Toon Disney
- = Joint venture between Disney and Hearst Communications
Shows Not Covered by Any of the Above
Buena Vista/Disney-ABC Domestic TV series
- Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993-98; with KCTS Seattle and Rabbit Ears Productions)
- The Challengers (1990-91; with Ron Greenburg Productions and Dick Clark Productions)
- Debt (1996-98; with Faded Denim Productions for Lifetime)
- Legend of the Seeker (2008-10)
- Siskel & Ebert (1986-2010)
- Win Ben Stein's Money (1997-03; for Comedy Central)
- Win, Lose or Draw (1987-89, NBC; 1987-90, syndicated; 1989-92, Disney Channel (Teen); 2014 (Disney Channel revival); with Kline & Friends and Burt & Bert Productions)
- Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (2002-present; syndicated version)
- Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers
- Disney Adventures
- Disney Mouse and Duck Comics
- Wizards of Mickey
- Disney Kingdoms (imprint including Seekers of the Weird, Figment, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad)
- Hollywood Records (1989-Present)
- See Disney Interactive Studios for video games created by Disney Interactive Studios.
Video games created outside Disney Interactive Studios:
- The Black Cauldron (1986)
- Mickey Mousecapade (1987)
- Adventures In The Magic Kingdom (1990)
- Castle of Illusion (1990)
- Land of Illusion (1992)
- World of Illusion (1992)
- Legend of Illusion (1994)
- The Little Mermaid (1991)
- Quackshot (1991)
- The Lucky Dime Caper (1991)
- Deep Duck Trouble (1993)
- Darkwing Duck (1992)
- Disney's Magical Quest trilogy (1992, 1994, 1995)
- Aladdin (Capcom) (1993)
- Aladdin (Virgin Games) (1993)
- Goof Troop (1993)
- The Lion King (1994)
- Mickey Mania (1994)
- Donald in Maui Mallard (1995)
- Mickey's Speedway USA (2000)
- Kinect: Disneyland Adventures (somewhat of a Spiritual Successor to Adventures in the Magic Kingdom; 2011)
- Where's My Water? series (2011-present)
- Mittens (2013)
- Disney Magical World (2014)
- Jumbo Pictures (1996-2000)
- Various Saban Entertainment/Fox Kids shows, which came with the purchase of the Family Channel from Fox in 2001. Most notable was Power Rangers (2001-2010), which Disney continued to produce until Haim Saban repurchased the franchise rights from Disney.
- The Muppets (2004-present)
- Marvel Comics (see also Marvel Universe) (2009-present)
- Lucasfilm (2012-present) This includes all companies and franchises under the banner, such as: