The Walt Disney Company (commonly referred to simply as "Disney", so much so that in 2012 it began crediting itself as such too) is, as of 2018, 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. The history of the company is long, and even broken down this is just a summation:
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.
Unfortunately, the 1959 failure of the lavish feature film Sleeping Beauty (due to the huge budget despite a good box office showing) 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 (and especially wanted to go all-in on his "Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow", or EPCOT, to help push forward a lot of the city and design planning the company had learned in having to manage Disneyland) 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 (although he was unable to convince the rest of the Disney board to make EPCOT anything even remotely approaching Walt's grand vision for the place). 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.
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.
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 .
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 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
- Noteworthy Disney Staff
- 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 initiated in 2017, expected to close in 2019)
- ABC Studios (formerly Touchstone Television)
- Walt Disney Television (1983-2003)
- Disney Television Animation
- Marvel Television
- 20th Century Fox Television (acquisition pending)
Networks and Programming BlocksLegend
- Crime & Investigation Network+
- The Disney Afternoon
- Disney Channel
- Disney XD
- Disney Juniornote
- Freeform (formerly The Family Channel, Fox Family then ABC Family)
- The History Channel+
- Viceland (formerly History International, then H2)+
- Military History+
- Lifetime Movie Network (LMN)+
- Lifetime Real Women+
- One Saturday Morning
- Toon Disney
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
- ESPN Magazine
- Disney Adventures
- Disney Mouse and Duck Comics
- National Geographic (acquisition pending; joint venture with National Geographic Society)
- Wizards of Mickey
- Disney Kingdoms (imprint including Seekers of the Weird, Figment, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad)
- 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)
- Walt Disney Records (formerly Disneyland Records)
- Hollywood Records (1989-Present)
- Lyric Street Records (1997-2010)
- Disney Animated Canon (adapted franchises)note
- Disney Animated Canon (original franchises)
- Disney Channel
- Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck
- Other franchises
- Jumbo Pictures (1996-2000)
- Various Saban Entertainment and 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 (2009-present)
- Lucasfilm (2012-present); this includes all companies and franchises under the banner, such as:
- Star Wars
- Indiana Jones (initially, Disney had production and merchandising rights to Indy when it bought Lucasfilm, then acquired the full marketing and distribution rights a year later from Paramount)
- 20th Century Fox (2019-onwards); upon the closing of the merger, Disney will acquire ownership over numerous properties, including (but not limited to):
- Film adaptation rights to certain Marvel Comics movies, which were previously held only by Fox (including X-Men and Fantastic Four)
- Alien vs. Predator
- The Omen
- Planet of the Apes
- Blue Sky Studios, including:
- Almost all of the Fox network's in-house programming pre-merger, including (but not limited to):
- 20th Century Fox Television properties (in addition to the above mentioned Fox in-house programs), including (but not limited to):
- The post-1989 New World Pictures library
- Metromedia Producers Corporation library
- MTM Enterprises library.
- FX Productions library.