Today we know Disney as a symbol of not only childhood memories, but also the staple of entertainment. Movies ranging from the Star Wars franchise, Marvel’s The Avengers, among others are produced by the Walt Disney Company, which is a surprising fact by itself. Nevertheless, this is only the tip of the iceberg, since today, we will be exploring Disney’s lengthy and surprisingly versatile history as we celebrate their recent acquisition of another media and entertainment conglomerate, the FOX Broadcasting Company.
Early History (1920 – World War II)
Walt Disney’s earliest works in animation date back to the Kansas City Film and Company in 1920. Though his works weren’t very well known, he became acquainted with Ub Iwerks, who was also a very talented and gifted animator. By 1922, the two had a vision, and founded the Laugh-O-Gram film studio in Kansas, along with several other creators and animators. By 1923 the very first of Disney’s “own creations” was published, a pilot for an animated series titled Alice in Cartoonland.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Walt Disney was forced to file for bankruptcy weeks after the release of the pilot. The animator and his friend Ub Iwerks moved to California and set up shop in Hollywood. The work Alice in Cartoonland was surprisingly successful, reviving Walt’s company. The Kansas animator team soon joined the Hollywood team and they produced animations for the Alice in Cartoonland series for the next 4 years.
The success of Disney grew and grew, by 1927, one of his original iconic characters were produced, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Nevertheless, the distributor of the product appropriated the rights to the character, leading to the creation of Mortimer-Mouse, or as we know him today, Mickey Mouse. The company was renamed Walt Disney Productions in 1929, and in the 1930s the first color film technologies (Technicolor) were coming out, allowing the presence of color in film for the first time. At this point Mickey Mouse, along with Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck were staples in family entertainment.
At the brink of World War II, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released, completely disproving the belief that animations wouldn’t be feasible as a medium for feature-length narratives. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the first ever feature length animation, as The Adventures of Prince Achmed was released almost a decade earlier. Some of the most iconic works that even we’ve watched were released during World War II, among these works were Dumbo, Pinocchio, Bambi, among others.
Intermediate History (1940 – 1965)
Disney had a major setback in 1941, when the artists leading multiple projects went on strike, which offended Disney, who consequently encouraged them to quit. Many more movies were produced after this issue, but critics believed that the former identity of Disney’s movies, the wonder and magic of it all, were starting to fade.
During the 60s, the Disney Company started to produce live action films, but animated films continued to be produced such as 101 Dalmatians, Sleeping Beauty, and Winnie The Pooh and the Honey Tree were still well received. The single greatest achievement of the company, the live action film Mary Poppins (1964) was heralded as the best achievement in the film industry in the prior 20 years, and it received five Academy Awards and an Oscar for best actress.
The Death of Disney and Birth of Disney World
Walt Disney’s death in 1966 left the company in disarray. It had been the founder’s vision and willpower which had powered the company for so long, but the company would rise even higher than before. Before his death, Disney had envisioned a park in the middle of Florida housing all of his creations as a form of entertainment.
Roy Disney soon took over the project that we now know as the Walt Disney World Resort. The completion of this project in 1971 resulted in the massive increase of the company’s figures. By 1982 the final project envisioned by Disney had been complete: The Epcot Center. During the 70s and 80s, the movie producer made its money from attractions such as Disney World and the distribution of older films, during which period people believed that the company had reached a roadblock.
The 90s were the decade in which Disney returned to success. Many more animated films were produced which are widely known to this day such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and the first two instalments of the Toy Story series. The Disney company was regarded as one of the most successful companies in the United States.
Furthermore, by the early 21st century, more than 115 million people were visiting Disney World Annually. This was also a period of expansion, not only through their own products, but also through the purchase of different companies. Pixar was purchased in 2006 for 7 billion dollars, while Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm were acquired for about 4 billion dollars each. In the 2010s Disney started recreating its older films as live actions, among these were Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and most recently, The Lion King.
The largest acquisition in the company’s history, the one we talk of today, started in 2017. The company we commonly call Fox, has its own news channels, movie studios, and even animation subsidiaries. Experts believe that the deal, which took 2 years to be completed, cost in the ballpark of 70 billion dollars. A truly astronomical number, which would have been enough to buy out Bill Gates in 2013.
In the end, the Walt Disney Company succeeded because they never gave up. They acted true to their hearts and aspirations and pushed through hardships and issues ranging from unhappy workers to bankrupcy. Their success doesn’t just come from skill and creativity. It comes from passion and hard work, the passion to make movies and to produce quality products, as Walt Disney once said, “I don’t make movies to make money, I make money so I can make more movies.”