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Disney, Walt - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Walt Disney, Social and Economic Impact

disney’s family cartoon mickey

The Walt Disney Company


Walt Disney was one of the great pioneers of filmmaking and the creator of several classic films, most notably his feature-length animated films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. Disney, who grew up almost without a childhood, found a way to amuse himself as an adult by making cartoons and filling them with characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Creator of cartoons, live-action movies, theme parks, and television programs for the whole family, Disney introduced wholesome family entertainment on a world scale, and was one of the major entertainment forces of the twentieth century.

Personal Life

Walter Elias Disney, known throughout most of his life as Walt Disney, was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois. He had three older brothers and a younger sister. He and one of his older brothers remained especially close throughout Disney’s lifetime and pursued the same business together.

Disney’s parents, Elias and Flora Disney, came from farming backgrounds, Elias from Canada and Flora from Ohio. Walt’s father was a strong influence on the entire family. A stern religious fundamentalist, he readily disciplined his children with his belt. He also denied the children toys, games, and sporting equipment associated with childhood, and this experience may have had some impact on Disney’s later passion for the entertainment of children.

Growing up in the Disney family was further complicated by the father’s pro-union activism and his political support of the socialist presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, as well as his tendency to change jobs frequently. The family was forced to move to both rural and urban areas all over the Midwest, from Chicago to Marceline, Missouri, to Kansas City, Missouri, and back to Chicago. Disney’s father worked in farming, railway shops, carpentry and contracting work, and newspaper distribution. The family was always on the verge of financial collapse, and everyone in the family who could do some kind of work, like deliver newspapers, did.

Disney, according to his brother and lifelong business partner Roy, always enjoyed country life. He loved the animals he encountered, some of which may have inspired him to create cartoon animals in his later career in filmmaking.

Disney had a difficult time gaining an education because of his family’s constant moving and his need to work to help support the family. When he was 16, though, he was able to join an art class at the Chicago Academy and Fine Arts, where he developed his modest drawing skills.

Disney dropped out of high school at age 17 to serve in World War I. He had tried to follow his brother Roy into the Navy but was rejected because he was underage. He was accepted as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross after altering the birthdate on his application. He served in France for a short time and returned to the United States in 1919. After returning from the war, he moved on his own to Kansas City, Missouri, where he worked a variety of jobs as a commercial artist and cartoonist.

Disney met Lillian Bounds, one of the employees in his first cartoon-film studio in the early 1920s, and they married on July 13, 1925. The marriage lasted a lifetime, and they produced two daughters.

Disney was known as a perfectionist and a demanding man. Some people saw him as self-centered, and he seemed often baffled when people disagreed with him. He was described by friends and coworkers as a driven man, even “a workaholic.” Disney’s personal life was filled with paradoxes. He smoked constantly, yet seemed to dislike this bad habit in others. Politically, he was the total opposite of his father. Disney joined the Republican Party in California and remained a firm political conservative. Though he loved country life, he spent most of his life in cities. A complex man, he suffered two nervous breakdowns in his life, one at age 30, and another a decade later, after half the cartoonists of his company went out on strike against him in a dispute about his labor practices.

By 1960, Disney had become a wealthy man, despite many ups and downs in his career. Just as he neared the pinnacle of his career, after having won five Oscars for his production of the movie Mary Poppins, he learned that his lifetime of cigarette smoking was to have consequences. He had surgery for lung cancer in 1966. Though he appeared to be recovering, he had a relapse and died on December 15, 1966.

Disney received more than 700 awards for his creative achievements, including an honorary Academy Award in 1939, four Academy Awards in 1954, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. He was also honored with the Freedom Foundation Award later that same year.

Career Details

By 1922, Disney had set up his first small cartoon-production company in Kansas City with Ub Iwerks, whose drawing ability and technical inventiveness were prime factors in Disney’s eventual success. Their business soon failed, though, and Disney took a job with an ad service that made cartoon advertisements to be shown between movies at the local theater. Disney gained a basic understanding of the medium and, anxious to get back out on his own, moved to Hollywood, California, in 1923 and started a business with his brother Roy. Out of his “garage” operation there, Disney filmed a live performance with cartoon figures from Alice in Wonderland. He expanded on this idea with the creation of a series called Alice in Cartoonland. He produced 56 of these cartoons in three years and in 1927 returned to a straight cartoon format with his Oswald the Rabbit series, producing 26 of these cartoons in less than two years.

By about 1927, Disney began looking for a new approach to his cartoons and a new character. He came up with a mouse character called Mortimer, but his wife Lilly thought the name was too stiff and convinced Disney to go with Mickey instead. Mickey Mouse came to life in 1928, first as a pilot, then as an adventurer, a sort of pirate-character. Late in 1928, after seeing the first sound movie, The Jazz Singer, Disney decided to make the first all-sound, talking-and-music cartoon, with Mickey Mouse starring as “Steamboat Willie.”

By 1936, eight years later, critics and fans alike agreed that Mickey Mouse was the most recognized figure in the world. Songs were written about him. Watches had his face on them. He could be found everywhere. Disney was called “a genius.”

During this time, Disney studios launched other successful cartoon characters, including Donald Duck and Pluto. Although he had stopped actually drawing the cartoons himself by 1927, and relied on a staff of animators to implement his ideas, Disney himself was the voice of Mickey Mouse in all the cartoons from 1928 to 1946. Disney’s cartoons, both short and full-length features, won many awards. During the 1930s, the Disney cartoons were a phenomenon of worldwide success. This success led to the establishment of immensely profitable, Disney-controlled, sidelines in advertising, publishing, and franchised goods, which helped shape popular tastes for nearly 40 years.

Disney expanded his business rapidly, creating new studios and a training school for animators. It was these students, using state-of-the-art technology, who made possible the first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Other costly animated features followed, including Pinocchio and Bambi.

In the 1940s, despite his many successes, Disney produced a series of financial “flops,” including a film now regarded as a classic, the animated feature Fantasia. Fantasia did poorly at the box office, and Disney was devastated. Then half his artists went on strike against him, protesting his dictatorial style. Some say that if it were not for a government contract he obtained to produce service-related training films, Disney might have gone bankrupt by the end of World War II.

Luckily, he was able to reexamine his studio operations and pursue other directions successfully. During the 1950s he made a series of live-action feature movies, such as Treasure Island, and his favorite, So Dear To My Heart. With the advent of Seal Island, Disney moved into wildlife films, and expanded production of live-action pictures, which led to many other family films. His elaborate production of Mary Poppins, which won five Academy Awards two years before Disney’s death, was one example of a successful family film that used occasional animation and plenty of music.

In 1954, Disney also began to do something revolutionary for the time: he began to produce for television, which had been the traditional “enemy” of the movie business. During the 1950s, Disney joined with American Broadcasting Company TV productions and made a fortune producing Davy Crockett and The Mickey Mouse Club for television exclusively. By the time of his death, Disney had more than 280 television shows to his name.

Disney also began to develop his famous Disneyland theme parks, the first opening in 1957 in Anaheim, California. Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, was not completed until after his death, in 1971. Disney’s vision was to interconnect all his many business ventures so that one would help the other; in other words, seeing his work on TV would cause people to want to go to Disneyland, and going to Disneyland would cause people to want to see family-oriented Disney movies.

Disney’s dream of creating a city of the future was realized in 1982 with the opening of EPCOT, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a real-life community of the future. Disney theme parks have continued to expand with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Chronology: Walt Disney

1901: Born.

1923: Produced his first cartoon series, “Alice in Cartoonland.”

1928: Created Mickey Mouse.

1937: Produced first great critical and financial success, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs.

1941: Began making training and instructional films for the armed forces.

1954: Appearance of the television show, Disneyland.

1954: Received four Academy Awards.

1955: Opened Disneyland theme park.

1966: Died.

By the 1960s, Disney had created a diversified empire, founded on the animal icons, like Mickey Mouse, that had first brought him such fame. The Disney empire is noted for its traditional family values, wholesome middle-class productions, and high level of quality control. Today, the Walt Disney Company, with the creation of Touchstone Pictures, has branched out to a broader range of films. Disney also owns Hollywood Records, and even has its own cruise line. It is a multibillion-dollar enterprise with undertakings all over the world.

Social and Economic Impact

The impact of Walt Disney’s career has been felt throughout much of the twentieth century. His creation of wholesome cartoon characters and first-rate animation made Disney what British cartoonist David Low called “the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo.” After Disney’s death, his classic films continue to be shown, the TV Disney Channel broadcasts his work to TV audiences 24 hours a day, and his theme parks in America and elsewhere (including Tokyo and Paris) sell his wholesome vision of America as a mecca. Disney’s impact on childhood entertainment is almost immeasurably great and, at the time of his death, Disney’s business empire was estimated to be worth over $100 million a year. In addition, Disney created a new university, the California Institute of the Arts. Disney once said, “If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something.” “Walt Disney” continues to be a household name in American homes.

Disney, Walt (1901-1966) [next] [back] Disney Princess - History, The Eight Official Princesses, Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, Disney’s Pirate and Princess Party

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over 5 years ago

your rude, you cant just say he died, you need a reasoning. you need more information.

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about 4 years ago

ur a sassy kat

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over 5 years ago

i just want to know what was his career and this website did not help me at all

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3 months ago

I tried to find his life themes and I didn't find anything for that...