1922 - ?, released theatrically
alt Disney, the founder of what
is today known as Walt Disney Animation Studios, worked briefly
as a commercial artist before founding Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc.
in Kansas City in 1922. His studio created several
advertisements before moving on to the four to ten minute
animated shorts that traditionally played before the main
feature in a movie house in the early years of cinema. The first
six Laugh-O-Gram cartoons were modern day adaptations of
traditional fairy tales. Disney's distributor went bankrupt in
1923 and Disney's studio soon followed, after having created
only eight short films. Looking for better employment
opportunities, Walt Disney packed his suitcases shortly
afterwards and moved to California where the burgeoning film
industry had taken root.
Starting over in California with a
shoestring budget and a small staff, Disney found a distributor
for a new series that featured live-action footage of a little
girl named Alice who interacted directly with animated cartoon
characters. The series was successful, but by the end of its
four year stint the live-action sequences in the Alice series
were taking an obvious back seat to the purely animated scenes.
Having played out the Alice series, Disney's next project was a
series of cartoons starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The Disney
Studio created twenty-six Oswald cartoons before losing the
rights to the character to it distributor Universal, forcing
Disney to develop a new prospect: namely Mickey Mouse, a
perpetual underdog with a big heart who was first created for the 1928
short, Plane Crazy.
There was nothing particularly
original about Mickey Mouse or his early co-star Minnie Mouse,
as cartoon animals of various sorts were already standard fare
for the medium - the most recognizable and popular probably being
Felix the Cat - and Disney couldn't find a distributor for his
At the time, sound was first being
introduced to motion pictures, although nobody had as yet come
up with a method of doing so that produced satisfactory results.
Disney was convinced that sound held the future to motion
pictures. He did some research and finally happened upon the
Cinephone system from Pat Powers. Using the system, Disney's
studio worked out a method of adding synchronized sound to the
picture that produced satisfactory results. Their first sound
picture was the 1928,
Mickey Mouse animated short Steamboat Willie.
Still unable to find a
distributor, Disney worked out an independent deal to have the
cartoon shown at the Colony Theater in New York, billing it as
the first animated cartoon with sound (although
Paul Terry's Dinner Time
was actually the first).
The film was an instant sensation and received rave reviews. Pat
Powers agreed to release the pictures through his company
Celebrity Pictures and Mickey Mouse flourished into a national
craze in 1929.
The advent of synchronized sound
created a rush of feature-length musicals from the major studios
that were very popular with audiences. Disney decided to get in
on the action by creating some of the first animated musicals in
a series of shorts entitled Silly Symphonies. While music and
dance numbers were already a key element of the early Mickey
Mouse cartoons, in the Silly Symphonies cartoons the imagery and
content of the film centered around the musical score. The
stories for the series were independent from one another and
normally didn't use established characters. Seventy-five Silly
Symphonies cartoons were made from the years 1929-1939.
With its newfound success the Disney Studio expanded at
a rapid pace, setting a standard for quality and creating some
of the most fondly remembered characters in animation history.
To this day, Mickey Mouse has remained the studio's figurehead.
Minnie Mouse continued to co-star with Mickey through the year
1934, after which her appearances were significantly reduced,
although she continued to be used sporadically. Pluto, who first
appeared in the 1930 short The Chain Gang, was developed
as Mickey's four legged canine friend. While the majority of
Disney's creations took on an anthropomorphic tone, Pluto
retained the essence of his heritage and played the part of a
pet. The next major character to appear was Goofy in the 1932
short Mickey's Revue (although he was unofficially called
"Dippy Dawg" at the time). Goofy was
well, goofy. From the way
he talked, to his manner and expressions, Goofy lived up to his
name. Donald Duck, normally dressed in a blue sailor suit
and best known for his explosive temper, made his first
appearance in the 1934, Silly Symphony cartoon The Wise
Little Hen. Donald's rambunctious nephews - identical
triplets by the names of Huey, Dewey, and Louie - made their
first animated appearance in the 1938 short Donald's Nephews.
Shortly thereafter Daisy Duck, Donald Duck's girlfriend, made
her appearance in the 1940 cartoon Mr. Duck Steps Out.
These characters continued to star in the majority of the
animated shorts put out by the Disney Studio, and most went on
to play prominent roles in later, made-for-television cartoon
The Disney Studio largely gave up creating
animated shorts during the 1960s, although it has continued to
release short films on an irregular basis. Walt Disney passed
away in 1966, but the company he founded in 1923 as an animation
studio continues to be a prominent player and innovator in the
field of animation and forges ahead in its quest to capture the
imagination of audiences worldwide.