Walter Elias Disney
(December 5th, 1901 December 15th, 1966) was an American
entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer. A pioneer of
the American animation industry, he introduced several developments
in the production of cartoons. As a film producer, Disney holds the
record for most Academy Awards earned by an individual, having won 22
Oscars from 59 nominations. He was presented with two Golden Globe
Special Achievement Awards and an Emmy Award, among other honors.
Several of his films are included in the National Film Registry by
the Library of Congress.
Walt Disney was born in
Chicago in 1901, the fourth son of Elias Disney (born in Canada to
Irish parents) and Flora (an American of German and English descent).
Walt's brothers were Herbert, Raymond and Roy; and a sister Ruth was
born in December 1903. In 1906, when Disney was four, the family
moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri, where his uncle Robert had
just purchased land. In Marceline, Disney developed his interest in
drawing when he was paid to draw the horse of a retired neighborhood
doctor. Elias was a subscriber to the Appeal to Reason newspaper, and
Disney would practice drawing by copying the front-page cartoons of
Ryan Walker. Disney also began to develop an ability to work with
watercolors and crayons. He lived near the Atchison, Topeka and Santa
Fe Railway line and became enamored with trains. He and his younger
sister Ruth started school at the same time at the Park School in
Marceline in late 1909.
1911, the Disneys moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There, Disney
attended the Benton Grammar School, where he met fellow-student
Walter Pfeiffer, who came from a family of theatre fans and
introduced Disney to the world of vaudeville and motion pictures.
Before long, he was spending more time at the Pfeiffers' house than
at home. Elias had purchased a newspaper delivery route for The
Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times. Disney and his brother Roy
woke up at 4:30 every morning to deliver the Times before school and
repeated the round for the evening Star after school. The schedule
was exhausting, and Disney often received poor grades after falling
asleep in class, but he continued his paper route for more than six
years. He attended Saturday courses at the Kansas City Art Institute
and also took a correspondence course in cartooning.
In 1917, Elias bought stock
in a Chicago jelly producer, the O-Zell Company, and moved back to
the city with his family. Disney enrolled at McKinley High School and
became the cartoonist of the school newspaper, drawing patriotic
pictures about World War I, in addition to taking night courses at
the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In mid-1918, Disney attempted to
join the United States Army to fight against the Germans, but he was
rejected for being too young. After forging the date of birth on his
birth certificate, he joined the Red Cross in September 1918 as an
ambulance driver (left). He was shipped to France but arrived in
November, after the armistice. He drew cartoons on the side of his
ambulance for decoration and had some of his work published in the
army newspaper Stars and Stripes. Disney returned to Kansas City in
October 1919, where he worked as an apprentice artist at the
Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio. There, he drew commercial
illustrations for advertising, theater programs and catalogs. He also
befriended fellow artist Ub Iwerks.
In January 1920, as Pesmen-Rubin's revenue
declined after Christmas, Disney and Iwerks were laid off. They
started their own business, the short-lived Iwerks-Disney Commercial
Artists. Failing to attract many customers, Disney and Iwerks agreed
that Disney should leave temporarily to earn money at the Kansas City
Film Ad Company, run by A. V. Cauger; the following month Iwerks, who
was not able to run their business alone, also joined. The company
produced commercials using the cutout animation technique. Disney
became interested in animation, although he preferred drawn cartoons
such as Mutt and Jeff and Koko the Clown. With the assistance of a
borrowed book on animation and a camera, he began experimenting at
home. He came to the conclusion that cel animation was more promising
than the cutout method. Unable to persuade Cauger to try cel
animation at the company, Disney opened a new business with a
co-worker from the Film Ad Co, Fred Harman. Their main client was the
local Newman Theater, and the short cartoons they produced were sold
as "Newman's Laugh-O-Grams". Disney studied Paul Terry's
Aesop's Fables as a model, and the first six "Laugh-O-Grams"
were modernized fairy tales.
May 1921, the success of the "Laugh-O-Grams" led to the
establishment of Laugh-O-Gram Studio, for which he hired more
animators, including Fred Harman's brother Hugh, Rudolf Ising and
Iwerks. The Laugh-O-Grams cartoons did not provide enough income to
keep the company solvent, so Disney started production of Alice's
Wonderland based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which combined
live action with animation; he cast Virginia Davis in the title role.
The result, a 12-and-a-half-minute, one-reel film, was completed too
late to save Laugh-O-Gram Studio, which went into bankruptcy in 1923.
Disney moved to Hollywood in July 1923.
Although New York was the center of the cartoon industry, he was
attracted to Los Angeles because his brother Roy was convalescing
from tuberculosis there. Disney's efforts to sell Alice's Wonderland
were in vain until he heard from New York film distributor Margaret
J. Winkler. She was losing the rights to both the Out of the Inkwell
and Felix the Cat cartoons, and needed a new series. In October they
signed a contract for six Alice comedies, with an option for two
further series of six episodes each. To produce the films, Disney and
his brother Roy formed what was originally known as
the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, with Walt Disney and his brother,
Roy, as equal partners, the company soon changed its name, at Roy's
suggestion, to the Walt Disney Studio. The Disney brothers
persuaded Davis and her family to relocate to Hollywood to continue
production, with Davis on contract at $100 a month. In July 1924
Disney also hired Iwerks, persuading him to relocate to Hollywood
from Kansas City.
Walt Disney once said, "It all
started with a mouse." but the Walt Disney Studios, however,
actually began five years before Mickey with a girl named Alice in a
series of low-budget, one-reel comedies with an innovative blend of
live action and animation. Virginia Davis (below left) was the
original "Alice" in The Alice Comedies. Born in Kansas City
she starred in the first 14 Alice Comedies starting at the age of
four. She was pulled from production by her parents in 1925 because
of a salary cut. Recalling her work on the "Alice" films,
Davis said, "It was a great time full of fun, adventure,
and 'let's pretend.' I adored and idolized Walt." After
"Alice" she went on to work at other Hollywood Studios as a
child actress and, later, as a supporting actress. She sang, danced,
and acted in such films as Flying Down to Rio, Vivacious Lady, Young
and Beautiful, College Holiday, Song of the Islands, Three on a
Match, The Harvey Girls and Weekend in Havana, among others. On
several occasions, she used the screen name Mary Daily, and appeared
in such films as Hands Across the Rockies with cowboy star Bill
Elliott. During her Hollywood tenure, she also occasionally worked
for her old boss, Walt Disney, did a vocal test for Snow White,
voiced some supporting characters in Pinocchio and served a short
stint in the Disney Studio's Ink-and-Paint department. In 1943, she
married Navy aviator Robert McGhee, and the couple had two daughters.
During their 59-year marriage, they resided in New Jersey,
Connecticut, Southern California, and Idaho. Over a 25-year period,
Virginia worked as a real estate agent mostly in the Irvine,
California and Boise, Idaho areas. She died of natural causes on
August 15th, 2009, aged 90.
When negotiations failed with Virginia
Davis mother, a new actress was found. Born in 1920, Margie Gay
(above right) was the second child actress to play Alice in The Alice
Comedies. Her first Alice episode was "Alice Solves the
Puzzle". Disney decided to update the look of Alice to a
"mini-Louise Brooks" type with Margie who had short hair
with bangs. Margie went on to play Alice in the series for most of
the rest of the run, creating 31 episodes, being replaced by Lois
Hardwick only for a handful of the final shorts when the series began
to focus on the animation more and more and Alice less. Her final
Alice film was "Alices Auto Race" in 1927 and she
appears to have retired from acting. She died on November 14th, 2005
at age 85.
Dawn ODay (above left) replaced
Virginia Davis for only one episode in 1925 before Margie Gay would
take over. She starred in Alices Egg Plant in 1925, but Disney
couldnt afford to pay Oday enough to sustain her family
so she did not continue in the role. ODay did go on to achieved
a successful film career in supporting roles. She changed her name to
Anne Shirley 10 years later after the character she played in
"Anne of Green Gables" in 1934 and went on to star in
Steamboat 'Round the Bend, Make Way for a Lady and Stella Dallas, for
which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting
Actress. Lois Hardwick (above right) was a professional child actress
who played a slightly older version of Alice for the last few
episodes of the series. By the time Hardwick came about the series
was already losing steam, but she seemed to treuly enjoy being Alice.
Lois ended up doing 10 Alice cartoons, but only three have survived.
Alices Wonderland, April 1, 1923, with Virginia Davis as Alice. This short was never theatrically released. It was used as sales material to try to sell the Alice Comedies to a distributor. Alice visits an animation studio, where the animators show her various scenes on their drawing boards.
Alice Gets in Dutch, November 1st 1924, with Virginia Davis as Alice. After Alice is caught pulling a prank in class, she is sent to the corner with a dunce cap, where she quickly grows tired and begins daydreaming. She imagines herself cavorting with various animals until they are all espied by her teacher, who immediately calls forth her book army to vanquish Alice and friends. After a lengthy chase, Alice defends herself by forming her animal friends into an army; the teacher retaliates using a cannon, and looks to be winning until the animals build their own cannon from a junk heap and fill it with pepper. The battle wages until Alice is awakened from her reverie and discovers she has not left her classroom after all.
Alice Wins the Derby (the title kind of gives away the ending), Released July 15th, 1925 with Margie Gay as Alice. Alice, Julius, and one other character are in a combined auto/horse race. Julius gets off to a bad start when his car takes off, without him, in the wrong direction; it takes him a while to get it straightened out.
Early in 1925, Disney hired an ink artist,
Lillian Bounds. They married in July of that year. The marriage was
generally happy, according to Lillian, although according to Disney's
biographer Neal Gabler she did not "accept Walt's decisions
meekly or his status unquestionably, and she admitted that he was
always telling people 'how henpecked he is'." Lillian had little
interest in films or the Hollywood social scene and she was, in the
words of the historian Steven Watts, "content with household
management and providing support for her husband". Their
marriage produced two daughters, Diane (born December 1933) and
Sharon (adopted in December 1936, born six weeks previously). Within
the family, neither Disney nor his wife hid the fact Sharon had been
adopted, although they became annoyed if people outside the family
raised the point. The Disneys were careful to keep their daughters
out of the public eye as much as possible, particularly in the light
of the Lindbergh kidnapping; Disney took steps to ensure his
daughters were not photographed by the press.
1926 Winkler's role in the distribution of the Alice series had been
handed over to her husband, the film producer Charles Mintz, although
the relationship between him and Disney was sometimes strained. The
series ran until July 1927, by which time Disney had begun to tire of
it and wanted to move away from the mixed format to all animation.
After Mintz requested new material to distribute through Universal
Pictures, Disney and Iwerks created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a
character Disney wanted to be "peppy, alert, saucy and
venturesome, keeping him also neat and trim".
Within a year, Disney made
26 of these Oswald cartoons, but when he tried to get some additional
money from his distributor for a second year of the cartoons, he
found out that the distributor had gone behind his back and signed up
almost all of his animators, hoping to make the Oswald cartoons in
his own studio for less money without Walt Disney. On rereading his
contract, Walt realized that he did not own the rights to Oswald -
the distributor did. It was a painful lesson for the young cartoon
producer to learn. From then on, he saw to it that he owned
everything that he made.
lost most of his animation staff, Disney, Iwerks, and the few
non-defecting animators secretly began work on a new mouse character
to take Oswalds place. The defectors became the nucleus of the
Winkler Studio, run by Mintz and his brother-in-law George Winkler.
When that studio went under after Universal assigned production of
the Oswald shorts to an in-house division run by Walter Lantz, Mintz
focused his attentions on the studio making the Krazy Kat shorts,
which later became Screen Gems, and Harman, Ising, Maxwell, and
Freleng marketed a Oswald-like character named Bosko to Leon
Schlesinger and Warner Bros., and began work on the first entries in
the Looney Tunes series.
To replace Oswald, Disney and Iwerks
developed Mickey Mouse, possibly inspired by a pet mouse that Disney
had adopted while working in his Laugh-O-Gram studio, although the
origins of the character are unclear. Disney's original choice of
name was Mortimer Mouse, but Lillian thought it too pompous, and
suggested Mickey instead. Iwerks revised Disney's provisional
sketches to make the character easier to animate, and Disney provided
Mickey's voice until 1947. In the words of one Disney employee,
"Ub designed Mickey's physical appearance, but Walt gave him his soul."
Mickey Mouse first appeared in May 1928 as
a single test screening of the short Plane Crazy, but it, and the
second feature, The Gallopin' Gaucho, failed to find a distributor.
Following the 1927 sensation The Jazz Singer, Disney used
synchronized sound on the third short, Steamboat Willie, to create
the first sound cartoon. After the animation was complete, Disney
signed a contract with the former executive of Universal Pictures,
Pat Powers, to use the "Powers Cinephone" recording system;
Cinephone became the new distributor for Disney's early sound
cartoons, which soon became popular.
Steamboat Willie had opened
to rave reviews at the Colony Theater in New York November 18th,
1928. A cartoon star, Mickey Mouse, was born. The new character was
immediately popular, and while the cartoons were gaining popularity
in movie houses, the Disney staff found that merchandising the
characters was an additional source of revenue. A man in New York
offered Walt $300 for the license to put Mickey Mouse on some pencil
tablets he was manufacturing. Walt Disney needed the $300, so he said
okay. That was the start of Disney merchandising. Soon there were
Mickey Mouse dolls, dishes, toothbrushes, radios, figurines - almost
everything you could think of bore Mickey's likeness. The first
Mickey Mouse book was published in 1930, as was the first Mickey
Mouse newspaper comic strip.
The original Disney Studio
had been in the back half of a real estate office on Kingswell Avenue
in Hollywood, but soon Walt had enough money to move next door and
rent a whole store for his studio. That small studio was sufficient
for a couple of years, but the company eventually outgrew it and Walt
had to look elsewhere. He found an ideal piece of property on
Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood, built a studio, and in 1926 moved his
staff to the new facility. It was at the Hyperion Studio, after the
loss of Oswald, were Mickey Mouse was born.
improve the quality of the music, Disney hired the professional
composer and arranger Carl Stalling, on whose suggestion the Silly
Symphony series was developed, providing stories through the use of
music; the first in the series, The Skeleton Dance (1929), was drawn
and animated entirely by Iwerks. Also hired at this time were several
local artists, some of whom stayed with the company as core
animators; the group later became known as the Nine Old Men. Both the
Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies series were successful, but Disney
and his brother felt they were not receiving their rightful share of
profits from Powers at Universal Pictures.
In 1930, Disney tried to trim costs from
the process by urging Iwerks to abandon the practice of animating
every separate cel in favor of the more efficient technique of
drawing key poses and letting lower-paid assistants sketch the
in-between poses. Disney asked Powers for an increase in payments for
the cartoons. Powers refused and signed Iwerks to work for him;
Stalling resigned shortly afterwards, thinking that without Iwerks,
the Disney Studio would close. Disney had a nervous breakdown in
October 1931 which he blamed on the machinations of Powers and his
own overwork so he and Lillian took an extended holiday to Cuba and a
cruise to Panama to recover.
With the loss of Powers as distributor,
Disney studios signed a contract with Columbia Pictures to distribute
the Mickey Mouse cartoons, which continued to gain popularity,
including internationally. Disney, always keen to embrace new
technology, filmed Flowers and Trees (1932) in full-color three-strip
Technicolor; he was also able to negotiate a deal giving him the sole
right to use the three-strip process until August 31st, 1935. All
subsequent Silly Symphony cartoons were in color. Flowers and Trees
was popular with audiences and won the Academy Award for best Short
Subject (Cartoon) at the 1932 ceremony. Disney had been nominated for
another film in that category, Mickey's Orphans, and received an
Honorary Award "for the creation of Mickey Mouse".
In 1933, Disney produced The Three Little
Pigs, a film described by the media historian Adrian Danks as
"the most successful short animation of all time". The film
won Disney another Academy Award in the Short Subject (Cartoon)
category. The film's success led to a further increase in the
studio's staff, which numbered nearly 200 by the end of the year.
Disney realized the importance of telling emotionally gripping
stories that would interest the audience, and he invested in a
"story department" separate from the animators, with
storyboard artists who would detail the plots of Disney's films.
By 1934, Disney had become
dissatisfied with producing formulaic cartoon shorts, and began a
four-year production of a feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs, based on the fairy tale. When news leaked out about the
project, many in the film industry predicted it would bankrupt the
company; industry insiders nicknamed it "Disney's Folly".
The film, which was the first animated feature made in full color and
sound, cost $1.5 million to produce, three times over budget. To
ensure the animation was as realistic as possible, Disney sent his
animators on courses at the Chouinard Art Institute; he brought
animals into the studio and hired actors so that the animators could
study realistic movement. To portray the changing perspective of the
background as a camera moved through a scene, Disney's animators
developed a multiplane camera which allowed drawings on pieces of
glass to be set at various distances from the camera, creating an
illusion of depth. The glass could be moved to create the impression
of a camera passing through the scene. The first work created on the
camera, a Silly Symphony called The Old Mill (1937), won the Academy
Award for Animated Short Film because of its impressive visual power.
Although Snow White had been largely finished by the time the
multiplane camera had been completed, Disney ordered some scenes be
re-drawn to use the new effects.
Snow White premiered in
December 1937 to high praise from critics and audiences. The film
became the most successful motion picture of 1938 and by May 1939 its
total gross of $6.5 million made it the most successful sound film
made to that date. Disney won another Honorary Academy Award, which
consisted of one full-sized and seven miniature Oscar statuettes. The
success of Snow White heralded one of the most productive eras for
the studio following with Pinocchio in early 1938 and Fantasia in
November of the same year. Both films were released in 1940, and
though technical masterpieces neither performed well at the box
office partly because revenues from Europe had dropped following the
start of World War II in 1939. The studio made a loss on both
pictures and was deeply in debt by the end of February 1941.
In response to the
financial crisis, Disney and his brother Roy started the company's
first public stock offering in 1940, and implemented heavy salary
cuts. The latter measure, and Disney's sometimes high-handed and
insensitive manner of dealing with staff, led to a 1941 animators'
strike which lasted five weeks. While a federal mediator from the
National Labor Relations Board negotiated with the two sides, Disney
accepted an offer from the Office of the Coordinator of
Inter-American Affairs to make a goodwill trip to South America,
ensuring he was absent during a resolution he knew would be
unfavorable to the studio. As a result of the strike, and the
financial state of the company, several animators left the studio,
and Disney's relationship with other members of staff was permanently
strained as a result. The strike temporarily interrupted the studio's
next production, Dumbo (1941), which Disney produced in a simple and
inexpensive manner and the film received a positive reaction from
audiences and critics alike.
after the release of Dumbo in October 1941, the U.S. entered World
War II. Disney formed the Walt Disney Training Films Unit within the
company to produce instruction films for the military such as Four
Methods of Flush Riveting and Aircraft Production Methods. Disney
also produced short Donald Duck cartoons to promote war bonds and
several propaganda productions, including shorts such as Der
Fuehrer's Face, which won an Academy Award, and the 1943 feature film
Victory Through Air Power. Also during the war, Walt
Disney made two films in South America, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
The military films generated only enough
revenue to cover costs, and the feature film Bambi, which had been in
production since 1937, underperformed on its release in April 1942,
and lost $200,000 at the box office. On top of the low earnings from
Pinocchio and Fantasia, the company had debts of $4 million with the
Bank of America in 1944. At a meeting with Bank of America executives
to discuss the future of the company, the bank's chairman and
founder, Amadeo Giannini, told his executives, "I've been
watching the Disneys' pictures quite closely because I knew we were
lending them money far above the financial risk. ... They're good
this year, they're good next year, and they're good the year after.
... You have to relax and give them time to market their
product." Disney's production of short films decreased in the
late 1940s, coinciding with increasing competition in the animation
market from Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Roy Disney, for
financial reasons, suggested more combined animation and live-action
productions. In 1948, Disney initiated a series of popular
live-action nature films, titled True-Life Adventures, with Seal
Island the first; the film won the Academy Award in the Best Short
Subject (Two-Reel) category.
continued to moved into live action production with Song of the
South and So Dear to My Heart, but because audiences expected
animation from Walt Disney, these films included animated segments.
In early 1950, Disney produced Cinderella, his studio's first
animated feature in eight years. It was popular with critics and
theater audiences. Costing $2.2 million to produce, it earned nearly
$8 million in its first year. Disney was less involved than he had
been with previous pictures because of his involvement in his first
entirely live-action feature, Treasure Island (1950), which was shot
in Britain, as was The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952).
Other all-live-action features followed, many of which had patriotic
themes. He continued to produce full-length animated features too,
including Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953). From the
early to mid-1950s, Disney began to devote less attention to the
animation department, entrusting most of its operations to his key
animators, the Nine Old Men, although he was always present at story
meetings. Instead, he started concentrating on other ventures.
The company was moving
forward again this time into the new medium of television. After two
Christmas specials, Disney went onto television in a big way in 1954
with the beginning of the Disneyland anthology series. This series
eventually would run on all three networks, and go through six title
changes, but it remained on the air for 29 years, making it the
longest-running prime-time television series ever. The Mickey Mouse
Club, one of television's most popular children's series, debuted in
1955 and aired intermittently to 1996 and returned again in 2017 on
social media. Over the course of it's run it has made stars of a
group of talented Mouseketeers from Annette Funicello, Dennis Day and
Cheryl Holdridge to Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera
and Justin Timberlake.
Disney grew more politically conservative
as he got older. A Democratic Party supporter until the 1940
presidential election, when he switched allegiance to the
Republicans, he became a generous donor to Thomas E. Dewey's 1944 bid
for the presidency. In 1946 he was a founding member of the Motion
Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an
organization who stated they "believ[ed] in, and like, the
American Way of Life... we find ourselves in sharp revolt against a
rising tide of Communism, Fascism and kindred beliefs, that seek by
subversive means to undermine and change this way of life". In
1947, during the Second Red Scare, Disney testified before the House
Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where he branded Herbert
Sorrell, David Hilberman and William Pomerance, former animators and
labor union organizers, as communist agitators; Disney stated that
the 1941 strike led by them was part of an organized communist effort
to gain influence in Hollywood.
In 1949, Disney and his family moved to a
new home in the Holmby Hills district of Los Angeles. With the help
of his friends Ward and Betty Kimball, who already had their own
backyard railroad, Disney developed blueprints and immediately set to
work on creating a miniature live steam railroad for his backyard.
The name of the railroad, Carolwood Pacific Railroad, came from his
home's location on Carolwood Drive. The miniature working steam
locomotive was built by Disney Studios engineer Roger E. Broggie, and
Disney named it Lilly Belle after his wife; after three years Disney
ordered it into storage due to a series of accidents involving his
guests, but he was about to embark on an even bigger building
project, and this one would have a train as well.
For several years Disney
had been considering building a theme park. When he visited Griffith
Park in Los Angeles with his daughters, he wanted to be in a clean,
unspoiled park, where both children and their parents could have fun.
He visited the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was heavily
influenced by the cleanliness and layout of the park. In March 1952
he received zoning permission to build a theme park in Burbank, near
the Disney studios. This site proved too small, and a larger plot in
Anaheim, 35 miles (56 km) south of the studio, was purchased. To
distance the project from the studio, which might attract the
criticism of shareholders, Disney formed WED Enterprises (now Walt
Disney Imagineering) and used his own money to fund a group of
designers and animators to work on the plans; those involved became
known as "Imagineers".
mid-1954, Disney sent his Imagineers to every amusement park in the
U.S. to analyze what worked and what pitfalls or problems there were
in the various locations and incorporated their findings into his
design. Construction work started in July 1954, and Disneyland opened
in July 1955.
The park was designed as a
series of themed lands, linked by the central Main Street, U.S.A., a
replica of the main street in his hometown of Marceline.
The connected themed areas
were Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The
park also contained the narrow gauge Disneyland Railroad that linked
the lands; around the outside of the park was a high berm to separate
the park from the outside world.
An editorial in The New
York Times considered that Disney had "tastefully combined some
of the pleasant things of yesterday with fantasy and dreams of
tomorrow". Although there were early minor problems with the
park, it was a success, and after a month's operation, Disneyland was
receiving over 20,000 visitors a day; by the end of its first year,
it attracted 3.6 million guests.
As well as the construction
of Disneyland, Disney worked on other projects away from the studio.
He was consultant to the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow;
Disney Studios' contribution was America the Beautiful, a 19-minute
film in the 360-degree Circarama theater that was one of the most
popular attractions. The following year he acted as the chairman of
the Pageantry Committee for the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley,
California, where he designed the opening, closing and medal ceremonies.
Disneyland was a totally
new kind of park. Observers coined the term "theme park,"
but even that does not seem to do Disneyland justice. It has been
used as a pattern for every amusement park built since its opening,
becoming internationally famous, and attracting hundreds of millions
of visitors. Walt said that Disneyland would never be completed as
long as there was imagination left in the world, and that statement
remains true today. New attractions are added regularly, and
Disneyland still is as popular as it was in 1955.
Despite the demands wrought
by non-studio projects, Disney continued to work on film and
television projects. In 1955 he was involved in "Man in
Space", an episode of the Disneyland series, which was made in
collaboration with NASA rocket designer Wernher von Braun. Disney
also oversaw aspects of the full-length features Lady and the Tramp
(the first animated film in CinemaScope) in 1955, Sleeping Beauty
(the first animated film in Technirama 70 mm film) in 1959. The 1950s
also saw the release of the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the
first in a series of wacky comedies The Shaggy Dog, and a popular TV
series about the legendary hero, Zorro.
Heading into the 60s Disney
produced One Hundred and One Dalmatians (the first animated feature
film to use Xerox cels) in 1961 and The Sword in the Stone in 1963.
In 1964, Disney produced Mary Poppins, based on the book series by P.
L. Travers; he had been trying to acquire the rights to the story
since the 1940s. It became the most successful Disney film of the
1960s, although Travers disliked the film intensely and regretted
having sold the rights.
Disney provided four
exhibits for the 1964 New York World's Fair, for which he obtained
funding from selected corporate sponsors. For PepsiCo, who planned to
tribute UNICEF, Disney developed It's a Small World, a boat ride with audio-animatronic
dolls depicting children of the world; Great Moments with Mr.
Lincoln contained an animatronic Abraham Lincoln giving excerpts from
his speeches; Carousel of Progress promoted the importance of
electricity; and Ford's Magic Skyway portrayed the progress of
mankind. Elements of all four exhibits, principally concepts and
technology, were re-installed in Disneyland, although It's a Small
World is the ride that most closely resembles the original.
With income from Disneyland
accounting for an increasing proportion of the studio's income,
Disney continued to look for venues for other attractions. In late
1965, he announced plans to develop another theme park to be called
"Disney World" (now Walt Disney World), a few miles
southwest of Orlando, Florida. Disney World was to include the
"Magic Kingdom", a larger and more elaborate version of
Disneyland, plus golf courses and resort hotels. The heart of Disney
World was to be the "Experimental Prototype Community of
Tomorrow" (EPCOT), which he described as: "an experimental
prototype community of tomorrow that will take its cue from the new
ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative
centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that
will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing
and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be
a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American
Disney's plans for the futuristic city of
EPCOT did not come to fruition. After Disney's death, his brother Roy
deferred his retirement to take full control of the Disney companies.
He changed the focus of the project from a town to an attraction. At
the inauguration in 1971, Roy dedicated Walt Disney World to his
brother. Walt Disney World expanded with the opening of Epcot Center
in 1982; Walt Disney's vision of a functional city was replaced by a
park more akin to a permanent world's fair. In 2009, the Walt Disney
Family Museum, designed by Disney's daughter Diane and her son Walter
E. D. Miller, opened in the Presidio of San Francisco. Thousands of
artifacts from Disney's life and career are on display, including
numerous awards that he received.
During 1966, Disney
increased his involvement in the studio's films, and was heavily
involved in the story development of The Jungle Book, the live-action
musical feature The Happiest Millionaire (both 1967) and the animated
short Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.
Plans that Walt left behind
carried the company for a number of years under the supervision of
Roy Disney. The Jungle Book in 1967 and The Aristocats in 1970 showed
that the company could still make animated classics, and The Love Bug
in 1969 was the highest grossing film of the year. Disney got into
educational films and materials in a big way with the start of an
educational subsidiary in 1969.
Prior to Walt Disney's
death the company purchased land in Florida, and the Walt Disney
World project, located on some 28,000 acres near Orlando, was
announced. It opened October 1st, 1971. In Florida, the company had
the space it lacked in California. Finally there was room to create a
destination resort, unencumbered by the urban sprawl that had grown
up around Disneyland. Walt Disney World would include not only a
Magic Kingdom theme park like Disneyland but also hotels,
campgrounds, golf courses, and shopping villages. It did not take
long for Walt Disney World to become the premier vacation destination
in the world.
Disney's public persona was
very different from his actual personality. Playwright Robert E.
Sherwood described him as "almost painfully shy...
diffident" and self-deprecating. According to his biographer
Richard Schickel, Disney hid his shy and insecure personality behind
his public identity. Kimball argues that Disney "played the role
of a bashful tycoon who was embarrassed in public" and knew that
he was doing so. Disney acknowledged the facade, and told a friend
that "I'm not Walt Disney. I do a lot of things Walt Disney
would not do. Walt Disney does not smoke. I smoke. Walt Disney does
not drink. I drink." Critic Otis Ferguson, in The New Republic,
called the private Disney: "common and everyday, not
inaccessible, not in a foreign language, not suppressed or sponsored
or anything. Just Disney." Many of those with whom Disney worked
commented that he gave his staff little encouragement due to his
exceptionally high expectations. Norman recalls that when Disney said
"That'll work", it was an indication of high praise.
Instead of direct approval, Disney gave high-performing staff
financial bonuses, or recommended certain individuals to others,
expecting that his praise would be passed on.
Walt Disney was a chain
smoker his entire adult life, although he made sure he was not seen
smoking around children. In 1966, doctors discovered a tumor in his
left lung. Five days later a biopsy showed the tumor to be malignant
and to have spread throughout the entire left lung. After removing
the lung on November 11th, the surgeons informed Disney that his life
expectancy was six months to two years. On December 15th, 1966, five
weeks after his surgery and ten days after his 65th birthday, at 9:30
a.m., Disney died of acute circulatory collapse, caused by lung
cancer. The last thing he reportedly wrote before his death was the
name of actor Kurt Russell, the significance of which remains a
mystery, even to Russell.
long-standing urban legend maintains that Disney was cryonically
frozen, and his frozen corpse stored beneath the Pirates of the
Caribbean ride at Disneyland, but Disney's remains were cremated on
December 17th, 1966, and his ashes interred at the Forest Lawn
Memorial Park in Glendale, California. The first known human cryonic
freezing was in January 1967, more than a month after Disney's death.
The urban legend remains, though later reported by a "Disney
publicist", the source of the rumor was a group of Disney Studio
animators with "a bizarre sense of humor" who were playing
a final prank on their late boss.
Other rumors persisted and
circulated after his death. Disney was long rumored to be antisemitic
during his lifetime, although none of his employees including the
animator Art Babbitt, who disliked Disney intensely, ever accused him
of making anti-semitic slurs or taunts. The Walt Disney Family Museum
acknowledges that ethnic stereotypes common to films of the 1930s
were included in some early cartoons. Disney donated regularly to
Jewish charities, he was named "1955 Man of the Year" by
the B'nai B'rith chapter in Beverly Hills, and his studio employed a
number of Jews, some of whom were in influential positions. In 2006
Disney biographer Neal Gabler, the first writer to gain unrestricted
access to the Disney archives, concluded that available evidence did
not support accusations of antisemitism. Disney got the reputation
because, in the 1940s, he got himself allied with a group called the
Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals,
which was an anti-Communist and antisemitic organization. He
willingly allied himself with people who were antisemitic, and that
reputation stuck and was never really able to expunge it throughout
his life. Disney eventually distanced himself from the Motion Picture
Alliance in the 1950s.
has also been accused of racism because some of his productions
released between the 1930s and 1950s contain racially insensitive
materials. Some Disney cartoons of the period sometimes displayed
racially insensitive material and engaged in racial stereotyping. The
controversy developed in later years because of changing attitudes
and certainly none of this material would be accepted by the public
today and remains permanently in the Disney vault. The feature film
Song of the South was criticized by contemporary film critics, the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and
others for its perpetuation of black stereotypes, but Disney later
campaigned successfully for an Honorary Academy Award for its star,
James Baskett, the first black actor so honored. Despite the times,
there is no evidence that Disney expressed any hatred or bigotry
against any racial group, publicly or privately, and he hired
employees of all racial backgrounds, religions, and nationalities
throughout his career. Gabler writes that Walt Disney was no racist
but, like most white Americans of his generation he was racially
insensitive. Floyd Norman, the studio's first black animator who
worked closely with Disney during the 1950s and 1960s, said, "Not
once did I observe a hint of the racist behavior Walt Disney was
often accused of after his death. His treatment of people, and by
this I mean all people, can only be called exemplary." He also
thoroughly enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, a film dealing with racial
justice, claiming "That's the kind of film I wish I could make."
Roy O. Disney, who after
Walt's death oversaw the building and financing of Walt Disney World,
died late in 1971, and for the next decade the company was led by a
team including Card Walker, Donn Tatum, and Ron Miller, all
originally trained by the Disney brothers.
While Walt Disney Productions continued
releasing family-friendly films throughout the 1970s, such as Escape
to Witch Mountain (1975) and Freaky Friday (1976), the films did not
fare as well at the box office as earlier material. However, the
animation studio saw success with Robin Hood (1973), The Rescuers
(1977), and The Fox and the Hound (1981).
As head of the studio, Miller attempted to
make films to drive the profitable teenage market who generally
passed on seeing Disney films. Inspired by the popularity of Star
Wars, Disney produced the science-fiction adventure The Black Hole in
1979 that cost $20 million to make, but was lost in Star Wars' wake.
The Black Hole was the first Disney film to carry a PG rating in the
United States. Disney also dabbled in the horror genre with The
Watcher in the Woods, and financed the boldly innovative Tron; both
films were released to minimal success.
Disney also hired outside producers for
film projects, which had never been done before in the studio's
history. In 1979, Disney entered a joint venture with Paramount
Pictures on the production of the 1980 film adaptation of Popeye and
Dragonslayer (1981); the first time Disney collaborated with another
studio. Paramount distributed Disney films in Canada at the time, and
it was hoped that Disney's marketing prestige would help sell the two films.
Finally, in 1982, the Disney family sold
the naming rights and rail-based attractions to the Disney film
studio for 818,461 shares of Disney stock then worth $42.6 million.
Roy E. Disney objected to the overvalued purchase price of the naming
right and voted against the purchase as a Disney board director. The
1983 release of Mickey's Christmas Carol began a string of successful
movies, starting with Never Cry Wolf and the Ray Bradbury adaptation
Something Wicked This Way Comes. The Walt Disney Productions film
division was incorporated on April 1st, 1983 as Walt Disney Pictures
and in 1984, Disney CEO Ron Miller created Touchstone Films as a
brand for Disney to release more major motion pictures. Touchstone's
first release was the comedy Splash (1984), which was a box office success.
The Wonderful World of Disney remaining a prime-time staple, Disney
returned to television in the 1970s with syndicated programming such
as the anthology series The Mouse Factory and a brief revival of the
Mickey Mouse Club. In 1980, Disney launched Walt Disney Home Video to
take advantage of the newly emerging videocassette market. On April
18th, 1983, The Disney Channel debuted as a subscription-level
channel on cable systems nationwide, featuring its large library of
classic films and TV series, along with original programming and family-friendly
Walt Disney World received much of the
company's attention through the 1970s and into the 1980s. EPCOT
Center opened in October 1982, inspired by Walt Disney's dream of a
futuristic model city. EPCOT Center was built as a "permanent
World's Fair", complete with exhibits sponsored by major
American corporations, as well as pavilions based on the cultures of
other nations. In Japan, the Oriental Land Company partnered with
Walt Disney Productions to build the first Disney theme park outside
of the United States, Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in April 1983 and
was an immediate success in a country that had always loved anything Disney.
Despite the success of the Disney Channel
and its new theme park creations, Walt Disney Productions was
financially vulnerable. Its film library was valuable, but offered
few current successes, and its leadership team was unable to keep up
with other studios, particularly the works of Don Bluth, who defected
from Disney in 1979.
By the early 1980s, the parks were
generating 70% of Disney's income and in 1984, financier Saul
Steinberg's Reliance Group Holdings launched a hostile takeover bid
for Walt Disney Productions, with the intent of selling off some of
its operations. Disney bought out Reliance's 11.1% stake in the
company. However, another shareholder filed suit claiming the deal
devaluated Disney's stock. The shareholder lawsuit was settled in
1989 for a total of $45 million from Disney and Reliance.
With the Sid Bass family purchase of 18.7
percent of Disney, Bass and the board brought in Michael Eisner from
Paramount as CEO and Frank Wells from Warner Bros. as president.
Eisner emphasized Touchstone and Disney hit new
heights in 1988 and led Hollywood studios in box-office gross for the
first time. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Good Morning, Vietnam, Three Men
and a Baby, and later, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Dick Tracy, Pretty
Woman, and Sister Act passed the $100 million milestone. Disney moved
into new areas by starting Hollywood Pictures, and acquiring the
Wrather Corp. (owner of the Disneyland Hotel) and television station
KHJ (Los Angeles), which was renamed KCAL. Eisner used
expanding cable and home video markets to sign deals using Disney
shows and films with a long-term deal with Showtime Networks for
Disney/Touchstone releases through 1996 and entering television with
syndication and distribution for TV series as The Golden Girls and
Home Improvement. In merchandising, Disney purchased
Childcraft and opened over 200 highly successful and profitable
and also began limited
releases of its previous films on video tapes in the late 1980s.
Beginning with Who Framed
Roger Rabbit in 1988, Disney's flagship animation studio enjoyed a
series of commercial and critical successes with such films as The
Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992).
In addition, the company successfully entered the field of television
animation with a number of lavishly budgeted and acclaimed series
such as Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Duck Tales, Chip 'n Dale
Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck and Gargoyles. Disney moved to first
place in box office receipts by 1988 and had increased revenues by
20% every year.
DISNEY AND THE MUPPETS
In 1984, Jim Henson considered purchasing
the Disney company, which at the time was run by Ron Miller and under
the threat of a hostile takeover by corporate raider Saul Steinberg.
The idea never went further than inquiries, but after Michael Eisner,
Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over management of Disney,
the idea of a Disney/Henson pairing was revived but didn't go
anywhere because any deal would not include the Sesame Street characters.
Henson again had a desire to sell the company to Disney in 1989, and
officially entered into a merger agreement reportedly valued at $150
million. The deal included Henson's programming
library and Muppet characters (excluding the Muppets created for
Sesame Street), as well as Jim Henson's personal creative services.
However, Henson died suddenly in May 1990 before the deal was
completed, resulting in the two companies terminating merger
negotiations the following December.
All the character
illustrators at Walt Disney World were asked to create concept
sketches to choose from for the condolence card to be presented to
the Henson family from Walt Disney World. Each artist created
several. At right is one by Joe Lanzisero and Tim Kirk.
Though the merger didn't
happen, throughout the 1990s The Jim Henson Company partnered with
Disney. The Walt Disney Company produced and released The Muppet
Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, the first two Muppet
movies made after Jim Henson died, and for a time in the early '90s,
controlled the video release rights to The Muppet Movie, The Great
Muppet Caper, episodes of Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies, and other
properties, released through their Buena Vista Home Entertainment
label (under a label titled Jim Henson Video). In addition, Walt
Disney Home Video released a number of Sesame Street videos in the
UK. Muppets Tonight was also produced for the Disney-owned ABC
network and Disney Channel. Disney also produced Bear in the Big Blue
House with The Jim Henson Company for Disney Channel.
In 2000, Henson Productions was sold to
German media group EM.TV & Merchandising AG for $680 million.
Following the sale, EM.TV was plagued with financial problems and the
Henson family purchased the company back in 2003, with the exception
of the rights to the Sesame Street characters, which were sold to
Fourteen years after initial negotiations
began, Disney purchased the Muppet intellectual properties from the
Jim Henson Company for $75 million on February 17th, 2004.
transaction included all Muppet assets, including the Kermit the
Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal characters, the
Muppet film and television library, and all associated copyrights and
trademarks, as well as all the Bear in the Big Blue House characters,
television library, copyrights and trademarks. The transaction did
not include the Sesame Street characters, which are separately owned
by Sesame Workshop, nor did it include Fraggle Rock and other
franchises, which The Jim Henson Company retained. The deal also
included non-exclusive production and consulting agreements under
which the Henson company would develop potential new programming
featuring the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House for Disney.
Sesame Workshop has permission from Disney to use old Kermit segments
from Sesame Street in new DVD releases and online. The new company
was named The Muppets Studio, LLC (formerly Muppets Holding Company,
LLC) and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. The
first major production of The Muppets Studio was The Muppets' Wizard
of Oz, a television movie that was already in development with ABC
prior to Disney's purchase of the Muppets. In 2011, a new theatrical
Muppet movie was released through Walt Disney Pictures, entitled The
Muppets. This was followed by a sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, released
by Disney in 2014.
Hollywood Records was
formed to offer a wide selection of recordings ranging from rap to
movie soundtracks. New television shows, such as Live With Regis and
Kathy Lee, Empty Nest and Dinosaurs expanded Disney's television
base. For the first time, Disney moved into publishing, forming
Hyperion Books, Hyperion Books for Children, and Disney Press, which
released books on Disney and non-Disney subjects. In 1991, Disney
purchased Discover magazine, the leading consumer science monthly.
Over in France, the park,
now known as Disneyland Paris opened on April 12th, 1992. Eagerly
anticipated, the beautifully designed park attracted almost 11
million visitors during its first year. Disneyland Paris is
complemented by six uniquely designed resort hotels and a campground.
Dixie Landings and Port Orleans, and a well-received Disney Vacation
Club enlarged lodging possibilities at the Walt Disney World Resort,
and Mickey's Toontown helped increase attendance at Disneyland after
its 1993 debut. Walt Disney World opened the All-Star Resorts,
Wilderness Lodge, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Blizzard
Beach, and redesigned Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom, and at
Disneyland, the opening of the Indiana Jones Adventure increased the
number of visitors.
a totally new venture, Disney was awarded in 1993 the franchise for
a National Hockey League team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (named of
course after the Disney movie). Disney also broadened its adult
offerings in film when then Disney Studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg
acquired Miramax Films tha same year.
The Disney success with
animated films continued in 1994 with The Lion King, which soon
became one of the highest-grossing films of all-time. It was followed
by Pocahontas in 1995 and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996. Disney
also continued its strong presence in children's animated programs
for television, with Aladdin and Gargoyles receiving high ratings.
President Frank Wells was killed in a helicopter crash in 1994.
Shortly thereafter, Katzenberg resigned and formed DreamWorks SKG
because Eisner would not appoint Katzenberg to Wells' now-available
post (Katzenberg had also sued over the terms of his contract).
Instead, Eisner recruited his friend Michael Ovitz, one of the
founders of the Creative Artists Agency, to be President, with
minimal involvement from Disney's board of directors (which at the
time included Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier, the CEO of Hilton
Hotels Corporation Stephen Bollenbach, former U.S. Senator George
Mitchell, Yale dean Robert A. M. Stern, and Eisner's predecessors
Raymond Watson and Card Walker). Ovitz lasted only 14 months and left
Disney in December 1996 via a "no fault termination" with a
severance package of $38 million in cash and 3 million stock options
worth roughly $100 million at the time of Ovitz's departure.
The Ovitz episode
engendered a long running derivative suit, which finally concluded in
June 2006, almost 10 years later. Chancellor William B. Chandler, III
of the Delaware Court of Chancery, despite describing Eisner's
behavior as falling "far short of what shareholders expect and
demand from those entrusted with a fiduciary position..." found
in favor of Eisner and the rest of the Disney board because they had
not violated the letter of the law (namely, the duty of care owed by
a corporation's officers and board to its shareholders). Eisner later
revealed in 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he
regretted letting Ovitz go.
Eisner attempted in 1994 to
purchase NBC from General Electric (GE), but the deal failed due to
GE wanting to keep 51 percent ownership of the network. Disney
acquired many other media sources during the decade, including a
merger with Capital Cities/ABC in 1995 which brought broadcast
network ABC and its assets, including the A&E Television Networks
and ESPN networks, 10 TV stations, 21 radio stations and seven daily
newspapers into the Disney fold. The $19 billion transaction,
second-largest in U.S. history and included television programs
produced by Disney's Buena Vista Television such as ABC-TV's Home
Improvement with Tim Allen whose relationship with Disney includes
Toy Story (made with Pixar) and the Santa Clause franchise.
Disney, which had taken
control of the Anaheim Angels in 1996, purchased a majority stake in
the team in 1998. That same year, Disney began a move into the
internet field with the purchase of software company Starwave and 43
percent of Infoseek internet search engine. In 1999, Disney purchased
the remaining shares of Infoseek and launch the Go Network portal in
January. Disney also launched its cruise line with the christening of
Disney Magic and a sister ship, Disney Wonder.
Eisner's controlling style
inhibited efficiency and progress according to some critics but 2000
brought an increase in revenue of 9 percent and net income of 39
percent with ABC and ESPN leading the way and Parks and Resorts
marking its sixth consecutive year of growth. However, the September
11th attacks led to a decline in vacation travel and the early 2000s
recession led to a decrease in ABC revenue. Plus, Eisner had the
company make an expensive purchase of Fox Family Worldwide. 2001 was
a year of cost cutting laying off 4,000 employees, Disney parks
operations decreased, slashing annual live-action film investment,
and minimizing Internet operations. While 2002 revenue had a small
decrease from 2001 with the cost cutting, net income rose to $1.2
billion with two creative film releases. In 2003, Disney became the
first studio to record over $3 billion in worldwide box office receipts.
When production for the
film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was first
announced in early 2002, movie fans and critics were skeptical of its
chances of being a success; the concept of Disney basing a movie upon
one of its own theme-park rides seemed to many a crass marketing
ploy. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Pirates became the first Walt
Disney Pictures release to earn a PG-13 rating by the MPAA (all
previous WDP releases were rated G or PG). The action-adventure/comedy
set in the Caribbean during the early 1700s stars Johnny Depp,
Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and grossed more
than $653 million worldwide. The original film and it's sequels have
proven to be to a successful franchise for Walt Disney Pictures.
did not want the board to renominate Roy E. Disney (right), the son
of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney, as a board director citing his
age of 72 as a required retirement age. Stanley Gold responded by
resigning from the board and requesting the other board members oust
Eisner. In 2003, Disney resigned from his positions as the company's
vice chairman and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation, accusing
Eisner of micromanagement, failures with the ABC television network,
timidity in the theme park business, turning The Walt Disney Company
into a "rapacious, soul-less" company, and refusing to
establish a clear succession plan, as well as a string of box-office
film flops starting in the year 2000.
On May 15th, 2003, Disney
sold their stake in the Anaheim Angels baseball team to Arte Moreno.
Disney purchased the rights to The Muppets and the Bear in the Big
Blue House franchises from The Jim Henson Company on February 17th,
2004. The two brands were placed under control of the Muppets Holding
Company, LLC, a unit of Disney Consumer Products.
In 2004, Pixar Animation
Studios began looking for another distributor after its 12-year
contract with Disney ended, due to its strained relationship over
issues of control and money with Eisner. Also that year, Comcast
Corporation made an unsolicited $54 billion bid to acquire Disney. A
couple of high budget films flopped at the box office. With these
difficulties and with some board directors dissatisfied, Eisner ceded
the board chairmanship.
On March 3rd, 2004, at
Disney's annual shareholders' meeting, a surprising 45% of Disney's
shareholders, predominantly rallied by former board members Roy
Disney and Stanley Gold, withheld their proxies to re-elect Eisner to
the board. Disney's board then gave the chairmanship position to
Mitchell. However, the board did not immediately remove Eisner as
In 2005, Disney sold the
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim hockey team to Henry and Susan Samueli and on
March 13th, 2005, Robert A. Iger was announced as Eisner successor as
CEO. On September 30th, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a
member of the Board of Directors.
On July 8th, 2005, Walt Disney's nephew,
Roy E. Disney, returned to the company as a consultant and as
non-voting director emeritus. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
celebrated the 50th anniversary of Disneyland Park on July 17th and
opened Hong Kong Disneyland on September 12th. Walt Disney Feature
Animation released Chicken Little, the company's first film using 3D
animation. On October 1st, Iger replaced Eisner as CEO. Miramax
co-founders Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein also departed the
company to form their own studio. On July 25th, 2005, Disney
announced that it was closing DisneyToon Studios Australia in October
2006 after 17 years of existence.
DISNEY AND PIXAR
began in 1979 as the Graphics Group, part of the Lucasfilm computer
division, before its spin-out as a corporation in 1986, with funding
by Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, who became the majority
shareholder. Pixar was a high-end computer hardware company whose
core product was the Pixar Image Computer, a system primarily sold to
government agencies and the medical community. One of the buyers of
Pixar Image Computers was Walt Disney Studios, which was using the
device as part of their secretive CAPS project, using the machine and
custom software (written by Pixar) to migrate the laborious ink and
paint part of the 2-D animation process to a more automated and thus
efficient method. The Image Computer never sold well. In a bid to
drive sales of the system, Pixar employee John Lasseter, who had long
been creating short demonstration animations, such as Luxo Jr., to
show off the device's capabilities, premiered his creations at
SIGGRAPH, the computer graphics industry's largest convention, to
As poor sales of Pixar's
computers threatened to put the company out of business, Apple Inc.
co-founder Steve Jobs, invested more and more money and took more and
more ownership away from the management and employees until after
several years he owned essentially all the company for a total
investment of $50 million. Lasseter's animation department began
producing computer-animated commercials for outside companies. In
April 1990 Pixar sold its hardware division, including all
proprietary hardware technology and imaging software, to Vicom
Systems and continued its successful relationship with Walt Disney
Feature Animation, a studio whose corporate parent would ultimately
become its most important partner. In 1991, after a tough start of
the year when about 30 employees in the company's computer department
had to go Pixar made a $26 million deal with Disney to produce three
computer-animated feature films, the first of which was Toy Story.
Even as late as 1994, Jobs
contemplated selling Pixar to other companies, among them Microsoft.
Only after learning from New York critics that Toy Story was probably
going to be a success and confirming that Disney would distribute it
for the 1995 Christmas season did he decide to give Pixar another
chance. Toy Story went on to gross more than $361 million worldwide.
Pixar and Disney had
disagreements after the production of Toy Story 2. Originally
intended as a straight-to-video release (and thus not part of Pixar's
three-picture deal), the film was eventually upgraded to a theatrical
release during production. Pixar demanded that the film then be
counted toward the three-picture agreement, but Disney refused.
Though profitable for both, Pixar later complained that the
arrangement was not equitable. Pixar was responsible for creation and
production, while Disney handled marketing and distribution. Profits
and production costs were split 50-50, but Disney exclusively owned
all story and sequel rights and also collected a distribution fee.
The lack of story and sequel rights was perhaps the most onerous
aspect to Pixar and set the stage for a contentious relationship.
animation, with which Walt Disney started his company, was, for a
time, no longer produced at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. After
a stream of financially unsuccessful traditionally-animated features
in the early 2000s, the two satellite studios in Paris and Orlando
were closed, and the main studio in Burbank was converted to a
computer animation production facility. In 2004 Disney announced
their final "traditionally animated" feature film, would be
Home on the Range. But with the acquisition of Pixar, and the
resulting rise of John Lasseter to Chief Creative Officer, that
position has changed, and the 2009 film The Princess and the Frog
marked Disney's return to traditional hand-drawn animation.
Meanwhile Disney and Pixar
attempted to reach a new agreement in early 2004. Pixar demanded
control over films already in production under their old agreement,
including The Incredibles and Cars. Disney considered these
conditions unacceptable, but Pixar would not concede. Disagreements
between Steve Jobs and then Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner
made the negotiations more difficult than they otherwise might have
been. They broke down completely in mid-2004, with Jobs declaring
that Pixar was actively seeking partners other than Disney. Pixar did
not enter negotiations with other distributors. After a lengthy
hiatus, negotiations between the two companies resumed following the
departure of Eisner from Disney in September 2005.
Aware that Disney's relationship with
Pixar was wearing thin, Iger began negotiations with leadership of
Pixar Animation Studios, Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull, regarding
possible merger. On January 23rd, 2006, it was announced that Disney
would purchase Pixar in an all-stock transaction worth $7.4 billion.
The deal was finalized on May 5th; and among noteworthy results was
the transition of Pixar's CEO and 50.1% shareholder, Steve Jobs,
becoming Disney's largest individual shareholder at 7% and a member
of Disney's Board of Directors. Ed Catmull took over as President of
Pixar Animation Studios. Former Executive Vice-President of Pixar,
John Lasseter, became Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation
Studios, its division DisneyToon Studios, and Pixar Animation
Studios, as well assuming the role of Principal Creative Advisor at
Walt Disney Imagineering.
2006, Disney acquired Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disneys
pre-Mickey silent animation star.
In April 2007, the Muppets Holding
Company, LLC was renamed the Muppets Studio and placed under new
leadership in an effort by Iger to re-brand the division. The
rebranding was completed in September 2008, when control of the
Muppets Studio was transferred from Disney Consumer Products to the
Walt Disney Studios.
Roy E. Disney died of stomach cancer on
December 16th, 2009. At the time of his death, he owned roughly 1
percent of all of Disney which amounted to 16 million shares. He was
the last member of the Disney family to be actively involved in the company.
On August 31st, 2009,
Disney announced a deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment, Inc. for
$4.24 billion. The deal was finalized on December 31st, 2009 in which
Disney acquired full ownership on the company. Disney has stated that
their acquisition of Marvel Entertainment will not affect Marvel's
products, neither will the nature of any Marvel characters be
transformed. So I guess we won't be seeing a Spider-Man - Snow
White cross over story but Marvel characters were incorporated into
Disney Infinity video games and Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and
the rest of the Avengers and other Marvel heros began showing up in
Disney theme parks in 2017.
In October 2009, Disney Channel president
Rich Ross, hired by Iger, replaced Dick Cook as chairman of the
company and, in November, began restructuring the company to focus
more on family friendly products. Later in January 2010, Disney
decided to shut down Miramax after downsizing Touchstone, but one
month later, they instead began selling the Miramax brand and its
700-title film library to Filmyard Holdings. In March, ImageMovers
Digital, which Disney had established as a joint venture studio with
Robert Zemeckis in 2007, was shut down. In April 2010, Lyric Street,
Disney's country music label in Nashville, was shut down. The
following month, the company sold the Power Rangers brand, as well as
its 700-episode library, back to Haim Saban. In January 2011, Disney
Interactive Studios was downsized. In November, two ABC stations were sold.
With the release of Tangled in 2010, Ed
Catmull said that the "princess" genre of films was taking
a hiatus until "someone has a fresh take on it ... but we don't
have any other musicals or fairytales lined up." He explained
that they were looking to get away from the princess era due to the
changes in audience composition and preference. However, in the
Facebook page, Ed Catmull stated that this was just a rumor. Of
course it was, Disney was going to layoff it's princesses, yea right?
Below are the official Disney Princesses plus a few more we think
have been overlooked and should be given official status.
In April 2011, Disney broke ground on
Shanghai Disney Resort. Costing $4.4 billion, the resort opened on
June 16th, 2016. Later, in August 2011, Bob Iger stated on a
conference call that after the success of the Pixar and Marvel
purchases, he and the Walt Disney Company are looking to "buy
either new characters or businesses that are capable of creating
great characters and great stories."
October 30th, 2012, Disney announced plans to acquire Lucasfilm,
along with plans to produce a seventh installment in its Star Wars
franchise. On December 4th, 2012, the Disney-Lucasfilm merger was
approved by the Federal Trade Commission, allowing the acquisition to
be finalized without dealing with antitrust problems. On December
21st, 2012, the deal was completed with the acquisition value
amounting to approximately $4.06 billion, and thus Lucasfilm became a
wholly owned subsidiary of Disney, which coincidentally reunited
Lucasfilm under the same corporate umbrella with its former spin-off
and new sibling, Pixar. Does the acquisition of Lucasfilm offically
makes Leia a Disney Princess? We like to think so.
On March 24th, 2014, Disney bought Maker
Studios, a YouTube company generating billions of views each year,
for over $500 million in order to advertise to viewers in the crucial
teenage/young adult demographics.
On March 23rd, 2017, Disney announced that
Iger's original contract set to end June 30th, 2018 would be extended
another term until July 2nd, 2019. For the following three years,
Iger will move into a consultant role.