Les Adventures de Mickey, by Walt Disney
Publicity drawing of 'Mickey Mouse'. 

Walt Disney's name is synonymous with animation. He professionalized a mere branch of the film industry into a dignified artform. His studios managed to reach a dazzling level, which is still the standard all cartoons are judged by until this day. Yet Disney produced more than cartoons alone: he ventured into live-action films, nature documentaries, TV shows, theme parks, truckloads of merchandising and... comics. His company is the biggest entertainment enterprise on Earth. Disney takes up a special, yet strangely contradictive place in the history of comics. He only created one comic strip personally, 'Mr. George's Wife' (1920), which was never published. After 1926 he never even made another publicized drawing again. He wrote a few early episodes of the very first comic strip based on his signature character 'Mickey Mouse', but had nothing to do with any other Disney comics. And yet Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy are nowadays the most recognizable fictional characters in the world. Even more perplexing: Disney is the only cartoonist to be just as famous as his characters! A global network of writers and artists made countless comics based on his films and TV series, sometimes creating new characters exclusive to the comics themselves (see our separate listing). In terms of employment, more artists have worked for Disney than any other cartoon studio, either directly or through licensees. It also explains why he is effectively the most widely read and influential provider of comics in the world and of all time. Disney is widely admired for creating charming quality family entertainment. Nearly a century of generations share fond childhood memories about his work. He is respected as a serious film maker who innovated the medium. Simultaneously all his products, including his comics, are marked by tight quality control. And yet he and his company haven't been spared from criticism either. Accusations of commercialisation, Americanisation, kitsch, bowdlerizing literary classics and fighting unfair copyright battles remain rampant. But, for better or worse, Disney remains the most omnipresent cultural force on our planet...

Artwork inspired by Carey Orr for the McKinley High School newspaper, The Voice (© Disney).

Early years and influences
Walter Elias Disney was born in 1901 in Chicago as the son of a farmer. At age four his family moved to Marceline, Missouri. The boy always had fond memories of rural America, barnyard animals and the railway track next to his house, imagery he would evoke time and time again in his work. As a child he absorbed many novels illustrated by artists like John Bauer, Wilhelm Busch, Gustave Doré, Edmund Dulac, J.J. Grandville, Theodor Kittelsen, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, Gustaf Tenggren and John Tenniel, to name a few. Later in his career Disney let his artists take inspiration from classic European painters, particularly the Romantic movement. In the field of comics, Disney admired Bud Fisher, George Herriman,Winsor McCay, George McManus, Clifton Meek, Carey Orr, Richard F. OutcaultCarl Emil Schultze, T.S. Sullivant and Ryan Walker. In 1942 he even let one of his artists, Floyd Gottfredson, create a special birthday drawing for publisher William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers featured some of the finest comics of their day. In terms of cinema, Disney closely observed Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Fritz Lang, Benjamin Christensen and F.W. Murnau, alongside animation pioneers like Winsor McCay, Max and Dave Fleischer's 'Koko the Clown' and Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer's 'Felix the Cat'. 

Mr George's Wife by Walt Disney
'Mr. George's Wife', comic strip by Walt Disney, around 1920 (© Disney).

Personal comics
In 1911, when Disney was 10 years old, his parents moved to Kansas City, where his father started a newspaper delivery route. Walt and his brother Roy had to wake up early to deliver morning papers, all just before they went to school. They kept this exhausting ordeal up for six years. In between Walt drew cartoons for his school paper at McKinley High School, Chicago, while later studying drawing at the Kansas City Art Institute and Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1917 the United States got involved with the First World War. Disney was too young to be drafted, so he forged his birth certificate. He served in France as a Red Cross ambulance driver, but saw no military action. In his spare time he drew cartoons for the army magazine Stars and Stripes. His first known published artwork appeared in a scrapbook handed out by the Chicago Public Library to families of First World War servicemen. The book, titled, 'A Scrap Book Made For Our Soldiers and Sailors by Citizens of Chicago and The Chicago Public Library' (1918), not only included soldiers and the German Kaiser, but also the first two rodents in Disney's oeuvre. Back in his home country, Disney applied for a job as cartoonist at the magazines Life and Judge. He drew a try-out comic strip, 'Mr. George's Wife' (1920). All got rejected, which made his interest shift to another medium: animation...

The original Alice was portrayed by Virginia Davis, a child actor from Kansas. Later Alice films starred Margie Gay as the title character (© Disney).

Early animation career
In the 1920s animation was still crude filler material for movie theaters.  A mere novelty to most, Disney saw potential in the medium. Between 1919 and 1920 he worked as an advertising artist at Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio, where he met the talented Ub Iwerks. They decided to create their own studio, specializing in advertising cartoons. Unfortunately they went bankrupt within a month. In 1921 the gentlemen improved their skills at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. Afterwards they again set up their own studio: The Laugh-O-Gram Studio, which had Fred Harman, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising and Friz Freleng among their early employers. The 'Laugh-O Gram' cartoons initially focused on modernized fairy tales, screened in the local Kansas City cinema theaters owned by Frank L. Newman. When they failed to make a profit, Walt's brother, Roy Disney, stepped in. Thanks to his keen business sense, the company managed to remain stable. He stayed Disney's business manager for the rest of their respective careers. Walt himself gave up drawing and became a full-time creative advisor and movie producer. 

The Laugh-O-Gram Studio produced a series which combined live-action with animation: the 'Alice Comedies' (1923-1927). It marked Disney's first humble success. The shorts also introduced the oldest recurring Disney character, Peg-Leg Pete, who'd later become Mickey Mouse's nemesis. 

Title card for a Laugh-O-Gram cartoon (1922) (© Disney).

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
After five years, Disney decided to end his popular 'Alice Comedies' series in favor of something new. In 1927 he secured a distribution deal between his animation studio Laugh-O-Gram and Universal Pictures. He let his best animator, Ub Iwerks, design a new character: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1927). The 'Oswald' series were popular, but Disney couldn't cash in on this success, because his producer, Charles Mintz, owned the rights. Some sources claim that Disney was surprised to find this out, but in reality he knew very well what was in their contract. His real shock was that Mintz bought out nearly his entire studio behind his back, leaving him only behind with nine loyal employees, namely Iwerks, Les Clark, Johnny Cannon and six inkers and painters (one of them Disney's future wife). Mintz continued producing 'Oswald' cartoons on his own, later selling the rights to Walter Lantz, who continued the series until 1943, but they were never quite as popular again.

As a comic character Oswald lasted longer. In 1935 National Periodicals (DC) launched a comic book feature, drawn by Al Stahl for the New Fun comic books. In 1942 Dell Comics relaunched 'Oswald' comics, with the help of writer John Stanley and artists like Dan Gormley, Dan Noonan, Lloyd White and Jack Bradbury. Oswald now received two adopted children, Floyd and Lloyd, to create stories around. Production kept going long after the character had vanished from screens. In 2006 the Walt Disney Company bought the rights to Oswald back, making the rabbit again part of the Disney universe.

postcard by Walter E. Disney, 1931postcard by Walter E. Disney, c. 1931
Mickey Mouse postcards, around 1931 (© Disney).

Mickey Mouse
Back in 1927 Disney was devastated about losing his first cartoon star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and almost his entire studio. For the third time he'd lost everything he built up. But he and Ub Iwerks simply started all over again. They stole Oswald back by redesigning the rabbit into a mouse, whose cute look was inspired by Clifton Meek's 'Johnny Mouse'. Their new character, Mickey Mouse, also received a girlfriend, Minnie Mouse. The first two 'Mickey Mouse' cartoons, 'Plane Crazy' (1928) and 'The Gallopin' Gaucho' (1928), failed to interest test audiences and distributors alike. Therefore they initially saw no wide release. However, the third 'Mickey' cartoon, 'Steamboat Willie' (1928), featured a synchronized soundtrack, which was still a novelty at the time. Only the Fleischers ('My Old Kentucky Home', 1926) and Paul Terry ('Dinner Time', 1928) had created sound cartoons before, but 'Steamboat Willie' was far more professional. Composer Carl Stalling had invented a click track to blend sound effects and music better to the visuals, a technique still used in animation today and nicknamed "mickeymousing". 'Steamboat Willie' became an over-nite sensation and launched Mickey's stardom. New cartoons were demanded and produced. From 'The Karnival Kid' (1929) on, Mickey also received a voice, provided by Disney himself. Peg-leg Pete, a character from Disney's previous studio, was recast as Mickey Mouse's archenemy. Originally, the big black cat had a peg-leg, but animators had trouble remembering whether it was his left or right one. From 'Moving Day' (1936) on, he was simply drawn with two legs and renamed Pete. Ub Iwerks also designed other side characters, like Mickey's friends Horace Horsecollar (1928), Clarabella Cow (1929) and Mickey's dog Pluto (1930). 

In the 1930s Mickey Mouse became a global phenomenon. Every film theater programmed his cartoons to draw audiences. Some 'Mickey Mouse' cartoons have become classics, including 'The Mad Doctor' (1933), 'Thru the Mirror' (1936) and 'Brave Little Tailor' (1938). Every product with Mickey's  face on it sold in the millions. In 1935 the happy mouse received a special award from the League of Nations (a forerunner of the U.N.) for being a "universal goodwill ambassador". The character made Disney rich, respected and famous. But the best part was that he could finally establish a stable independent company: the Walt Disney Studios (1930). 

Lost on a Desert Island by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
'Lost on a Desert Island', the first Mickey Mouse newspaper strip in 1930, was largely based on 'Plane Crazy' (© Disney).

Mickey Mouse comics
On 13 January 1930, the first 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper comic was published. Walt wrote the initial scripts, while Ub Iwerks did the artwork. But after a month, Iwerks left to start his own studio. He was succeeded by Win Smith, who also quit unexpectedly. Jack KingHardie Gramatky and Roy Nelson ghosted episodes, until Floyd Gottfredson stepped in as the main artist for several decades. Aided by writers Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris and Bill Walsh, he shaped 'Mickey Mouse' into a marvellous long-running comic series, distributed by King Features. Disney was glad, because now he could leave the comic to others, while concentrating on his animation studio, which was already enough work on its own. In 1932 Mickey Mouse received his own magazine, Mickey Mouse Magazine (1932-1940), distributed monthly through dairy companies. 

Silly Symphony movie posters for 'King Neptune' (1932) and 'The Old Mill'  (1937) (© Disney).

Silly Symphonies
While Disney could've easily remained satisfied with Mickey Mouse's success, he launched a new animated series in 1929: 'Silly Symphonies'. These were one-shot cartoons based on famous fairy tales, fables, nursery rhymes or novels. These mood pieces were strongly driven by music and used as a testing ground for the studio's technical and graphic experiments. Several have become timeless classics, including 'The Skeleton Dance' (1929), 'Flowers and Trees' (1932), 'Santa's Workshop' (1932), 'The Three Little Pigs' (1933), 'Old King Cole' (1933), 'The Pied Piper' (1933), 'Lullaby Land' (1933), 'The Grasshopper and the Ants' (1934), 'The Tortoise and the Hare' (1935), 'The Cookie Carnival' (1935), 'Who Killed Cock Robin?' (1935), 'Music Land' (1935), 'The Country Cousin' (1936), 'Little Hiawatha' (1937), 'The Old Mill' (1937) and 'The Ugly Duckling' (1939).

However, audiences had to warm up to this series, since Mickey didn't star in them. A 'Silly Symphonies' Sunday newspaper page was launched in 1932, written and illustrated throughout the years by Earl Duvall, Ted Osborne, Al Taliaferro, Bob Grant, Hubie Karp, Paul Murry  and more. Most were adaptations of the cartoons themselves, but they also created new storylines. One character, Bucky Bug, even originated in this comic before appearing on the big screen. Several characters introduced in the 'Silly Symphonies' shorts moved on to much longer careers in their comic book adventures, such as The Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs (1933), Little Hiawatha (1937) and, most famously, Donald Duck (1934). 

Donald and Mickey in 'Orphan's Benefit'  (© Disney).

Goofy and Donald Duck
The downside of Mickey Mouse's massive global popularity was that he grew into an incorruptible hero. Concerned parents expected him to remain a good role model for their children. This limited the happy mouse's creative possibilities and eventually his screen appearances too. From the mid-1930s on, Mickey was upstaged by new cartoon characters. In the Mickey Mouse cartoon 'Mickey's Revue' (1932), a dim-witted and clumsy dingo made his debut. Initially a mere side character who listened to the name "Dippy Dawg", he was redesigned by Art Babbitt and Frank Webb and renamed Goofy. His voice was provided by former circus clown Pinto Colvig. In the 'Silly Symphony' short 'The Wise Little Hen' (1934), Donald Duck made his first appearance. The duck was designed by Dick Huemer, Dick Lundy and Art Babbitt, while Clarence Nash gave him his iconic quacking voice. Goofy and Donald were given significant supporting roles in the Mickey Mouse cartoon 'Orphan's Benefit' (1934), where they provide much of the comic relief.

From 'Mickey's Service Station' (1935) on, Donald and Goofy teamed up with Mickey. Several cartoons featuring the trio have become classics, including 'The Band Concert' (1935), 'Moving Day' (1936) and 'Clock Cleaners' (1937). But it was already clear that audiences liked the dumb dingo and short-tempered duck more than Mickey. Donald received his own series from 'Don Donald' (1937) on. He and Goofy also starred as a comedy duo from 'Polar Trappers' (1938) on, until Goofy received his own solo series from 'Goofy and Wilbur' (1939) on. While Mickey appeared in fewer and fewer theatrical shorts, Donald and Goofy effectively became Disney's new stars. In 1937, Mickey's dog Pluto also received a spin-off series. He'd already proven his potential in the classic Mickey cartoons 'Playful Pluto' (1934) and 'Pluto's Judgement Day' (1935). Still, Pluto's solo cartoons were always more popular with young children than with adults, in sharp contrast with Donald and Goofy. 

Donald Duck starred in more theatrical cartoons than any other Disney character. He was given a girlfriend, Daisy Duck, who became a co-star in several other cartoons. She and several other side characters, like Donald's nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey, his cousin Gus Goose and his dog Bolivar, originated in Donald's theatrical cartoons, but became far more recurring cast members in the comic pages. The only 'Donald Duck' side characters to actually receive a spin-off theatrical cartoon series of their own and a long-running comic series to boot were the chipmunks Chip 'n' Dale.

Goofy saw his own popularity increase after World War II, when he starred in a series of hilarious thematical shorts, trying out a wide variety of hobbies and shorts. Nicknamed the 'How To...' series, Goofy's antics always lead to disastrous results. Again, several of these cartoons have become classics, including 'Tiger Trouble' (1945), 'Hockey Homicide' (1945) and 'Goofy Gymnastics' (1949). 

Promotional art for 'Clock Cleaners'  (© Disney).

Disney comics
Already in the 1930s Disney's characters had found their way to other printed media besides the newspapers. Reprints of the 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper comic appeared in the several incarnations of Mickey Mouse Magazine (1932-1940), which was initially a digest-sized monthly distributed through dairy companies. By 1933 Disney struck a deal with Whitman, a subsidiary of Western Publishing, to rework newspaper strips for the 'Big Little Book' children's book series. Western also began producing the Mickey Mouse Magazine in a partnership with publisher Kay Kamen in 1937. The magazine was transformed into actual comic book format in 1939 and then quickly evolved into 'Walt Disney's Comics & Stories' (October 1940), produced by Western Publishing and published by Dell Comics. It still featured reworked Sunday pages from the 'Mickey Mouse' and 'Silly Symphonies' strips.

Mickey Mouse Magazine issues of November 1933 and December 1935. The early issues were promotional magazines for dairy companies (© Disney).

Donald Duck comics
Donald Duck's comic career started in Bob Karp and Al Taliaferro's 'Silly Symphonies' comic in 1934, whereupon Floyd Gottfredson used him as a side character in his 'Mickey' newspaper serials. Ted Osborne and Taliaferro created a daily gag strip around Donald in 1937, followed by a Sunday page a year later. It however took an oddly long time before the aggressive duck received his own adventure series. The first attempts happened abroad: in Britain by cartoonist William A. Ward. and in Italy by Federico Pedrocchi. In 1942 Carl Barks and Jack Hannah gave Donald his first official U.S. adventure comic in the 'Four Color' series by Dell Comics. Barks continued to write and draw adventures with Donald Duck throughout the following decades, fleshing out the duck's character and giving him a hometown (Duckburg) and a wide range of friends, relatives and enemies. Especially Donald's rich uncle Scrooge McDuck became so popular that he received his own solo comic book in 1953. Both Donald and Mickey received their own title in 1952. 

Goofy comics
In contrast, Goofy's comics career pales compared with Mickey and Donald's. He was usually given the role as Mickey's sidekick in Mickey's comics and only starred in gag stories and humorous short stories. In 1949, Goofy received a sidekick of his own, Ellsworth the mynah bird, created by Bill Walsh and Manuel Gonzales. In 1965 Del Connell and Paul Murry reimagined Goofy as a superhero named 'Super Goof'. This led to a popular series of spin-off comics. Another notable alternate comic version of Goofy was made by Adolfo Urtiága, who, between 1976 and 1987, made several full-length humorous 'Goofy' comic books, in which the dingo plays famous historical characters or adapts literary classics. 

Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold by Carl Barks
'Donald Duck finds pirate gold' (1942), Carl Barks' first Donald Duck story (© Disney).

Other character-driven Disney comics
New stories with other Disney characters continue to appear in 'Walt Disney's Comics & Stories'. Amazingly enough, several only appeared in one (!) single theatrical cartoon, such as Bucky Bug, Gus Goose, Little Hiawatha and Witch Hazel. Others were mere side characters in feature films, such as Panchito, Joe Carioca, Br'er Rabbit, Gus and Jaq, Thumper, Tinkerbell, Madam Mim and Scamp. Scamp was even only seen during the final five minutes of 'Lady and the Tramp' (1955). But all these minor theatrical Disney characters are still recognizable to many people because they enjoyed a much longer second career as comic stars. Likewise, some recurring cast members in Disney comics like 'Mickey Mouse' (Chief O' Hara, The Phantom Blot), 'Donald Duck' (Gladstone Gander, Grandma Duck, Fethry Duck), 'Goofy' (Ellsworth the Mynah Bird), 'The Big Bad Wolf' (Li'l Bad Wolf),... have never even appeared on the big screen. Thanks to Disney's huge back catalogue, many crossovers between characters from different films and series have occurred in the comics. 

Seventh issue of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, and Four Color Comics one-shot #92, starring Pinocchio (© Disney).

Disney comics abroad
As early as the 1930s, unlicensed 'Mickey' and 'Donald' comics appeared in Japan, the United Kingdom, Italy and Yugoslavia. To thwart them official local Disney magazines were launched. During World War II, many countries occupied by the Axis Powers banned Disney comics, like all other U.S. media. Having lost his foreign market in Europe and South East Asia, Disney invested in Latin American media instead. From the early 1940s on, Disney comics became more widespread in this continent. After the Liberation (1944) of Europe, new licensed Disney magazines were launched in Continental Europe. In some countries, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, The Netherlands, Germany and Spain, they reached immense popularity. While Disney comics lost their bestseller status in the United States by the 1960s, quite the opposite was true in Europe and Latin America. From 1962 on, the Walt Disney Studios produced exclusive stories for publications abroad. Several foreign publishers received an official license to produce their own stories, such as Édi-Monde/Hachette in France, Mondadori in Italy, Abril in Brazil, De Geïllustreerde Pers in The Netherlands and Gutenberghus in Denmark, which were then syndicated all over the world. This even led to new characters, series and spin-offs. As of today, Egmont (Scandinavia), Sanoma (The Netherlands) and Disney's own publishing division in Italy are the largest producers of Disney comic worldwide.

Dutch and Italian Disney magazines celebrating Mickey's 90th birthday in 2018 (© Disney).

Disney studio
Walt Disney himself had almost nothing to do with his comics production, other than they all appeared under his name. Artists and writers weren't allowed to sign their own name underneath them, although it must be said that these were often policies by the publishers and distributors.  It took until the 1960s before the identities of these comic authors became publically known, most notably of the "Good Duck Artist" Carl Barks. Although Disney's animators also remained unknown to the general public they at least received credit on screen. Nine of his directors went down in history as the "Nine Old Men", namely Les Clark, Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman and Frank Thomas. Some animators have become legendary in their own right, such as Ub Iwerks, Fred Moore, Art Babbitt, Bill Tytla, Hamilton Luske and Norm Ferguson.

Among the most notable artists who once worked in Disney's animation department (and later often drew comics with his characters too) were Fred Abranz, Pete Alvarado, Mike ArensGeorge Baker, Carl Barks, Jack Bogle, Jack Bradbury, Don Bluth, Stephen Bosustow, Carl Buettner, Don R. Christensen, Walter ClintonRon Cobb, George Crenshaw, Shamus Culhane, Bob Dalton, Jim Davis, Owen Fitzgerald, Chuck FusonMo GollubChad Grothkopf, Frank Grundeen, Don Gunn, Jack Hannah, Pete Hansen, Jerry Hathcock, Gene Hazelton, Ralph HeimdahlHarry Holt, Cal Howard, Al HubbardEarl Hurd, Chris IshiiWillie Ito, Gus Jekel, Chuck Jones, Volus Jones, Lynn KarpSelby Kelly, Walt Kelly, Hank KetchamJack KingJack KirbyTack KnightBob KuwaharaKen Landau, Rudy Larriva, Harold Mack, Tom Massey, Bob McKimson, Chuck McKimson, Tom McKimsonFrank McSavage, Bill Melendez, Bob Moore, Paul MurryMilt NeilDan Noonan, Tom Okamoto, Virgil PartchRay Patin, Ray Patterson, Perce PearceFred Peters, Enrique RiverónCliff RobertsM.T. "Penny" RossDr. Seuss, Dick Shaw, Larry Silverman, Paul J. Smith, Fred SpencerTony StroblCecil SurryIwao TakamotoFrank Tashlin, Riley ThomsonReuben TimminsDon TobinGil Turner, Cliff VoorheesStan WalshBill WeaverRalph A. WolfeBill Wright and Kay Wright. To this day Disney remains the only name general audiences know, but since 1987 the company has given these unsung contributors more credit through the bi-annual Disney Legend Awards.

Carl Stalling in 1930 at the piano with standing around him Johnny Cannon, Walt Disney, Burt Gillett, Ub Iwerks, Wilfred Jackson and Les Clark. Seated are animators Jack King and Ben Sharpsteen.

Disney's technical vision
While his artists did most of the work, Disney guarded the overall vision. He unified the talents of thousands of people into one uniform product. Millions of dollars were invested to improve the look and quality of his cartoons. He strove hard to make his characters and fantasy worlds believable. As he acquired more skilled artists, the animation became smoother and more fluid. When his paper-and-ink creations moved there was weight and gravity to their motions. They even seemed to have a mind of their own. 'The Three Little Pigs' (1933) was a milestone in this field since it featured three identical characters who were still distinct by the way they acted on screen, as Chuck Jones once observed. Another milestone was 'Playful Pluto' (1934), in which Pluto gets stuck on a piece of flypaper and really appears to be thinking how to get rid of it. Disney went so far to write out character descriptions so that his staff could understand Mickey, Donald and Goofy's personalities and animate them accordingly. Voice actors were instructed to never go public as "the voice of...", to keep the illusion alive. Although Disney sometimes used celebrity voice actors (Basil Rathbone, Sterling Holloway, Peggy Lee, Phil Harris,...) he picked them out in function of the role, rather than for name recognition.

Disney wanted his cartoons to have the same feel of a live-action film. To achieve this, cinematic techniques were imitated, the most famous example being the multi-plane camera in 'The Old Mill' (1937) which can zoom into backgrounds. Lotte Reiniger and Ub Iwerks had pioneered a similar technique before, but once again Disney perfected it. He also improved on earlier colour cartoons like J.R. Bray's 'The Debut of Thomas Cat' (1920) and Ub Iwerks' 'Fiddlesticks' (1930) by making the first professionalized full-colour animated cartoon, 'Flowers and Trees' (1932), through an exclusive contract with Technicolor. Disney was the only studio to have a separate department for mood and atmospheric effects. As the artwork became richer, backgrounds showed incredible attention to detail. The look of classic European paintings and book illustrations was mimicked. No costs were spared to overcome huge technical difficulties. Dazzling perspectives, intricate machinery, light and shadow effects, flames, wind, streaming water and dozens of characters appearing all in the same scene... Disney pulled it all off. In some cases his cartoons even did things live-action couldn't imitate at the time.

Disney's musical vision
To gain more prestige, Disney used famous classical scores on his soundtracks. Many have become animation clichés, such as Gioacchino Rossini's 'William Tell Overture', whenever characters are running, or Franz Liszt's '2nd Hungarian Rhapsody', whenever pianos are played. But he also had composers write out original music for him, such as Carl Stalling (who later joined Warner Brothers), Frank Churchill (who wrote 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?' and the songs for 'Snow White', 'Pinocchio', 'Dumbo' and 'Bambi') and the Sherman Brothers (who wrote most of the soundtracks of 'Mary Poppins' and 'Jungle Book'). Several Disney songs have become popular standards. Famous conductors like Arturo Toscanini and Jerome Kern praised his use of music.

Walt Disney in front of the Pinocchio storyboard.

Disney's narrative vision
On a technical level Disney was rarely matched by any of his competitors. But even those who eventually caught up couldn't surpass his gift for storytelling. He knew how to keep a scene solid, understandable and entertaining. One animator, Webb Smith, invented the storyboard to plot out and time scenes better. These were illustrated scripts in sketch form, inspired by comic strip lay-outs. The method was quickly picked up by other studios, even in live-action, and is nowadays a global standard practice for all film and TV productions. Yet only Disney was rich enough to afford test screenings in pencil form, while rival cartoon studios had to plan out everything more in advance, only seeing the end result in complete action when their short was finished. Disney had the luxury that he could still make changes afterwards if he noticed a continuity error or felt a scene fell flat. He instinctively knew how his viewers would respond to it. The genius was very aware of the difference between what was funny in the studio and how it would come across on screen. For the same reason he dismissed any attempt to be trendy, preferring to keep his work as timeless as possible.

The Disney magic
Disney's high quality technical and narrative standards explain why his company remains an eternal audience favorite. One of the few certainties in life is that one can always let a child watch a Disney film or read a Disney book, without worrying it might be exposed to something unsuitable. Children love them, parents feel comforted and many other adults just enjoy the nostalgia. Disney is an inviting world to revisit time and time again. During the 1930s and 1940s, when the Great Depression and World War II were in full effect, millions of viewers found escapism in Disney's cartoons and comics. The same happened after the war, whenever people were in need of a little relief. Today the company remains a dream factory. Famous for their fun and heartwarming, tender, moments.

Nightmarish forest sequence from 'Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs'  (© Disney).

The Disney nightmare sequences
Despite Disney's reputation for clean family entertainment, certain cartoons, particularly their animated features, have gained infamy for featuring quite intense nightmarish imagery. Some parents have occasionally worried about scenes in 'The Mad Doctor', 'Pluto's Judgement Day', the Witch and haunted forest in 'Snow White', Stromboli, the Coachman, the donkey transformations and Monstro in 'Pinocchio', the Rite of Spring and Night on Bald Mountain in 'Fantasia', the 'Pink Elephants' hallucination in 'Dumbo', Bambi's mother getting shot, The Headless Horseman in 'The Adventures of Ichabod', Donald freaking out from starvation in 'Mickey and the Beanstalk' and Aurora being led away by a spell to prick herself on the spinning wheel in 'Sleeping Beauty'. Yet all Disney pictures have a happy end, which probably helps the traumas eb away. 

Disney's influence on cartooning
Right from the start, Disney made many public appearances, presenting himself as loveable "Uncle Walt", a friend of all children. He became as famous and recognizable as any Hollywood celebrity, the only animator to rise to that status. Film critics respected him as an innovative cineast. The success of his cartoons launched the Golden Age of Animation (1930-1960), when many film studios all started their own animation department to compete with him. Particularly during the 1930s nearly every cartoon studio seemed to have a happy, cheerful Mickeyesque character in saccharine fairy tale stories with sing-a-long songs. Warner Brothers' 'Merry Melodies' and 'Looney Tunes' were directly inspired by 'Silly Symphonies'. Even the fact that many cartoon characters have four fingers on each hand and wear gloves was derived from Mickey, who was redesigned with gloves to make his black hands more visible and who lost a finger to save money on animation.

Various Disney character and personality designs have been ripped off by animators and comic artists ever since. The mice in 'The Country Cousin' (1936) led to Chuck Jones' 'Sniffles' and Hanna- Barbera's 'Jerry'. Without Donald Duck, Tex Avery's 'Daffy Duck', Al Fagaly's 'Super Duck', Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik's 'Howard the Duck' and Charlie Christensen 'Arne Anka' wouldn't exist. Max Hare was the prototype for Bugs Bunny, while Pablo the Penguin was ripped off by Walter Lantz's Chilly Willy and Humphrey the Bear by Lantz's Fatso the Bear. Leo Baxendale's 'Little Plum' was modelled after Hiawatha, while Pepo's 'Condorito' was created as a reaction to Joe Carioca. Jef Nys copied the look of the Evil Queen from 'Snow White' for the Queen of Onderland in 'Jommeke' and the gnome Schommelbuik is basically the dwarf Happy from the same film. Rune Andréasson's 'Pellefant' was obviously inspired by Dumbo, while Juanjo Guarnido couldn't help but think of Bagheera in 'Jungle Book' when he designed the title character of 'Blacksad'. In some cases animators deliberately tried to avoid mimicking Disney. Zdeněk Miler created 'Krtek' ('The Little Mole'), because he thought Disney had never used a mole in one of his films. Only later did he find out the existence of Mr. Mole in 'The Adventures of Mr. Toad' (1949).

The speed effects in Disney's 'The Tortoise and the Hare' (1935) were also widely copied and eventually surpassed by Tex Avery. The idea of bringing characters in storybooks to life was pioneered by Disney's 'Mother Goose Melodies' (1931). 'Mickey Gala's Premier' (1931) featured Mickey meeting various caricatures of famous Hollywood stars, an idea that had been done before in Otto Messmer's and Pat Sullivan's 'Felix the Cat' cartoon 'Felix in Hollywood' (1923), but became more prominent after Disney did it. Disney's 'Snow White' (1937) set the standard for every feature-length animated film. And 'Fantasia' (1940) became the template for every animated feature with solely classical music on its soundtrack, such as Bob Clampett's 'A Corny Concerto' (1942), Art Clokey's 'Gumbasia' (1955), Chuck Jones' 'What's Opera Doc?' (1957) and Bruno Bozzetto's 'Allegro Non Troppo' (1976).

Film poster for 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (© Disney).

Snow White
In 1937 Disney made the first animated feature film: 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (1937). Technically there had been predecessors, like Quirino Cristiani's lost film 'El Apóstol' (1917), Lotte Reiniger's 'Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed' (1926), Aleksander Ptushko and A. Vanichkin's 'Novyy Gullivyer' (1935), Ladislaw Starewicz's 'Le Roman de Renard' (1937) and Ferdinand Diehl's 'Die Sieben Raben' (1937), but 'Snow White' dwarfed them all (pun not intended). It showed just how much progress the studio had made in only a decade time. The fairy tale adaptation is an extraordinary cinematic experience. The picture has atmosphere, makes viewers laugh, cry, feel frightened and keeps them entertained like a genuine live-action picture. 'Snow White' won critical praise, 8 Oscars and was a worldwide blockbuster. The instant classic attracted celebrity fans like painter Piet Mondriaan, scientists Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing, film director Sergei Eisenstein, the British Royal Family, president Franklin D. Roosevelt and, notoriously, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels (who nevertheless banned all Disney pictures during World War II and Hitler strongly disliked Mickey Mouse).

A few days before the film's release, an official newspaper comic strip adaptation ran in the papers, scripted by Merrill de Maris and drawn by Hank Porter. It would later be made available in comic book format too. Since 'Snow White' was such a box office hit, new animated features would be created every few years, combined with promotional comics. For decades Disney brought all their classic movies back in theatrical roulation every couple of years so younger generations could discover them too. The old promotional comics would then be reprinted as well.

Film posters for 'Pinocchio' and 'Bambi' (© Disney).

World War II
While Disney is an iconic multinational, it's often forgotten that he frequently took huge commercial risks. He constantly came up with new projects and disliked making sequels. Some of his animated shorts or features received mixed or even bad reviews and would only become classics several years, or even decades, later. Two of those were his next animated features, 'Pinocchio' and 'Fantasia' (1940). Both surpassed the technical and narrative achievements of 'Snow White' and are often regarded as his personal masterpieces. 'Pinocchio' is an emotionally powerful film, rich in detail and featuring some of the most dazzling animated sequences ever created by hand. Storywise it's his most perfect picture. 'Fantasia' is Disney's most controversial and experimental work. An anthology film where every segment is set to a famous classical composition. It stands out as Disney's most adult and artistic picture. Yet at the time of their release both films received polarizing reviews because of their darker content. 'Fantasia' in particular was too ahead of its time and considered either too pretentious or too kitschy.

Another reason why 'Pinocchio' and 'Fantasia' didn't do well was World War II, since Hollywood pictures were banned in all Axis occupied countries. Disney was devastated and felt he had reached too high. It convinced him that he better gave audiences what they wanted from now on: unpretentious family entertainment. All movies he made after 1940 were still quality pictures, but lacked the innovative spirit from before. Viewers now favoured the far wilder and funnier cartoons at Warner Brothers (Looney Tunes), MGM ('Tom & Jerry', 'Droopy') and Walter Lantz ('Woody Woodpecker') instead. Disney not only lost his interest in animation, but also many of his employees as the result of a long strike in 1941.

Wartime propaganda films (© Disney).

The early 1940s were overall a depressing time for Walt, whose beloved mother passed away in 1940. His grief was reflected in 'Pinocchio', 'Dumbo' (1941) and 'Bambi' (1942), which all feature child protagonists losing a parent and going through tough emotional ordeals. Yet while 'Dumbo' was an unexpected hit, 'Bambi' didn't do well at the box office at the time. To keep his studio profitable, Disney appealed to another foreign market in Latin America. In his feature films, 'Saludos Amigos' (1942) and 'The Three Caballeros' (1943), Donald visits the continent. 

Disney also found new sources of income when the United States entered World War II on 7 December 1941. The U.S. government commissioned the studio to produce various propaganda cartoons. Some, like 'Stop That Tank' (1942), 'The Grain That Built a Hemisphere' (1943) and  'Victory Through Air Power' (1943) were instruction films and therefore strictly intended for military audiences. Disney also educated the masses by reminding them of the importance of buying war bonds ('Donald's Decision' [1942]), saving precious material ('Out Of The Frying Pan, Into the Firing Line' [1942]) and paying income taxes ('The New Spirit' [1942], 'The Spirit of '43' [1943]). Some cartoons criticized Nazism, such as 'Der Fuehrer's Face' (1942), 'Education for Death' (1943) and 'Reason and Emotion' (1943). More straightforward entertaining shorts were 'Donald Gets Drafted' (1942), 'The Vanishing Private' (1942), 'Sky Trooper' (1942), 'Fall Out, Fall In' (1943), 'The Old Army Game' (1943) and 'Home Defense' (1943), in which Donald is bullied around in the army by Pete. In 'Commando Duck' (1944) Donald is actually sent to the South East Asian jungle, where he fights the Japanese. While these war-time propaganda cartoons put most of the studio's other productions on hold for two years, they did help the company out of the red. 

Interestingly enough, the Axis Forces also made propaganda cartoons and in some of these Mickey and Donald are ridiculed as "enemies". The Japanese cartoon 'Omochabako' (1936) by Komatusuzawa Hajime, for instance, features the folk hero Momotaro battling a giant Mickeyesque mouse flying on a bat. Raymond Jeannin's 'Nimbus Libéré' (1944) was made in Vichy France and stars, apart from André Daix' 'Professeur Nimbus', Mickey, Donald and even Popeye bombing France. The most peculiar non-official appearance of Mickey was 'Mickey à Gurs' (1940), a text comic created by Horst Rosenthal, a prisoner in a Nazi POW camp who unfortunately didn't survive the war. 

Post-war career and activities
After World War II, U.S. troops liberated many countries from the Axis, which helped Disney regain his pre-war fortunes. Yet since there was still not enough money to make proper feature films, four anthology features were made instead: 'Make Mine Music' (1946), 'Fun and Fancy Free' (1947), 'Melody Time' (1948) and 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad' (1949). Like most features Disney made between 1942 and 1950 these are rarely shown in their original form today. The individual segments are often repackaged in new compilation videos. In 1950 Disney's first full-blown animated feature film in eight years came out, 'Cinderella', and was a box office hit. However, his next picture, 'Alice in Wonderland' (1951), based on Lewis Carroll's novel but not too much on John Tenniel's iconic illustrations, received bad reviews. 'Alice' had been a passion project of Disney for years and the fact that it failed frustrated him deeply. 'Peter Pan' (1953) and 'Lady and the Tramp' (1955) were much better received by audiences.

'True Life Adventures' newspaper feature, drawn by George Wheeler (1955).

Live-action films and nature documentaries
Nevertheless Disney was more preoccupied with other projects, such as live-action films. 'Song of the South' (1946), 'Treasure Island' (1950), '20.000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1954), 'Old Yeller' (1957) and 'Mary Poppins' (1964) became beloved family classics. A bit more forgotten nowadays, but still winners of several Oscars were his 'True-Life Adventures' nature documentary films. They showed live-action footage of real animals in the wild. But Disney wouldn't be Disney if he didn't occasionally make these scenes a little more entertaining by playing with the editing and adding funny background music. Once again animals were anthropomorphized under his watch, even if they weren't cartoon characters. Oddly enough even 'True-Life Adventures' was adapted into a comic strip, an educational newspaper feature written by Dick Huemer and drawn by George Wheeler from 1955 until 1973.

Television series
Disney was also one of the few Hollywood producers who realized the potential of television. His studio had a library worth of old cartoons which could be rebroadcast on the small screen. He created two long-running children's TV shows, 'The Mickey Mouse Club' and 'Walt Disney's Wonderful World Of Color' (1955), which showed these shorts to new generations of children. The programs were also excellent tools to promote every upcoming Disney film, often hosted by "Uncle Walt" himself. Disney also produced popular TV series, such as 'Davy Crockett' (1954-1955) and 'Zorro' (1957-1959). 'Davy Crockett' was adapted in a newspaper comic by Ed Herron, Jim McArdle, Jack Kirby and Jim Christiansen, but this was not endorsed by Disney. He couldn't sue them either, since Crockett was a historical character, and thus simply came up with his own comic book series, published by Dell. The artists behind these comic book stories were John Ushler, Nick Firfires and Jesse Marsh, among others. Disney's official 'Zorro' newspaper comic strip was drawn by Alex Toth, while in the Netherlands Hans G. Kresse made a comic strip version of this particular TV series too for magazine Pep.

Walt Disney presenting the map of Disneyland.

On 17 July 1955 Disney's most ambitious project opened its doors: a theme park. Theme parks had existed before, but Disneyland was still something altogether unprecedented. An entire park was built with recreations of various locations depicted in his cartoons. Actors walked around in costumes depicting the familiar Disney characters. Finally Disney had made his fictional worlds as real as possible. Children could now actually meet Mickey, Donald and friends. "The happiest place on Earth" didn't earn its nickname for nothing: it's the most visited location on the planet. Even Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was outraged during his 1959 U.S. visit when he wasn't allowed to go to Disneyland because his safety couldn't be guaranteed. To solve problems like these, new parks were build all across the globe: Disney World in Orlando, Florida (1971), Tokyo Disneyland in Japan (1983), Euro Disney in Paris, France (1992), Hong Kong Disneyland Resort (2005) and Shanghai Disneyland Park in China (2016).

Final years and death
Disney's next feature, 'Sleeping Beauty' (1959), marked a change in Disney's trademark graphic style. Influenced by Ronald Searle, the drawings became more angular and sketchy and remained this way until halfway the 1980s. Audiences didn't react well to this at the time, but 'Sleeping Beauty' did find more popularity in later decades. '101 Dalmatians' (1961) was another box office hit, but 'The Sword in the Stone' (1963) was Disney's least popular feature yet. In 1966 A.A. Milne's 'Winnie the Pooh' stories were adapted into a cartoon series, with respect for the original illustrations by E.H. Shepard. It evolved into one of the studio's most popular franchises, still generating new installments decades later. Unfortunately Disney passed away from lung cancer the same year. His death made headlines worldwide. Contrary to urban legend he was not cryogenically frozen, but cremated. His final picture, the swinging 'Jungle Book' (1967), was halfway production at the time of his death, but finished posthumously by his staff to become a box office success.

Movie posters for 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' (© Disney).

The Walt Disney company after its founder's death
Between 1957 and 1972 many animation film studios closed down and went on creating low-budget kids TV series. Even though the Walt Disney Company is the only one to survive to this day, Disney's passing is still seen as the symbolic end of the Golden Age of Animation. Businesswise they stayed on top. New theatrical shorts appeared more rarely, but their feature films, both old and new, still brought in crowds. Every new Disney cinematic release remained the event of the year for all children. Their TV shows and classic theatrical cartoons kept re-running, while the theme parks were still lucrative. From 1984 on the company carefully made all their classic cartoons available on video, one by one. Soon Walt Disney Home Video became a babysitter in every household. Around the same time the company started producing animated TV series, creating successes like 'Gummi Bears' (1985-1991), 'DuckTales' (1987-1990), 'Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers' (1989-1990), 'Darkwing Duck' (1991-1992), 'Goof Troop' (1992-1993), 'Gargoyles' (1994-1997) and 'Quack Pack' (1996), following it up during the 2000s and 2010s with 'Disney's House of Mouse' (2001-2003) and various live-action series aimed at prepubescent girls. Equally popular since 1981 are the 'Disney on Ice' ice skating shows.

But critically many of the post-1966 Disney releases met with lacklustre reception and failed to reach the iconic status of their superior work from before. It took until Richard Williams' 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' (1988), a live-action film which paid homage to the Golden Age of Animation, before Disney experienced a renaissance. The film featured many cameos of famous cartoon characters, naturally from the Disney Studios too. Their classic cartoons were rediscovered by the general public and a whole string of new animated features all became critical and commercial successes: 'The Little Mermaid' (1989), 'Beauty and the Beast' (1991), 'Aladdin' (1992) and 'The Lion King' (1994) won several Oscars in the process. 'Beauty and the Beast' was even the first animated feature to be nominated for "Best Picture". With 'Toy Story' (1996) Disney underwent a succesful collaboration with Pixar to create the first CGI movie. Several other equally succesful CGI features pleased both critics as well as general audiences, among them 'Finding Nemo' (2003), 'The Incredibles' (2004), 'Wall-E' (2008), 'Up' (2009), 'Frozen' (2013) and 'Inside Out' (2015). 'Wall-E' and 'Up' were once again nominated for "Best Picture" during the Oscars (but had to be satisfied with winning "Best Animated Picture" instead), while 'Frozen' not only won the Oscar for "Best Animated Picture", but also became the most commercially succesful animated feature film of all time. 

The famous 'Mickey Mouse' logo, used as intro to his theatrical cartoons. 

Disney has been the market leader in animation since 1928. In the decades before there were any animation guides around many amateurs wrote the studio to seek out advice or apply for a job. More ambitious cartoonists hoped that Disney might perhaps adapt their comic strip to the big screen? Several people embarrassed themselves by referring to characters or cartoons Disney hadn't created. The misconception that Disney created every single animated cartoon in existence still lives today, though isn't that strange. Their brand awareness is so huge that smaller cartoon studios hardly have a chance to make a name for themselves. Even if they have a hit many viewers still think Disney made it. Their creativity is additionally obstructed by the fact that audiences expect all animation to be cute, innocent and family friendly. This is not only problematic for animators trying to do something different, but even for the Disney company itself. Deviating from their own formulas is considered a huge commercial risk. As a result many of their designs, characters and narratives are constantly recycled. Serious art lovers are irritated by the corny and kitschy clichés: happy sing-a-long songs, sweet princesses, funny animal sidekicks, songbirds helping in the household and lots of cute babies, bunnies and puppies.

Bibliophiles despise Disney for hijacking iconic fairy tales, legends and novels. Many of these stories were drastically simplified, sanitized and bowdlerized. Controversial scenes were removed and totally new plotlines, cute characters and obligatory happy ends added. In some cases the original tales are nearly unrecognizable. Even worse is that these butchered versions have replaced the originals in the mind of the general public. To this day audiences complain that adaptations of these stories are "not the same as in the Disney version", which has often forced modern-day creators to add the Disney additions to the stories, because people are so used to them. Sociologists feel the theme parks are the most disturbing aspect of these methods. Happy, safe and bland dream worlds outside the harsh reality of everyday life. Already the parks are the equivalent of an independent mini-state, with their own monetary units and park owners not allowing outside interference.

Some people feel spooked out about the Disney corporation slowly but surely buying out every possible company in the world. Already they own Miramax (1993, sold in 2010), ABC (1996), Jim Henson's Muppets (2004), Pixar (2006), Marvel (2009), LucasFilm (2012) and FOX (2018). Disney has their own TV channel (1983) and a separate film company specializing in films for mature audiences, Touchstone Pictures (1984), who also have a TV department (1985). Disney's legal department is so powerful that they've sued various companies and people for copyright infringement, while trademarking characters they didn't even create, such as Snow White, Tinkerbell and Winnie the Pooh. Some Disney films, like 'The Lion King' (1994) which shares strong similarities with Osamu Tezuka's 'Kimba the White Lion' (1966), have been accused of plagiarism, yet the original creators don't dare to sue Disney, since they couldn't afford it. Another matter is Mickey Mouse who should've entered public domain by now, but remains trademarked thanks to continuous efforts by Disney's lawyers. Naturally all this power has led to frequent accusations of global Americanisation, or better said: "Disneyfication". Today the Walt Disney Company is the effectively the world's largest independent media conglomerate in terms of revenue. The cultural equivalent of a world empire.

Apart from his company, Walt Disney himself has also been subject of controversy. He was by all accounts a conservative man. Although he was interested in fine art and read classics of world literature, his personal taste tended to schmaltzy romanticism, cute characters and corny gags. The amazing technical achievements of his movies are often overshadowed by these elements. Animator Ward Kimball recalled that Disney was very fond of jokes where characters get poked in their behind. In almost all Disney cartoons there is at least one such scene. Disney often attributed his marketing talent to the fact that he was a common, average American. Nevertheless, several of his employees remember him as a difficult taskmaster who rarely complimented them for all the work they did in his name. Disney could be very cold and spiteful towards people who disagreed with his policies. After the 1941 strike at his studio, several employees who joined a union were fired afterwards. In 1947 Disney joined the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and on 24 October of that year testified for the House of Un-American Activities to accuse several former animators of being Communist infiltrators. In later decades, Disney’s reputation has been further tarnished with persistent but inconclusive rumors that he was sexist, racist, even anti-Semitic. Though most are present-day interpretations of questionable scenes in his work that were simply products of their time. All the other “evidence” are anecdotes that are difficult to verify, let alone date. 

Parody from Mad #19, 1955: 'Mickey Rodent' by Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman.

Parody and satire
Since Disney is such an icon of clean innocent children's entertainment, the company has always been an easy target for subversive parodies, anti-capitalist and/or anti-American satire. This happened as early as the 1930s with the infamous Tijuana Bibles, where various comic characters were illegally depicted in pornographic activities. Among the more memorable later attacks have been Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's 'Mickey Rodent' (Mad Magazine, issue #19, 1955), Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's 'Rat Fink', Wallace Wood's infamous vulgar 'Disneyland Memorial Orgy' (1967) and Robert Armstrong's 'Mickey Rat' and Eric Knisley's 'Mickey Death'. Marv Newland's 'Bambi Meets Godzilla' (1969) and Whitney Lee Savage's 'Mickey Mouse in Vietnam' (1969) were two infamous underground cartoons killing off beloved Disney characters. In Gerald Scarfe's animated short 'A Long Drawn Out Trip' (1971) Mickey lights a joint in one memorable scene, while in an animated intermezzo by Cal Schenkel in Frank Zappa's film '200 Motels' (1971) Donald Duck makes an odd appearance. The underground comic book 'Air Pirates Funnies' (1971) by Dan O'Neill, Bobby London, Shary Flenniken, Gary Hallgren and Ted Richards depicted Mickey and other Disney characters as sex and drug addicts. It was their determined and ultimately succesful intention to be sued by Disney. Pornographic cartoon parodies of 'Snow White' were made by David Grant ('Snow White and the Seven Perverts', 1973) and Picha ('Blanche-Neige, La Suite', 2007).  In Woody Allen's 'Annie Hall' (1977) an animated segment by Chris Ishii parodies the Evil Queen from 'Snow White'. Ralph Bakshi's 'Coonskin' (1975) was created as a modern day and more political rendition of 'Song of the South'. Swedish cartoonist Charlie Christensen also deliberately created 'Arne Anka' (1983-1995) as a vulgar version of Donald Duck until he was threatened by Disney to redesign his character. Disney parodies have been a staple of Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons', Trey Parker and Matt Stone's 'South Park', Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson's 'Shrek', Seth Green's 'Robot Chicken' and Seth MacFarlane's 'Family Guy' too. In 2015 graffiti artist Banksy redesigned an abandoned theme park into the satirical 'Dismaland'. It was only opened for a month before Banksy closed it down again.

In 1932 Walt Disney was the first animator to receive an Academy Award, more specifically the Honorary Award. He received it for "the creation of Mickey Mouse". He won eight honorary Oscars for 'Snow White' (1937), one for Fantasia (1940) and in 1947 James Baskett became the first male African-American actor to win an (honorary) Oscar for his role in 'Song of the South'. Disney won the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Short with 'Flowers and Trees' (1932). He received the same little statue for 'Three Little Pigs' (1933), 'The Tortoise and the Hare' (1934), 'Three Orphan Kittens' (1935), 'The Country Cousin' (1936), 'The Old Mill' (1937), 'Ferdinand the Bull' (1938) 'The Ugly Duckling' (1939), 'Lend a Paw' (1941), 'Der Fuehrer's Face' (1942) and 'Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Bloom' (1953). Posthumously the studio also won the Oscar for Best Animated Short for 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day' (1968) and Ward Kimball's 'It's Tough to Be a Bird' (1969). In 1942 Disney was also the first animator to be honoured with the Irving G. Thalberg Academy Award for his entire career. 

With 15 awards and 49 nominations, Disney is heads down the most awarded animator in Oscar history. In fact: he entered the Guinness Book of Records for being the film maker who won the most Oscars, period! 'When You Wish Upon a Star' (1940), 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah' (1947), 'Chim Chim Cher-ee' (1964), 'Under the Sea' (1989), 'Beauty and the Beast' (1991), 'A Whole New World' (1992), 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' (1994), 'Colors of the Wind' (1995), 'You'll Be in My Heart' (1999), 'If I Didn't Have You' (2001), 'We Belong Together' (2010) and 'Let it Go' (2013) won an Oscar for Best Original Song. 'Pinocchio' (1940), 'Dumbo' (1941), 'Mary Poppins' (1964), 'The Little Mermaid' (1989), 'Beauty and the Beast' (1991), 'Aladdin' (1992), 'The Lion King' (1994), 'Pocahontas' (1995) and 'Up' (2009) won the Oscar for Best Original Score. The Oscar for Best Animated Feature has gone to 'Finding Nemo' (2003), 'The Incredibles' (2004), 'Ratatouille' (2007), 'Wall-E' (2008), 'Up' (2009), 'Toy Story 3' (2010), 'Brave' (2012), 'Frozen' (2013), 'Inside Out' (2015), 'Zootopia' (2016) and 'Coco' (2017). 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (1988) and 'Toy Story' (1995) both won an Oscar for Special Achievement. 

Disney won an Emmy Award (1956) for Best Producer of a Film Series. On 8 February 1960 he became the first animator to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Disney posthumously won a Winsor McCay Award (1975) too. In 1978 Mickey Mouse was the first fictional character to receive a star on the same walk. Other Disney characters with a star there are Snow White (1987), Donald Duck (2004), Winnie the Pooh (2006), Tinker Bell (2010) and Minnie Mouse (2018). Even Disneyland has a star since 2005. Disney is also a member of the Television Hall of Fame (2006), California Hall of Fame (2006) and Anaheim Walk of Stars (2014). 

The Walt Disney Company has the most entries included in the United States National Film Registry, where films are inaugurated for their "cultural, historical and aesthetical significance". 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' was added in 1989, followed by 'Fantasia' in 1990, 'Pinocchio' in 1994, 'Steamboat Willie' in 1998, 'The Living Desert' in 2000, 'The Three Little Pigs' in 2007, 'Bambi' in 2011, 'The Old Mill' and 'The Story of Menstruation' (1946) in 2015, 'Dumbo' in 2017, 'Cinderella' in 2018, 'Flowers and Trees' in 2021. Films made after Disney's death have been entered too, such as 'Beauty and the Beast' in 2002 , 'Toy Story' in 2005, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?', 'The Lion King' in 2016, 'Wall-E' in 2021 and 'The Little Mermaid' in 2022.

Disney added a Chevalier in the Légion d'Honneur (1935), Officer d'Académie (1952), Audubon Medal (1955), Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964) and posthumous Congressional Gold Medal (1969) to his trophy list. In 1980 a dwarf planet was named after him and since 1995 there's even an asteroid named after Donald Duck. 

Legacy and influence
Walt Disney is one of the few film creators from the Golden Age of Hollywood to still be a household name. No other 20th-century cultural icon has such global impact. He is not only the most influential animator of all time, but can be considered one of the most influential cineasts too. Millions of people have been converted to animation thanks to his achievements. His cartoons, comics and associated merchandising remain beloved bestsellers today. Countless comic artists have received well-paid jobs writing or drawing comics for his company. His theme parks keep attracting huge crowds. His marketing techniques are still studied and used by many companies. There are hardly children in the world who aren't in one way or another exposed to his franchises. Yet he has adult admirers too, such as Idi Amin, Walter Benjamin, Charlie Chaplin, Sergej Eisenstein, Elizabeth II, George VI, Jim Henson, Hirohito, Kon Ichikawa, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul McCartney, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Steven Spielberg, Sun Ra and Andy Warhol. In the United States Disney is widely regarded as a national hero. When Time Magazine picked out the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century he was the only cartoonist to make the list, but added to their category "Icons of Business", rather than the 'Cultural Icons' category. Monte Beauchamp included Disney in his book 'Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed The World' (Simon & Schuster, 2014), where the cartoonist's life story was adapted in comic strip form by Larry Day. In an interview, Disney was once asked what he considered his greatest achievement and answered that he was proud of being able to establish a succesful company and keep it running. But he always reminded everybody: "It all started with a mouse."

Walt Disney, photographed in 1951. Photo credit: Profimédia.

Books about Walt Disney
Countless books have been written and published about Walt Disney and his studio. 'Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life' (Abbeville Press, 1981) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston is highly recommended for featuring marvellous original artwork, storyboards, atmospheric sketches of many classic Disney pictures, along with technical advice by the former Disney animators. Much unique artwork can also be seen in the Walt Disney Family Museum, which opened its doors in San Francisco, California, in 2009.

photograph of Walt Disney at his drawing board
Walt Disney at his drawing board, 1922.

"All our dreams can come true -            
if we have the courage to pursue them."

- Walt Disney  

The Walt Disney Family Museum

Disney artists in the Comiclopedia

Series and books by Walt Disney you can order today:


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