Walt Disney Day: The Legacy of a Legend

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

The first Monday in December is Walt Disney Day! In honor of this creative genius who has fulfilled childhood dreams across the world, here is a little about the man and his legacy. 

Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois. He began cultivating a love for drawing and painting from a very early age and sold many of his creations to family and neighbors. In 1911, his family of seven moved to Kansas City, Missouri. It was there that he developed his fascination with trains and also discovered the wonder of motion pictures. His family moved back to Chicago in 1917, where he drew pictures for his high school’s newspaper and took night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

At age sixteen, Disney dropped out of school to join the U.S. Army but was rejected due to his age. So, he joined the Red Cross and drove an ambulance in France for a year before returning to Kansas City in 1919 in the hopes of becoming a newspaper cartoonist. Disney secured a job making cutout animated commercials and then opened his own animation studio with co-worker Fred Harman. The men struck a deal with a local theater that agreed to screen their cartoons. They named their seven-minute animations Laugh-O-Grams and became hugely popular with viewers. 

However, in 1923, Disney had to declare bankruptcy due to building debt, but he didn’t stay down long. Instead of giving up, Disney, his brother Roy, and cartoonist Ub Iwerks moved out to California, where they started a new business: Disney Brothers’ Cartoon Studio. The studio was soon renamed Walt Disney Studios at Roy’s suggestion. 

How did this young man go from bankruptcy to a household name and legend?

Before there was a mouse, there was a rabbit named Oswald. Disney created Oswald for Universal Pictures in 1927. One year later, he created a mouse with similar features, who quickly became renowned worldwide. The mouse’s name was originally Mortimer; however, when Disney told his wife, Lillian Bounds, this name, she protested that it was not quite right. And so Mickey Mouse was born. Can you imagine watching The Mortimer Club as a child? Anyhow, Mickey’s first cartoon debut was Steamboat Willie in 1928. 

Since then, Disney has come far. Let’s take a look at a time line of this legacy:

  • 1937 – The first full-length animation picture Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is released. It cost $1.5 million to create this film, and it was budgeted for $250.00. “Heigh-Ho” became quickly well-known around the world. 
  • February 23, 1939 – Shirley Temple presentes Walt Disney with a very special honorary Oscar (or should we say Oscars?). It consisted of one regular-sized Oscar, and seven little Oscars. 
  • 1940 – Disney’s second full-length film Pinocchio is released. The song “When You Wish Upon a Star” became a hit along with the movie. Later, the song became associated with Walt Disney in general rather than just the film. 
  • 1940 – That same year Fantasia came out. When speaking of the film, Disney stated, “In a profession that has been an unending voyage of discovery in the realms of color, sound and motion, Fantasia represents our most exciting adventure.” 
  • 1941 – Dumbo is released. That same year, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and Walt Disney Studios was used as a U.S. Army base. Walt Disney was happy to help in any way he could; he even went on a Goodwill Tour. 
  • 1942 – Bambi and Saludos Amigos are released. 
  • 1946 – Fun and Fancy Free and Song of the South are released. 
  • 1950- Cinderella is released as well as Disney’s first all live-action film Treasure Island.
  • 1953- Disney creates “Buena Vista Film Distribution Company.”
  • 1955- Lady and the Tramp is released using wide-screen CinemaScope technology. It was the first full-length animated movie to do so. 
  • July 17, 1955 – Disneyland opens in California. 
  • 1964 – Mary Poppins is released. It took Disney twenty years to make this movie because P.L. Travers, who wrote the book the movie is based on, did not want to give Disney the rights to make the movie. The movie went on to win five of the thirteen Oscars it was nominated for, including Julie Andrews for Best Actress.
  • December 15, 1966 – Disney dies from lung cancer.
  • October 1, 1971 – Disney World, the new largest theme park in the world, opens in Florida. 

Disney started planning for Walt Disney World not long after Disneyland opened, but, sadly, he was unable to see it completed. However, his wonderful legacy of magic and laughter lives on well into today, with new amazing films being made every year.