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Who was Walt Disney?

Updated on December 20, 2016

The American film and television producer, and the creator of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and world famous amusement parks, Walter Elias Disney (1901-66) was born in Chicago, Illinois. His only formal art training was a brief series of lessons at the Kansas City Art Institute when he was 14. In fact, Disney was no great draftsman; his greatest talents lay in the areas of ideas and management and after 1926 he ceased to contribute drawings to his company's animated films.

Although under age, Disney drove a Red Cross ambulance in France during World War I. After the war, he worked as a commercial artist and first came into contact with animation at Kansas City Film Advertising. Encouraged by the success of his work for this company, he set up his own business in 1922, producing animated films of updated fairy tales. He undertook some very ambitious projects, but, by the time that he had discovered a successful formula with the Alice comedies (1923-26), which combined live action and animated figures, the firm was bankrupt. He began his career afresh in Hollywood, in 1923, producing some 60 Alice films and the highly successful Oswald Rabbit series of cartoons, these being followed by the equally popular Silly Symphonies, which included the first animated film to be made in full color. In 1928, he produced the first fully synchronized sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, in which Mickey Mouse made his debut.

In 1938, the Disney studio completed the first full length animated feature film ever made, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The studio has concentrated upon such productions ever since, among the best being Pinocchio (1940), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1959) and The Jungle Book (1967), the last animated film whose production was supervised by Disney himself, as he died before it was completed. The most imaginative and innovative use of the media remains Fantasia (1938), an attempt to create visual counterparts to popular pieces of classical music.

During World War II, Donald Duck appeared in several propaganda cartoons and in 1943 Disney made an animated adaptation of Alexander de Seversky's Victory Through Air Power. From the late 1950s, he began to make some films which were predominantly or entirely live action, two of the most memorable being 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) and Mary Poppins (1964). In 1954, with the Disneyland programmes, he began producing for television.

Disney died of lung cancer in 1966, leaving behind a wealth of animated and live films and a flourishing business, comprising his studio and the two gigantic amusement parks, Disneyland and Disneyworld, as testimony to his commercial expertise and creative genius.


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    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Interesting, but I could wish for a longer article with more information. I didn't really get a sense of the man, himself. I know he married and had children, and that there was a scandal in his later life.

      He really was the father of animated films, or at least I think he was.