Disney Bros. Studio began in 1923, the year that Walter Elias Disney and his younger brother, Roy Olive Disney, began producing short animated/live-action films known as the Alice Comedies. Roy was the guy who dealt with the business aspects of running the studio making sure it was financially stable. At his suggestion the studio changed its name from Disney Bros. Studio to the Walt Disney Studio.
Walt Disney came to California with just his dreams and determination. His studio started as nothing more than storefront buildings in Hollywood before becoming a 51 acre studio lot in Burbank. Before moving to Burbank, Disney built a studio on Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, which was the birth place to many of the beloved characters part of the Walt Disney Studio’s family. The cartoons that Disney produced were just the starting point for the Walt Disney Studio.
After four years of the Alice Comedies, Disney decided to focus on an all cartoon series. With that, in 1927, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was born. However before Disney could continue producing Oswald cartoons in 1928, he learned the distributor was trying to make the cartoons without Disney, the creator of Oswald. From then on, Disney knew he had to own the rights of the cartoons and characters he created.
With the help of Ub Iwerks, who helped create Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney brought to life a character still in our lives today. In 1927, The Jazz Singer premiered as the first “talkie” or motion picture with sound. Iwerks had created two cartoons with their new character, but Disney felt they should make the first sound cartoon. So in 1928, Steamboat Willie premiered at New York’s Colony Theater to rave reviews. The star of Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse, became an instant celebrity.
Mickey Mouse would soon star in a series of cartoons and characters like Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck, among others, would make their debut. The gags and quick humor of the Mickey cartoons were great, but Disney wanted to experiment with stories that focused on mood, emotion, and musical themes. The Silly Symphonies became a training ground for animators to practice their skill and prepare them for a larger canvas. In 1932, for the first time, the Academy Award for Best Cartoon went to Disney’s Silly Symphonies. For the remainder of the 1930s, Disney cartoons would win that award.
The practice and awards paid off, for Disney had wanted to do a feature length animated movie. It took three years, but with Disney’s guidance and enthusiasm Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937, going on to becoming the most successful box office draw until 1938’s Gone with the Wind. With the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney was able to put a deposit down on the 51 acres of land in Burbank. Disney began designing a studio specifically for animation. From there the Walt Disney Studio would produce Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940, Dumbo in 1941, and Bambi in 1942. Pinocchio and Fantasia, although masterpieces, did not do as well as they would decades later. However the other two films, Dumbo and Bambi did turn a profit.
Those four films came out during the Second World War. During the war, the Walt Disney Studio produced propaganda and training films for the military. It would be sometime before Disney would regain the footing it had prior to the war. After the war in the late 1940s, Disney ventured into live-action and packaged animated shorts. The 1950s would see Disney regain more than a footing as it had pre-war.
In 1950 not only did Disney release its newest animated feature length since the early 1940s with Cinderella, but Disney released its first live-action feature length film, Treasure Island. Also in 1950, Disney saw what other studios did not see, the potential of television. Disney produced a Christmas special, which would be the stepping stone for Disney on the small screen.
With the move to live action feature films and television specials, the studio began expanding to include sound stages for interior shots for live-action feature films and television series and specials. In 1954, the Disneyland anthology series debuted. It would remain on the air for 29 years, running on the three big television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and going through six different names. The first television mini-series would appear on the anthology series with Davy Crockett. In 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club premiered, making stars of some talented Mouseketeers.
The Mouseketeers were not alone on the television landscape for the Walt Disney Studio in the 1950s. Disney produced a popular series about the legendary hero Zorro. With Zorro’s live-action adventures on the small screen, Disney in the 1950s produced live-action films for the big screen such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Shaggy Dog. The studio continued to produce animated features like Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty.
Filming outdoor scenes for the television series The Mickey Mouse Club and the motion picture The Shaggy Dog, among others, was filmed at the Golden Oak Ranch. Disney began leasing the Ranch in the mid-1950s before purchasing the 700-acre property in 1959. The Ranch gave a variety of natural settings to be used in Disney films from 1957’s Old Yeller to 2001’s Pearl Harbor. The Walt Disney Studio once had a backlot, but once “on-location” shooting increased the studio replaced the backlot with office buildings, two sound stages, and a parking structure. The Ranch became an “on-location” backlot, not just for the studio but the entire industry.
Disney in the 1960s released future classics 101 Dalmatians and Pollyanna. In 1964, Disney reached a new milestone with Mary Poppins, a feature film that combined live-action, animation, and animatronics. The success of the 1960s however was met with sadness with the death of Walt Disney in 1966. Roy Disney took over supervision of the company and the studio continued to prove it was the leader in animated films with The Jungle Book in 1967 and The Aristocats in 1970. In 1969, Disney produced the highest grossing film for the year, The Love Bug.
Roy Disney passed away in 1971, leaving the company in the hands of men trained by the Disney Brothers, including Card Walker, Donn Tatum, and Ron Miller. These men would lead the company for the remainder of the decade.
By the 1980s family films, the mainstay of the Walt Disney Studios, were not drawing audiences. To attract the teenage and adult audiences, Disney established a new label, Touchstone Pictures with its first release with 1984’s Splash. At the same time hostile takeovers of the company were prevented by the new chairman Michael Eisner and new president Frank Wells.
With the new management, Disney began maximizing its assets. Touchstone Television was established to produce shows for network television, beginning with the highly successfully and Emmy winning The Golden Girls. In 1986, Disney returned to Sunday night television with Disney Sunday Movie, later known as The Magical World of Disney and The Wonderful World of Disney. In 1988, Disney led the box office with Who Framed Roger Rabbit; Good Morning, Vietnam; and Three Men and a Baby.
Beginning in 1989, Disney had a resurgence in animated feature films with The Little Mermaid. The next animated feature in 1991, Beauty and the Beast, became the only animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. 1992’s Aladdin and 1994’s The Lion King both broke box office records for animated feature films. Disney continued the animated features throughout the 1990s with Pocahontas in 1995, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996, Hercules in 1997, Mulan in 1998, Tarzan in 1999, and Fantasia/2000 at the end of 1999. It was the joint venture in 1995 with Pixar Animation when the company released the first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story. This led to a series of highly successful Disney/Pixar collaborations: A Bug’s Life in 1998; Toy Story 2 in 1999; Monsters, Inc. in 2001; Finding Nemo in 2003; and The Incredibles in 2004.
The studio has been number one or two at the domestic box office for 13 of the past 17 years. In 2003, Disney became the first studio to surpass $3 billion in global box office. In 2003, Disney had success with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and the Disney-Pixar computer-animated feature Finding Nemo.
Robert Iger became the new chairman in 2005. With Iger in charge, Disney acquired Pixar Animation, assuring the continued success of Disney animation. Another acquisition, much smaller, but very significant to the history of the studio was that of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first creation. The studio continues to release successful feature films and produce television series and specials, but these are just but one piece of the Walt Disney Company.
The Walt Disney Studio is just one aspect of the Walt Disney Company which began in 1923. The studio’s history is the guiding force, but as time went on the company expanded beyond feature films and television.
In the early 1930s, Walt and Roy Disney allowed someone to put Mickey Mouse on some pencil tablets for school children for just $300, thus beginning Disney’s consumer product business. Eventually there would be dolls, dishes, toothbrushes, and figurines, almost anything imaginable bore the likeness of the Disney characters. 1930 also brought the first publication of a Mickey Mouse book, as well as a comic strip.
By the 1950s with the success in feature films and television, Walt Disney wanted to achieve success in other entertainment venues, namely the amusement park. Originally the park was to be known as Mickey Mouse Park and located in Burbank by the studio. However Disney’s ideas for this new park needed a much bigger space. The new park would be for parents and children. The new park would never be completed, always changing and growing with imagination. The new park would be known as Disneyland and opened in 1955.
In the early 1960s, Disney pioneered Audio-Animatronics at Disneyland. The Audio-Animatronics were first seen at the park’s Enchanted Tiki Room and later in four shows at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. With the success of Disneyland, it was only natural for another theme park, but on the East Coast.
Just before his death in 1966, Disney purchased 28,000 acres in Florida for what was known as the Walt Disney World project. Roy Disney was the one that over saw the project which opened in 1971. Walt Disney World had more land than the California park and was able to achieve the destination resort dream Disney wanted with hotels, campgrounds, golf courses and shopping villages. It quickly became the vacation destination for all people.
In 1982, the Florida park expanded with the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. The Epcot Center was one of Walt Disney’s last plans. Epcot Center showcased the world of tomorrow and opened to great acclaim.
Walt Disney Imagineering was the name of the designers hard at work in the early 1980s, but not just with the Epcot Center. The Imagineers were hard at work on the first foreign theme park, Tokyo Disneyland which opened in 1983. In the late 1980s, they collaborated with George Lucas and Francis Coppola for attractions at Disneyland, “Captain EO” and “Star Tours.” Also “Splash Mountain” opened in 1989 at Disneyland. On the East Coast at Walt Disney World, the Disney Grand Floridian Beach and Caribbean Beach Resorts opened in 1988. In 1989, three new gated attractions opened: The Disney/MGM Studios Theme Park, Pleasure Island, and Typhoon Lagoon.
Outside the theme park business, Disney ventured into new territories. Disney began releasing films from their library on video cassette for the home entertainment market. Hollywood Records was formed offering a wide selection of music. Disney also went into the world of publishing with Hyperion Books and Disney Press for both Disney and non-Disney related topics. From 1993 to 2005, Disney owned the National Hockey League team from Anaheim, the Mighty Ducks, named after the popular Disney films.
The Imagineers in the 1990s were just as busy as the decade before. Disneyland Resort Paris opened in 1992. It has six uniquely designed resort hotels and a campground. Back in the States, six new resort hotels were opened at the Walt Disney World Resort. There were new attractions added to all the theme parks. Fulfilling the mandate that Disneyland is never to be completed “Mickey’s Toontown” and “The Indiana Jones Adventure” were added. Later in the 1990s, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened at Walt Disney World becoming Disney’s largest park at 500 acres. In 2001, Disneyland truly became a resort destination with the addition of the theme park California Adventure, as well as three hotels including the Grand Californian Hotel and an upscale shopping area called “Downtown Disney.”
Disney’s resurgence into animated features in the late 1980s and 1990s allowed Disney to take their big screen ideas to the stages of Broadway. The stage production of “Beauty and the Beast” opened in 1994, followed by the Tony Award winning “The Lion King” in 1997. As Disney found success on stage an even greater success took place on the small screen.
In 1996, Disney purchased Capital Cities/ABC. This meant Disney owned the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). It also meant that Disney had 10 TV stations, 21 radio stations, seven daily newspapers, and ownership positions in the cable networks of A&E, Lifetime, the History Channel, and ESPN. Thirteen years prior Disney left network television to begin its own cable channel, the Disney Channel, now it owned a lot more than one cable channel.
What once started as a simple cartoon studio has become an enormous entertainment company and not just in feature films and television, but on Broadway, theme parks, cruise ships, and broadcasting and publishing. The Walt Disney Company owns ABC, ABC Family, ABC Kids, Walt Disney Studios Distribution, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Group, Disney Channel, Disney Channel Original, ESPN, ESPN2, Jetix, Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Walt Disney Television, Walt Disney Television Animation, Walt Disney Records, Walt Disney Pictures, Playhouse Disney, Disney Consumer Products, Pixar, Soapnet, Disney Interactive Studios, Disney Store, and Toon Disney, just to name a few.
Now it’s time to say good-bye to all our readers. M-I-C, see Disney is much more than just a feature film and television studio. K-E-Y, why? It’s all explained in these pages. M-O-U-S-E.
Walt Disney Animation Studios
The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company – Company History
The Walt Disney Studios – History