The Walt Disney Company is a public mass media corporation founded in Los Angeles, America on October 16th 1923. Its founders were a pair of brothers Walt and Roy O Disney. Walt had previously had an animation company called Laugh-O-Gram Films which went bankrupt. After this event he moved to Hollywood to join his brother Roy.
The brothers produced a short film entitled “Alice’s Wonderland” during the silent era of 1923-1928. They followed this with an unsuccessful animation named “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.” Walt had the idea for a mouse character while travelling by train. This character became Mickey Mouse after input from one of their principal animators Ub Iwerks. Mickey Mouse went on to become Disney’s best known and loved character. Mickey is the public symbol of Disney and is as iconic as the Golden Arches of McDonalds.
Disney’s first film featuring sound was made in 1928, “Steamboat Willie” was a huge success and gave indications of the potential possible through animation. Disney continued to innovate and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” pushed the boundaries of the genre and was their first full length feature film. Now regarded as classics more feature length films followed, Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942).
The forays into television began with a team up with the Coca Cola company, this was in the form of a short cartoon, “An Hour in Wonderland.” In October 1954 ABC commissioned Disney into producing a regular television series, “Disneyland.” This became the longest running series in history on primetime television.
Emboldened by these early successes Walt envisaged areas children and parents could go together to enjoy animation inspired rides and parks. This idea came into fruition as the Disneyland Theme Park which opened to the public in July of 1955. The Disneyworld Theme Park followed in 1965.
During this period the film studio arm continued to enjoy commercial and critical success with other full length feature animation films. “Lady and the Tramp” (1955), and “Sleeping Beauty” (1957) are just two and are also widely regarded as classics.
Live action films were next for Disney. “Pollyanna” (1960) was an adaptation of a popular children’s book. Disney’s musical “Mary Poppins” is one of the highest grossing films of all time and one five Academy Awards. Julie Andrews received one as best actress.
Walt passed away from lung cancer in 1966 leaving Roy to take over the company. “Disneyworld” was renamed “Walt Disney World” in honour of his brother. Roy died in 1971. Walt’s son in law Ron Miller then joined the board. Disney then began to make forays into the horror and sci-fi genre partly due to the success of Star Wars. These departures from their normal family friendly fare were not commercially successful and left Disney vulnerable to hostile takeovers. During the eighties 70% of the company’s revenue was generated from the theme parks. The Sid Bass family purchased a huge amount of stock options (over 80%). The board also managed to secure the appointment of Frank Wells from Touchstone pictures and crucially Michael Eisner from Paramount.
Although Disney continued to produce more adult orientated films after a tie-up with Touchstone this different direction began to pay off. “Down and Out in Beverley Hills” (1985) and “Pretty Woman” (1990) were just two of these. Eisner had the foresight to predict viewing trends and signed deals with Showtime networks to show Disney/Touchstone television series like “The Golden Girls” and “Home Improvement.” In this way Disney tapped into the rapidly expanding cable markets. Anticipating that the home video market would become huge Disney released previous earlier animations in limited form during the late eighties.
Another tie-up with Silver Screen in 1985 led to the finance being made available for films such as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Little Mermaid.” The company then entered television animation