Disney Conpany,in full the Walt Disney Company,formerly (1929–86) Walt Disney Productions, American corporation that was the best-known purveyor of family entertainment in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Early Years And Mickey Mouse
Walt Disney began his career in animation with the Kansas City Film Ad Company in Missouri in 1920. In 1922 Disney and his friend Ub iwerks, a gifted animator, founded the Laugh-O-gram Films studio in Kansas City and began producing a series of cartoons based on fables and fairy tales. Joining Disney and Iwerks in the enterprise were such noted animators as Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and Isadore Freleng.
In 1923 Disney produced the short subject Alice in Cartoonland, a film combining both live action and animation that was intended to be the pilot film in a series. Within weeks of its completion, Disney filed for bankruptcy and left Kansas City to establish himself in Hollywood as a cinematographer. Alice in Cartoonland turned out to be a surprise hit, and orders from distributors for more Alice films compelled Disney to reopen shop in Hollywood with the help of his brother Roy—a lifelong business partner. The Kansas City team soon joined the Disneys in California, and the company produced mostly Alice films for the next four years.
In 1927 Disney began his first series of fully animated films, featuring the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. When his distributor appropriated the rights to the character, Disney altered Oswald’s appearance and created a new character that he named Mortimer Mouse; at the urging of his wife, Disney rechristened him Mickey Mouse.. Two silent Mickey Mouse cartoons—Plane Crazy (1928) and Gallopin’ Gaucho(1928)—were produced before Disney employed the novelty of sound for the third Mickey production, Steamboat Willie (1928), which was the first Mickey cartoon released. The film was an immediate sensation and led to the studio’s dominance in the animated market for many years.
Disney suffered a major setback in 1941 when the studio’s animators went on strike for three months. Disney took the action personally, and many of the studio’s top animators were compelled to resign. The enthusiastic mood within the studio had been permanently dampened, and the studio produced little on the level of Pinocchio or Dumbo for the next decade, concentrating instead on short cartoons, nature documentaries, and features that combined live action and animation such as The Three Caballeros (1945) and Song of the South(1946). The feature-length cartoons Cinderella(1950), Alice in Wonderland(1951), and Peter Pan (1953) were considered fine efforts, but many felt they lacked the panache and dimension of the early ’40s features. The lady and the Tramp(1955) was a return to form, but Disney’s attention was by then increasingly devoted to live-action features, television productions, and his new theme park, Disneyland, which opened in 1955 in Anaheim, California. It was also about then that Disney established the distribution company Buena Vista Productions in order to ensure complete control over his films and their marketing.
The 1990s were a hugely successful decade for the Disney Company. The revival was heralded by the release of The Little Mermaid (1989), an animated feature regarded as Disney’s best such effort in more than 40 years. More animated blockbusters followed, including Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), and Fantasia 2000 (1999).
The company had experimented with computerized animation for the live-action feature Tron (1982) and realized the technology’s potential with the enormously successful Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999), films that Disney jointly developed and produced with Pixar Animation Studios. Live-action features also found success, especially 101 Dalmatians (1996), a remake of Disney’s own 1961 animated feature.