Tidspunkt: VKI (1998)
Table of contents
Table of Contents
How It All Started...
Disney Enters TV
Some Conclusive Thoughts
When I was four years old, my mother bought me my first comic book: “Bamse - the strongest bear in the world”. I was in love for the first time in my life. With comics. I started reading all sorts of comics, and especially one set of characters never stopped amazing me: A hot-tempered duck, a resourceful mouse with big ears, a tall, clumsy dog and the biggest miser ever who had a bin full of gold coins. On the top of all these magazines a name was written carefully. All the signatures looked alike, and I would think “Gee, this Walt Disney person sure leads a steady pen”.
This was a long time ago, and I have learned much more about Disney since then. I have seen numerous Disney cartoons and full-length animated movies (I still “cry” when I see some of them), read several books about uncle Walt, listened to the many beautiful Disney songs, even gone to a Disney-on-ice show, but unfortunately, I have never visited one of the Disney parks. To some people, Walt Disney is still only the signature on the top of “Donald Duck & Co.”. To me he is a personification of The American Dream: The poor kid who worked his way to the top; the border breaking adventurer who didn’t know fear. In this special assignment I have tried to take a closer look at the statement “no one has had more impact on the cultural life of this century than Walt Disney and his on-living spirit”. I have tried to do this by studying all the cultural fields conquered by the Disney corporation.
First of all, I would like to thank Walt himself, for giving us all the opportunity to enjoy the many marvellous pieces of entertainment. I also want to thank other significant people within the history of the 75-year-old company: Ubbe Iwwerks, Roy Disney, Michael Eisner and Roy E. Disney. A special thank you must also be given to Sina Bahrami, who has helped me to insert color pictures.
How it all started...
Walt’s ancestors came from Ireland, but Walt was born in Chicago on the fifth of December 1901. Already as a six-year-old Walt showed that he had artistic abilities by painting a pig on a wall. Later, the family moved to Missouri. But financial problems made them go to Kansas City. His family wasn’t rich, and already as a nine-year-old, Walt and his brother Roy had to work as paperboys in order to make ends meet. He also worked in a candy store as a buzz boy, and he delievered medications for the local pharmacy. Walt loved reading, writing, painting, and he was a great fan of fantastic novels and vaudeville theatres. As a fourteen-year-old, Walt won a Charlie Chaplin imitation contest. When his brother Roy left the family, Walt got a job as a train salesman. Walter moved to Chicago in 1917. He found work at a jelly factory, but he got fed up with it, and he started working as a mail man instead. He went to France in 1917, working as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross.
Returning to the USA, Walt had made up his mind: He was going to be an artist. He wanted to make drawings. He didn’t find a job easily, but at last he got a job with Gray Advertising Bureau. However, Adam didn’t spend much time in paradise, neither did Walt. A colleague of Walt’s, named Ubbe Iwwerks, was also fired, and they founded their own company. Walt also found labour in Kansas, with Movie Commercial, and he could combine both his sense of humour and his talent in this job. Walt learned how to make cartoons there, and he also found a job for Ubbe within Movie Commercial. They decided on that the next time they were going into business together, they were going to work with cartoons. And so they did. The company Laugh-O-Gram was born. Unfortunately, they were fooled by their distributor.
After being fooled by this distributor, Walt lived like a tramp until he could afford to buy a train ticket to Los Angeles. In the city of angels, he founded another company accompanied by his brother Roy: Walt Disney Productions. Ubbe Iwwerks was also hired eventually. They hired more people, and Walt fell in love with and married one of the new employees: Lillian Bounds. The company came up with an idea for a character called Oswald the Rabbit. However, they were fooled once again, and this is looked upon as the reason why Walt Disney Productions has the strictest set of copyright rules in the world.
Then, one of the biggest cultural icons ever was born: Mickey Mouse. In 1928 he appeared in the first cartoon ever to contain sound effects: Steamboat Willie. Mickey has often been looked upon as the personification of Walt: hard-working, likable and considerate. The mouse went straight to the hearts of the audience. After some time Goofy, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck were invented, and they reached enormous popularity, as well. Of course, Mikey Mouse also appeared in colors, that happened in 1931. After some time Disney developed a series of cartoons called “Silly Symphonies”. He received two Oscars in 1931.
But Walt didn’t want to rest on his laurels. In 1934 he started planning the first animated full-length movie: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In December 1937, it was first-performance time. The movie was a huge success, and they earned millions of dollars. After this, things went pretty much in Disney’s favour. And this is how it all began...
To substantiate the statement concerning Disney’s impact on the cultural life, we ought to take a look at the complexity of the worldwide company Walt Disney Productions. Almost everywhere we go, we are somehow surrounded by the Disney spirit, materialized in magazines, toys, TV programmes, amusement park advertisements, newspaper articles, clothes, candy, movies, videoes, computer programmes and so on... Walt Disney once said: “I am not Disney any more. I used to be Disney, but now Disney is a term in the public eye.”
Do you anyone who does not own a Mickey Mouse “this” or a Donald Duck “that”? I sure don’t. This is one of the many results of merchandising. Merchandising means selling all kinds of goods connected to comics, movies, pop stars, video games and the likes. When it comes to toys and games, Walt Disney Productions pretty much took over the entire market before World War II. And of course, Mickey Mouse was their main sales article. After his debut in 1928, he appeared on pens and pencil houses, wallpapers, carpets, lampshades, glasses and cereal boxes. Two million five hundred thousand wrist watches with Mickey’s arms as hands of watch were sold in two years. In the 1950’s millions of racoon hats were sold, due to the enormous popularity of the Disney series Davy Crockett. One wondered: “Who is going to be exhausted first? The racoons or the parents who have to buy the hats?”. Merchandising products have been made connected to almost all of Disney’s full-length movies. The number of products is rising: bags, dolls, clothes, caps, sugar canes, stamps, pillows and curtains. Today, one is actually able to buy an entire “Aladdin bedroom”.
Naturally, merchandising is one of the most important factors for the Walt Disney Company, financially speaking. In the beginning in the 1930’s, the merchandising income was even bigger than the cartoon income. Without this income, the company probably wouldn’t have survived the rough years.
The first Walt Disney comic appeared in 1930, and of course, Mickey Mouse was the star. It was drawed by Ubbe Iwwerks. The first Donald Duck comic came in 1936, and was drawed by Alfred Taliaferro. Over the years, many American Disney comics have existed, and there are still several titles on the market. The highest impression any comcic magazine has ever had, was the impression of Walt Disney Comics & Stories no. 156, a publication printed in three million and thirty-eitght thousand copies. The most famous Mickey Mouse drawers are Paul Murry and Floyd Gottfredson, and the highliest recognized Donald Duck drawers are Al Taliaferro, Carl Barks and Don Rosa.
As a matter of fact, Disney comics have been much more popular in Europe than in the USA, and especially in Scandinavia, where comics in general have a very solid position. In Norway, “Donald Duck & Co.” is printed in more than two hundred thousand copies every week! The top year was 1985, when the average impression was two hundred and fifty thousand copies a week.
Everybody knows comic characters like Donald, Daisy, Huey, Dewie and Lewie, Uncle Scrooge, Grandma Duck, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy. And everybody knows somebody like them in real life, too: The hot-tempered colleague, the clumsy guy next-door, the old, avaricious aunt... There is very little doubt that the Walt Disney comics have been, and will forever be, central parts of our lives.
In Hollywood, you will find seven major movie companies. Among them Walt Disney Productions. Their first movie was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was the most successful movie thus far. Everybody has heard about the famous full-length animated movies that came after the adventures of the beautiful princess. Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, Aladdin and The Lion King are examples of Disney’s wonderful art. The movies are played again and again in movie theatres all over the world. And they are always best-sellers on video. Both Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Aladdin and The Lion King have sold more than twenty million copies.
But Disney is not only famous for his animated movies. In the 1950’s, he started making nature movies, such as The Living Desert, The African Lion and The Beaver Valley. When Walt showed these movies to the cinema owners, they were very sceptical. But once again, Walt proved that his jugdement concerning the American cinema audience was better than any cinema owners. Cinemas became a safari as Disney explored nature. Where nature led, Disney cameras followed. Never before had animals been photographed so intimately. They also started making “real” movies, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Treasure on the Pirate’s Island and Mary Poppins (which is concidered to be perhaps the biggest success the company has ever achieved with a movie). The Walt Disney Company still produces more than 30 movies a year.
Also, Walt’s spirit of adventure and joy has influenced many of the movies made today and the people making them. He actually invented audio-animatronics, which means electronically animated characters with sound. “The word “animatronics” today is excepted as a form of creating any robotics for film. We use is freely. The fact is that the word “animatronics” comes from Disney.”, Stan Winston said when interviewed by ABC. During the making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Steven Spielberg said that most directors today are influenced by the movies made by Walt Disney, especially the movies from the 30’s, 40’s and the 50’s. “I feel like this is a movie we’re making for Walt”, he said.
Disney Enters TV
In the 1940’s, Walt would take his daughters to so-called “amusement parks”, and he wondered: “What do they actually have? A few ponies full of flies, walking around on a narrow path three times for 25 cents a ride...”. He wanted to make a pleasant family amusement park where adults and children could really enjoy themselves. He started dreaming...about Disneyland. Unfortunately, he couldn’t beg or borrow the seventeen million dollars he needed to build the park. But one sleepless night, he came up with the solution: Television.
In october 1954, a new show started on ABC. It was called Disneyland, and was hosted by an elderly, well-dressed man telling everybody about wonderful things that were soon going to happen. The show was an immediate success, and was seen by more than one hundred million people every Sunday. The show featured many mini-series, such as Davy Crockett, Swiss Family Robinson, Zorro and Spin & Marty. After some time, a show called The Mickey Mouse club was on TV every day. The Disney series were filled with traditional values, such as family loyalty, hard work and The Ten Commandements. “Many people have come up to me and said: In a fact, my life values were shaped by that series.”, Fess Parker (from Davy Crockett) said when he was interviewed by ABC.
Today, the Walt Disney Company has it’s own TV channel, broadcasting all over the world. The Disney Channel, with twenty-four hours of programming, had more than fifteen million subscribers in 1993. New series have taken over. For instance, DuckTales, Quack Pack and Tale Spin have been huge successes. The company is still co-operating with ABC, however. The Christmas Specials are very popular, and so are the one-hour Disney shows, in Norway called “Disneytimen”.
On the 13. of July 1955, Disneyland opened. “It happened on one of them Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah days”. The most famous amusement park in history had finally been finished. Or as Walt said: “As long as there is imagination left in the world, Disneyland will never be finished”. After a few weeks, one million people had visited Disneyland. The influx had been twice as large as expected, and people spent thirty per cent more money than expected. But as usual, Walt was already making new plans. The park opened with twenty-two attractions, but Walt wanted to build more. Ten years later, in 1965, there were fifty-seven attractions in the park. For those of you who understand the symbolism of this quotation by one of Walt’s closest co-workers during the building of Disneyland, you will see that Walt’s dream is still in the process of being fulfilled: “We have moved the rails many times. I think Walt would have appreciated it.”
Walt’s spirit didn’t allow him to stop dreaming. A fantasy began forming in his head: A place of tomorrow. Unfortunately, Walt died before his fantasy became reality. But Roy continued his work. In october 1971, Walt Disney World was opened. This park is the biggest amusement park in the world, and covers fifteen hundred square kilometres. The Epcot centre was opened twelve years later. The centre was Walt’s last dream: A land of tomorrow. Epcot means Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Even though more than four hundred million people have visited Disneyland, and fifteen million people a year still visit the park, Walt Disney World is even more popular: Twenty million people visit this magic kingdom (indeed, it is) every year.
The first Disney park not situated in America was built in Tokyo and opened at the same time as the Epcot centre. As a matter of fact, this park is the most popular of all of them, with an average annual number of visitors of thirty million people. Ever since the beginning of the 1980’s, the Disney Company had been wanting to open a Disney resort in Europe, and in April 1992, Disneyland Paris opened. During the first year, eleven million people paid the park a visit. Let’s hope that there will always be fantasy in the world.
Walt Disney always dreamt about creating an entire community in his company’s image. The fulfillment of Walt’s dream was the opening of Celebration. The Walt Disney Company have spent two point two billion dollars on building an entirely new village for eight thousand inhabitants. The company owns all the public buildings, even the city hall. Everyone who buys a house and moves in must sign the city’s constitution: “Declaration of Covenants”. The houses are all painted in tones of white, only four architectonic styles are accepted and the bookshelves are filled up with a complete collection of Reader’s Digest’s comprimed works. On the outskirts of the town, a giant golf field has been built, designed by Robert Trent Jones jr and sr, and an artificial lake has also been made. Michael Eisner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, says that the city was built with “imagineering” - the combination of technological knowhow and childlike imagination. Disney is able to spellbind the audience like no one else when it comes to using physical surroundings.
The population consists of nuclear families and pensioners. Anyone who wishes to sell, is obliged to give a possible profit to charity in order to prevent speculation. Many curious people come to visit Celebration in the week-ends. “We’ve been Disney fans since we were kids. You can trust Disney. You know that they won’t let things fall into decay. You know that they focus on traditional family values...”, Bob Bucci, inhabitant of Celebration, says.
Disney is not going to let Celebration be the finish of anything. Celebration is only the beginning. The Times Square area in New York City is already being extensively renovated, and when we celebrate New Year’s eve in 2000, this dive of sin will be fit for nuclear families with traditional values. And the world will have taken another step in the direction of Walt’s vision.
Welcome to Disney World.
Some Conclusive Thoughts
What I have learned from this experience, spectacular as it has been, can be summed up in two words: “You can.” Anything you want to be, you can be. “When you wish upon a star (and work hardly), it makes no difference who you are. Everything your heart desires will come to you.” Poetically express-ed, this is the impression I am left with. I have learnt that one should never give up. Walt never did, and in the end, after many years of hard work, go-ahead spirit and some defeats, he succeded. I have learnt that you should be honest with yourself, show respect and confidence, but you should not be gullible.
Walt Disney probably did more to heal and comfort bothered minds than all the psychiatrists in the entire world. Disney knew that even though there is nothing grown-up in the kid, there is a lot of the kid in all grown-ups. To a kid, the world is new and exciting, like an unopened present. Walt tried to make the world like this for adults as well. He spent his entire grown-up life and practically all his time on creating movies, Disneyland, television shows and much, much more. He was without parallel, and he created an unparalleled organization. It was a long way from Laugh-O-Grams to Walt Disney World. Walt didn’t quite make it... His body died in 1966, but there’s no doubt his spirit lives on.
I really don’t think that anyone has had more impact on the cultural of this century than Walt Disney and his on-linving spirit, because as we have seen, the complexity of Walt Disney Productions exceeds everything else. Through cartoons, TV shows, comics, movies, giant merry-go-rounds, imaginary space travels and other magnificent park attractions filled with joy, adventure, excitement, humour, hope and first and foremost fantasy, the true spirit of Walt Disney is able to live side by side with us. Walt created a magic kingdom, not only in Anaheim, California and in Orlando, Florida, but also in the hearts of all of those who are willing to listen. And as Walt was fond of saying: “It all started with a mouse”.
¶ Donald Mix, a little booklet that came along with Donald Duck & Co.
¶ Samle Disney Album, --”--
¶ Historien om Walt Disney, Bob Thomas, 1967
¶ Walt Disney - mannen som ble en legende, Bob Thomas, 1978
¶ Disney A to Z, Dave Smith, 1996
¶ Walt Disney World, Steve Birnbaum, 1989
¶ Hele Norges Leksikon volume 3, 1996
¶ The Wonderful World of Disney, TV Show, 1994
¶ Various newspapers
¶ To some extent: The Internet