99 years ago, a series of failures pushed two brothers to found their own company. One convalescing from a long illness, skilled in numbers and social relations. The other a creative genius, with an epic capacity for work and a unique stubbornness to carry out projects that no one had dared to tackle before. Walt Disney was just 22 years old and had a vision. His brother Roy accompanied him. They created an animation studio. None of the important men in the industry was betting on the permanence of the brothers and their cartoons. But after the creation of Disney Brothers Studios, nothing was the same. The entertainment industry entered a new era.
From a very young age, Walt, who was born in 1901, had two great interests: trains and drawing. Every adult who saw him with a pencil in his hand couldn’t believe what this boy was capable of. At home they doubted. His school performance was not good. He said that this was not the fault of his intellectual capacity or his laziness, but the exhaustion that caused him to get up every day of the week to deliver the newspapers together with his brother, Roy. The father, after some failed businesses, had bought a magazine stand and while he organized the shipments, he put his children in charge of the distribution. Walt, afterward, spent the whole day tired.
At the age of 21, he had set up three small businesses and all three had gone bankrupt. It was very difficult to make your way as a cartoonist.
Walt originally aspired to make a living as a cartoonist. He had to get one of his strips syndicated, someone to buy it and get it published in hundreds of newspapers around the United States. But that did not happen and patience was not his main virtue.
Little by little he studied the different animation systems that existed. The cinema fascinated him and he saw the large lines of public entering it. It was another way that his work was seen by many. Draw but for cinema.
Roy was one of his older brothers. Walt followed him when he wanted to enlist in World War I. They didn’t let him because he wasn’t the minimum age. But a few days later he returned with a false document and got a job as an ambulance worker for the Red Cross. But when he crossed the ocean and reached France, the armistice had already been signed and he did not take action. Roy was discharged from the army due to tuberculosis. He was hospitalized for a long time. After leaving the hospital he left Kansas City, the city where his family had lived for a few years, and settled in Los Angeles.
That’s where Walt went with 22 years. His last company had once again run out of funds. He had made some short films that achieved relative local success. They were called Newman Laugh-O-Gram. But to continue having his creations on screen, he needed more cartoonists and that unbalanced the accounts. And the company had to close. That was the moment when he decided to accompany Roy in his new destination.
He came to town with the latest Laugh-O-Gram production, even though the little studio no longer existed. it was called alice wonderland. It was a 12-minute short that was loosely based on Alice in Wonderland. But the novelty was that it combined a real Alice, a twelve-year-old girl named Virginia Davis, with cartoons that were her antagonist.
On October 16, 1923, 99 years ago, the brothers created a new company, Disney Brothers Studios. As no one wanted to associate with them, as the financiers did not trust their projectsthe Disneys were going to produce animated shorts themselves to be given in theaters.
Walt Disney was a tireless and obsessive worker. He demanded a lot from each of his employees. There was no technology to ease the work and each project took a long time. He spent fifteen hours a day immersed in the professional task and wanted others to do the same. His assistants and collaborators resented and left in the face of better offers (and the hope of being treated better, less rigorously). A few years later he bought almost all of his brother’s share in the company and the studio (still very small) was renamed Walt Disney Studios.
After many years of delays and success elusive it seemed that in 1927 everything was going to change. He created a character that the kids really liked: Oswald The Rabbitt, an innocent rabbit who used to get into trouble. But the big studio he was working with had been shrewd in crafting the contract and he kept the rights to the character. Disney wanted to fight but the legal battle was lost. When it seemed that nothing could be worse, his closest collaborators were co-opted by the studio and Walt was left almost alone. Nothing but Roy was still at his side. It seemed that in Los Angeles, and especially in that industry, he was not enough with talent alone.
But Disney was stubborn. The following year he produced two shorts with a new character. A big-eared and somewhat naive mouse, Mickey. Nothing would ever be the same again.
The third short was Steamboat Willie. For the first time a cartoon also had synchronized sound.
A year later the mouse had conquered the United States. There were comic strips in hundreds of newspapers, short films were released in theaters, merchandising began to flood toy stores, and Mickey Mouse clubs were opened in every corner of the country.
That same year in The Karnival’s Kid, Mickey spoke for the first time. Walt, perfectionist that he was, could not find any suitable voice for the dubbing. So he decided to be the voice of his creation himself. He did it until 1947. His first words were “The hot dog, the hot dog”.
As the fame of his cartoon grew, so did the pressures. His collaborators were tempted by other studios. Thus the main creative partners left his side and he even seemed to lose distribution. But he got a deal with Columbia. However, the prospect of having to start over from scratch gave him a nervous breakdown.
Still, the studio continued to grow. It never stopped anymore. Mickey became the best known and loved children’s character. Walt Disney provided him with other friends, enlarged the gallery of characters. They were born Pluto, Goofy Donald Duck in the early thirties. Magazines with his comic strips sold hundreds of thousands of copies weekly. The Academy recognized the work of Walt Disney. It won consecutive Oscars for best animated short. And even an honorary one in 1932 for having given life to Mickey. So much and so immediate was the penetration of the character, that over the years Walt Disney became the person with the most Academy statuettes to his credit.
In 1933 he made The Three Little Pigs. It was an extraordinary boom. Disney didn’t just live off Mickey. It was the most successful short in history. Uplifting stories with humanized animals were the studio’s trademark.
Meanwhile, Walt had an obsession. Getting to make his first animated feature. The production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs it took him many years. There were so many expenses, the original budget was multiplied so many times that at some point it seemed that five Mickeys would be needed to sustain the studio. The specialists predicted bankruptcy. Disney developed new technology to give his drawings depth and to make it look like there was camera movement. And obviously everything had to be in color and with pristine sound.
The premiere was in December 1937. Immediately the critics surrendered at its feet and the public sold out each performance for months. In a very short time it became the highest grossing sound film in history up to that time. With Snow White began the golden age of animation and Walt Disney ended up consolidating himself in the great tycoon of the entertainment industry, in the undisputed synonym of children’s entertainment. later they would come Fancy Y Pinocchio that did not meet economic expectations, due to the beginning of the Second War. The Oscars again, but with a peculiarity. The honorary recognition was personalized: Walt was given an original size statuette and seven small ones representing the dwarfs.
In every moment of anxiety, in every crisis, Walt had Roy by his side, the older brother who dealt with creditors, who arranged the accounts, who was the friendly face that consolidated the business and attended to problems, while Walt dedicated himself to his obsessions, to continue creating and not repeating himself and exploring unknown territories.
After World War II, and while he was bored waiting for his daughters to finish spinning on the merry-go-round, Disney designed Disneyland, a theme park like no one had even allowed himself to imagine in which both children and adults would have fun. The work was hard but the new idea once again turned the entertainment industry upside down.
Following Walt’s death, Roy continued to run the company until his retirement after Disneyworld opened in Florida, the last major project of the Disney brothers.