Walt Disney set up in the unlucrative profession of animating figures on film with nothing but debts and ideas and a collaborator named Ub Iwerks. For years he was a poor, happy-go-lucky hanger-on of the Hollywood scene. Like all cartoon-makers he was on the lookout for a distinctive animal, and at last he found him: Mickey Mouse, who made his debut just 25 years ago. Mickey was an artless, awkward creature, squeaking in the shrill tones of early talkies, but he was the bugle that never sounded retreat. The trail of Disney glory which he blazed is traced out on the chart above.
Everybody liked Mickey — the children who thought he was funny, the philosophers who thought he represented America's raucous individualism, the esthetes who saw in him the first successful adjustment of linear design to the fluttering motion of the films. They transferred their affections to Mickey's fabulous successors, the Disney fairyland of birds and beasts, puppets and princesses.
Popularity has not always meant financial success for Disney. Mickey's movie earnings had to be supplemented by leasing his name to hats, cereals, sweatshirts, watches. Disney almost lost his shirt making the expensive ($1.5 million) Snow White — though it eventually grossed $28 million. He almost lost it again with his premature development of stereo-phonic sound in Fantasia. His staff was crippled by a bitter strike in 1941. After the war he seemed to have lost his magic touch altogether. But it came back soon enough. Cinderella and Peter Pan have been box-office hits — and still more is expected of the forthcoming Sleeping Beauty. The Disney combination of action and humor, nostalgia and violence has been carried over to his rousing live-action films like Treasure Island and Sword and the Rose. It is even more impressive when the Disney eye turns on the bizarrely endearing lives of seals and reptiles and lions (next pages). Amid the hubbub of his expanding studio Disney has little time for Mickey Mouse, who is judged too sweet-tempered for current tastes. But his close friend Donald Duck goes quacking misanthropically on through six cartoons a year.
Some live lions join the Disney Zoo
[... True-Life Adventures; The African Lion]
Endless waits, then drama
[... Al and Elma Milotte]
Strange sights and sounds
[... Sound effects]
Mouse family gets rich