Talking mice, daring princesses, and timeless stories. Walt Disney created a legacy, and left his mark on pop culture world wide. His earliest animated pieces are some of my personal favorites, from Oswald to Sleeping Beauty. His early Alice shorts are fascinating to watch, as he combined live action with animation, a feat that hadn’t been done before.
In 1934, Walt Disney got a crazy idea. He was going to make a full lenght animated movie–the first ever. It would cultivate into 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The movie had its premier in Hollywood on December 21st, 1937, and premiered everywhere else the following February. Disney poured his heart and soul into this film, and had genuine concerns that audiences wouldn’t connect to the film. Naysayers, including his wife Lilian, were skeptical. Surely no adult would sit through and enjoy an animated movie based on a fairy tale. At the end of the Hollywood premier the audience gave the film a standing ovation, proving to Disney that there was a place in the world for animated features. The studio made over $8 million on Snow White. Snow White was also the subject of a heavy marketing campaign from Disney. To this day Snow White is the second most merchandised character next to Mickey Mouse in the Disney family. Aside from all of that though, Disney had indeed proved that animated films could do well at the box office, and started working on his other projects immediately after.
He had hoped to replicate the success of Snow White with their next animated film, Pinocchio. Pinocchio was by all means a critical success, but wasn’t exactly popular when it premiered, nor was it a financial success. A large part of this was due to Disney being cut off in the European market as they were in the middle of the second World War. Some parent’s also thought the movie was too dark and scary for some kids. After all, children in the movie are turned into donkeys, there’s a giant asshole of a whale, and all of the villains continue on with their lives as if all of their wrong doing is ok. The movie did however win two Academy Awards; One for best score, and one for best original song. Many historians view Pinocchio as Disney’s greatest achievement and fans today certainly appreciate and enjoy Pinocchio. But while Pinocchio was being created, Walt himself was distracted by another ambitious project: Fantasia.
Fantastia is by all means a beautiful film. Critics loved the movie, but audiences were initially cold to it. Financially it was also a disaster, since it was released during WW2, and therefor the international market didn’t receive the movie. Of course now it’s thought of as a masterpiece, even gaining a 96% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Fantasia was a technical work of art too. It was the first and only movie with Fantasound (3 channel stereo) as it fully engulf the audience in the music. Artists were given creative freedom, as Disney allowed them to color the sequences as they saw fit. Disney had even wanted to have scents disperse through the film at certain points but dropped the idea later on. This idea however was not dormant-the idea is now used in all of the Disney Parks. The movie would be released several more times since its initial release, but any version of Fantasia released after 1969 has a few scenes deleted. “Pastoral Symphony” had originally featured crude stereotypes of black centaurs shining the hooves of the white centaurs.
Pinnochio and Fantasia both tanked at the box office. Looking to recoup some of that money, Disney went to work on Dumbo. The film was being made in the midst of the Disney Animators Strike, which meant the movie was done on the cheap. It was also scaled back and simple in comparison to the first three movies–plus it’s only 64 minutes long. Thankfully for Disney, audiences loved Dumbo. It’s simple, uplifting story was needed during WW2. Dumbo had come through for the company, grossing $1.3 million during it’s initial release. Originally Disney had thought to make Dumbo a short cartoon, but thankfully he decided the only way to do justice to the source material was via a full length film. The movie also won an Academy Award in 1941 for best score, a trend the Disney Studios would keep up with for decades to come.