Established in 1923, Walt Disney Studios has impacted American culture possibly more than any other brand in history. Their signature characters – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Pluto – sparked a revolution in animation and technology that continues to grow to this day. These animated characters have created a legacy extending throughout film, television, and the Disney theme parks, shaping family entertainment for the last 70 years.
Disney as we know it truly took off in 1937 with the release of its first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was incredibly successful, winning the first Academy Award for animation. With capital from Snow White, Disney purchased 51 acres in Burbank, California that would house a state-of-the-art, modern design studio, tailored for animation. Fantasia, Dragnet, and The Mickey Mouse Club were some of the first features to use these sound stages. Since then, they have hosted everyone from Pollyanna to the Pirates of the Caribbean. The studio restructured multiple times throughout the 20th century, and in 2006, the animation division changed from Walt Disney Feature Animation to Walt Disney Animation Studios, as it’s called today.
Mickey Mouse & Fantasia (1940)
The first commercial film shown in stereophonic sound, Fantasia was the third full-length feature film in the Disney canon. Released in 1940, the film is a creative fusion of animation and classical music, broken into eight segments. Each segment is a short animated story, sans dialogue, with a musical score by the Philadelphia Orchestra while they were directed by Leopold Stokowski. The film was the first commercial film shown in stereophonic sound.
The film was based around the Silly Symphonies short starring Mickey Mouse, titled “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” However, the short outgrew its budget and Fantasia was born, utilizing the short as one of its eight segments. Since 1940, Fantasia grossed $76.4 million in the U.S., making it the 22nd highest grossing film, adjusting for inflation.
Fantasia received two Academy Honorary Awards for its contributions to motion picture sound and visualized music, furthering the artistic nature of films. The Library of Congress also selected Fantasia for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1990 and both the Vatican and American Film Institute ranked Fantasia as one of the top films in the last 100 years of cinema. Mickey’s magic hat from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” has become a symbol for Walt Disney Animation, a larger-than-life size version sitting atop the Animation Building in Burbank and at the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.
Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh is a Disney animated franchise consisting of multiple animated series and films based on A.A. Milne’s books, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and House on Pooh Corner (1928) set in a fictional forest modeled after Ashdown Forest in Sussex, England. The original characters were Winnie the “Pooh Bear,” Eeyore, Piglet, Roo, Owl, Rabbit, Christopher Robin, Tigger, and Kanga. A.A. Milne’s books were based on his son, Christopher Robin Milne, and his teddy bear, Edward (later renamed Winnie the Pooh), now on display at the New York Public Library. The actual name, “Winnie,” was based on a Canadian Black Bear from Winnipeg, Manitoba that Christopher Robin had seen at the London Zoo, and “Pooh” was originally the name of a swan, but later became Winnie’s designation. Milne took much from his real life, basing the “Hundred Acre Wood” on the real “Five Hundred Acre Wood” in Ashdown Forest, and basing characters on each of Christopher’s toys. The first mention of Winnie the Pooh was in a Christmas story by Milne in the London Evening News in 1925, and the book was published subsequently after in 1926 by Methuen with the Christmas story as the first chapter. In 1930, Stephen Slesinger purchased all of the rights to Winnie the Pooh in the U.S. and Canada, founding the modern licensing industry, and by 1931, Winnie was a $50 million-a-year business. It wasn’t until 1932 that Winnie began donning his familiar red shirt.
In 1961, Walt Disney Productions licensed the rights to Pooh from Milne’s estate and Stephen Slesinger, Inc. Slesinger’s early version of Pooh, with simple lines and faded pastels are today considered “Classic Pooh,” marketed to the smallest children and toddlers. Disney revamped the design and colors of the characters, creating the brightly colored characters we know today. In 1977, Disney released The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the animated feature, with four subsequent featurettes. Following the film was a live-action series titled, Welcome to Pooh Corner, which ran from 1983-1986. This was replaced with The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, running until 1991 with 83 episodes.
Since then, Disney has released multiple full-length features based on the Pooh characters, such as Piglet’s Big Movie (2003) and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie (2005), along with other spin-off series for toddlers and young children. Jim Cummings began his signature voice-overs for the characters of Pooh and Tigger in 1988 and continues as their voice to this day.