Research Paper: Disney He Changed the World

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Walt Disney

Walt & Mickey:

How the Man and the Mouse Changed the World

When a small singing and dancing mouse appeared on the scene in 1928, it was more than just the birth of an animated mouse, but something much greater. That same little mouse changed the world in many different ways over the course of 83 years. Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse among an entire legacy of cartoon characters who would go on to impact the entire American culture -- not just the children it was geared for. Walt Disney has used animation and imagination to bring joy and fulfill the dreams of many individuals. Anyone old enough to speak about Disney will talk about Mickey Mouse and the places where dreams come true. Disney was possessed with the astounding ability to give children a greater sense of imagination. His theme park, Disneyland, is a place unlike anywhere not only in the United States but in the world. Walt Disney has shaped children's lives and opened their minds to worlds that seem inconceivable. While many may want to think of Disney as the creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland, his impact on American culture went way beyond cartoons and theme parks.

Ever since the beginning of mankind, people have been trying to capture a sense of motion in their art. From hieroglyphs found on Egyptian walls to the paintings found in caves in the mountains of Greece, the desire to capture motion is something that man has long sought out to do. With the advent of the camera, people were now able to experiment with photographs and use it to help create a sense of motion. Before Walt Disney began making animated films, Stuart Blackton made a short film in 1906 called Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (James 2011). This short film was comprised of funny faces drawn on a blackboard, which he then photographed and then erased (2011). Then he would draw the next stage of the facial expression and do the same over and over again. This was the first type of "stop-motion" effect and it amazed audiences because it really made the character come to life (2011). However, by the 1920s, these "gags" were becoming increasingly unpopular (2011). There wasn't a story line or any type of character development, which disappointed audiences (2011). With the exception of Winsor McCay who created Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914 and Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat, both which astonished and delighted audiences because they were more advanced, where animation could go was not evident during this time (2011). Of all the earlier animation, Felix the Cat was by far the most developed personality; however, at a certain point Felix stopped developing and the creator just relied on "crude visual tricks to entertain the audience as opposed to developing a stronger screen persona" (2011).

Before Disney, many animations were based solely on "primitive gags and violence" (James 2011) (which is still quite true of animation today). "One character would beat another mercilessly, only to have his victim instantly recover and return the favor. Perhaps the hero would swing his sword and reduce the villain to baloney slices" (2011).

One of Disney's first characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit who starred in 26 silent cartoons made by Disney between 1927 and 1928. They were made for Charles Mintz who had a distribution deal with Universal (Disney Archives 2011). Some of the animated films starring Oswald were "Poor Papa" (1927), "Trolley Troubles" (1927), "Neck 'n Neck" (1927), "Oh, What a Knight" (1928), "Sleigh Bells" (1928), and "Hot Dog" (1928), just to name a few. Disney lost the rights to Oswald, however, and was thus forced to come up with another character (2011).

Mickey Mouse was the character that Disney created after losing Oswald. In the beginning, Mickey Mouse was simply just a reworked version of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; he refashioned Oswald, shortening his ears, rounding out the figure a bit, and making the character more friendly and loveable (Watts 30). These round ears, face and body would come to be symbolic; Mickey was the epitome of goodness; the mouse that everyone wanted to take home. It was these qualities that people everywhere -- especially during the Great Depression in America -- wanted to believe in, another testament to Disney's importance.

Disney came up with the idea of basing a short film on Charles Lindbergh's recent transatlantic flight and he made a short film called Plane Crazy, following up shortly thereafter with another cartoon called the Gallopin' Gaucho (Watts 30). However, Mickey Mouse didn't catch on among distributors as simply illustrated short films, and so Disney decided to utilize the latest innovations in live-action films; he added sound to the first Mickey Mouse shorts (Greene & Greene 19). Disney's idea was certainly a daring idea and one that would change animation film history. The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson had premiered in 1927 and Disney decided to make a film starring Mickey that would be synchronized to sound. Steamboat Willie was made as a silent film, but then its action was later syncopated to songs "Steamboat Bill" and "Turkey in the Straw," as marks on the film cued the music, sound effects, and scant dialogue (Watts 30). Before taking the film to New York to find information about sound technology, he stopped in Kansas City and had a musician friend of his quickly compose a formal score for the cartoon which was timed according to the marks on the film (Watts 30). Steamboat Willie premiered at New York's Colony Theatre and it was an instant hit (Watts 30). Mickey Mouse was soon an international success (Greene & Greene 19). It was this film and Disney's innovation in animation and sound that would catapult Disney into brilliance.

Another one of Disney's loveable and wacky characters is Donald Duck who exploded onto the scene in his 1934 debut in Silly Symphony's the Wise Little Hen (Thomas 129). Donald was the height of a duck and he looked, for the most part, like a duck.

At the very beginning, Mickey Mouse was able to do just about anything physically. He was drawn using a series of different sized circles and he moved with what animators referred to as the "rubberhose technique" (151) -- action that has little relation to human or animal movement. However, by the 1930s, cartoons were becoming more sophisticated and Mickey also was becoming more sophisticated. A man named Freddy Moore was the first to apply a technique called "squash-and-stretch" to Mickey, which made him much more human-like and overall more appealing (151). Mickey's face would have more definition and this gave him more character. "For the first time, Mickey had a cheek when his teeth went together" (151). Before this, animated characters lacked human quality, which distanced the audience from them. Disney's idea to change Mickey to be more relatable to humans was another factor that changed animation.

Though Mickey was becoming more sophisticated in the mid-to-late-1930s, in pliability and figure, there were problems. Though he was much cuter than before, he now lacked the "primitive vitality" of the earlier cartoons (Thomas 151). Because Mickey was so shy, he was seen as a rather hidden character; he was never the instigator of any shenanigans. The shenanigans were always enacted by Mickey's crew -- the broader characters around Mickey, who became stars in their own right and got their own series because of their popularity -- Donald Duck and Pluto in 1937 and Goofy in 1939 (151), but animators and people writing stories for Mickey were confounded by what to do with a four-foot mouse (152).

Mickey's girlfriend, Minnie Mouse, made her film debut with Mickey in "Steamboat Willie" on November 18, 1928 (Disney Archives 2011). She never had her own cartoon series like Donald Duck, Goofy or Pluto, but she appeared in 72 cartoons with Mickey Mouse and Pluto (2011). Minnie Mouse would later become very famous at Disney's theme park and has long been known for her sweet sayings, "Why, hello!" "Aren't you sweet!" And "You-hoo! Oh, Mickey!" (2011). The creation of Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto and Minnie Mouse proved beyond any doubt that Disney could create many different adorable and distinct characters whom audiences would grow to love.

In 1933, after great success with Mickey Mouse, Disney made one of the most famous short films of all time -- the Three Little Pigs (Selden 45). This short film had sound and color and the movie's song, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?," became the number one popular hit song in the United States (45). There was much symbolism in this film as it came out at the front of the Great Depression. Despite the fact that very few people had money to be spending on movies, people saw the Three Little Pigs (56). Disney's movie managed to give many people hope and the belief that they could persevere through hard times. The wolf became symbolic for these hard… [END OF PREVIEW]

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