Walt Disney Biography

Walt Disney (1901-1966), American cartoon artist and producer of animated films. Disney founded entertainment giant The Walt Disney Company and is considered the father of the animation industry. During his long career he was nominated for 64 Academy Awards and won 26 Oscars, both records.

Walt Disney, an American cartoonist and film producer, started an entertainment empire with his creation of animated movies and world-renowned amusement parks. Disney appears here at his drawing board in 1950 with a drawing of Mickey Mouse, his most famous cartoon character. Disney won an honorary Oscar (Academy Award) in 1932 for his creation of Mickey.


Perhaps the world’s most famous cartoon character, Mickey Mouse was created by American animator Walt Disney in the late 1920s. Mickey became a star in Steamboat Willie (1928), the first animated cartoon to feature sound. He went on to appear in countless cartoons, comics, and animated films such as Fantasia (1940).

Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois. He left high school at the age of 16 and later studied briefly at art schools in Chicago and in Kansas City, Missouri. After a short stint as an ambulance driver during World War I (1914-1918) Disney returned to Kansas City, where he met commercial artist Ub Iwerks. Disney and Iwerks formed a firm to draw ads and illustrations and then, in the early 1920s, their own animation studio. The business went bankrupt, however.

In 1923 Disney moved to Hollywood, California. He, his brother Roy O. Disney, and Iwerks began producing short animated films. In 1927 Disney created the cartoon character Oswald the Rabbit. A year later he produced another character, a mouse called Mortimer, but shortly after changed the name to Mickey. In 1928 Mickey Mouse starred in the first cartoon featuring synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie, with Disney providing Mickey’s voice.

In 1929 Disney began making the Silly Symphony cartoon series, beginning with Skeleton Dance. The studio became a pioneer in color animation with Flowers and Trees (1932), which earned an Academy Award for best short cartoon.


Disney's Snow White: Walt Disney’s screen adaptation of a Grimm fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), was his first animated feature-length film. In the story, Snow White’s stepmother is jealous of her beauty and feeds her a poisoned apple. A handsome prince revives Snow White from her deathlike sleep by kissing her. A box-office hit upon its release in the late 1930s, the film remains popular today.

Disney decided to devote the company’s resources to producing the first full-length animated feature. In 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released to great acclaim, earning a special Academy Award. The movie was followed by other successful feature-length films, including Fantasia (1940), which combined classical music with animation; Pinocchio (1940), further establishing the Disney pattern of turning classic fairy tales into animated features; and Bambi (1942). The studio also produced films for the United States military during World War II (1939-1945).

By the 1950s Walt Disney Productions, Ltd., had become one of the major producers of live-action and animated films for theaters and television. Disney animated features of this period included Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and The Sword in the Stone (1963). The studio also made live-action movies such as Treasure Island (1950), Robin Hood (1951), Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), and The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). The film Mary Poppins (1964) innovatively combined live action with animation. Disney television shows of this era included Davy Crockett, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.


As the scope of the company’s enterprises grew, Disney retained as much artistic control as possible. The company expanded into other areas, such as publishing children’s books and comics. Most of these efforts starred familiar Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Pluto the dog.

Disneyland: Named for its creator, Walt Disney, Disneyland attracts millions of visitors each year. The theme park opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955. Sleeping Beauty Castle is pictured here.

In 1955 the company opened Disneyland, a huge amusement park in Anaheim, California. Featuring historical reconstructions, displays, and rides—many based on characters and themes from Disney films—it became a successful, well-known tourist attraction. The company expanded this concept with Disney World, which opened in 1971 near Orlando, Florida; Tokyo Disneyland, introduced in Japan in 1983; and Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris), debuting in France in 1992.


Scene from Toy Story: Toy Story (1995), created by the animation studio Pixar and produced by the Walt Disney Company, was the first feature-length motion picture made entirely with computer animation. The film, which took four years to complete, humorously portrays the rivalry between the characters Buzz Lightyear, left, and the cowboy doll Woody, right.

Disney died in 1966. The company he founded, however, has continued to be a leader in animation (including computer animation), live motion pictures, and many other aspects of the entertainment industry. See also The Walt Disney Company.

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