b. 23 August 1901, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 15 December 1966, New York, USA. Apart from creating legendary cartoon characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto, the Walt Disney Studio was responsible for a series of phenomenally successful full-length animated feature films, the first of which, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, was released in December 1937. It was three years in the making, with 600 artists producing more than two million Technicolor drawings, only about an eighth of which were used. The ravishing fairy story by the brothers Grimm was adapted for the screen by Ted Sears, Dorothy Ann Blank, Otto Englander, Earl Hurd, Richard Creedon, Dick Richard, Merrill de Maris, and Webb Smith. All the dwarfs, Grumpy, Doc, Sleepy, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful, and Dopey (who Charlie Chaplin said was one of the greatest comedians of all time), were given their own delightful personalities, and the soundtrack voices of Andriana Caselotti, Harry Stockwell, Lucille LaVerne, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Billy Gilbert, Scot Mattraw, and Moroni Olsen were perfectly matched to them and the rest of the characters including the handsome Prince whose kiss brings Snow White back to life after the evil Queen has tried to get rid of her. All this was supplemented by some marvellous songs by Frank Churchill (music) and Larry Morey (lyrics), which included "Whistle While You Work", "Heigh-Ho", "Someday My Prince Will Come", "With A Smile And A Song", "I'm Wishing", "One Song", and "Isn't This A Silly Song?". David Hand was the supervising editor, and, although Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was released late in the 30s, it went on to take more money than any other film at the US box-office during the decade, with the exception of Gone With The Wind.
In 1938, Walt Disney received a special Academy Award "in recognition of a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon" (one statuette and seven miniature statuettes). More than 50 years later, in 1993, the picture's overall earnings were estimated at £92 million, a record for any animated film until Disney's own Aladdin overtook it (with the help of inflation) after being screened for just 11 incredible weeks in the world's cinemas. As just one more example of the enduring interest in this historic picture, in 1992 an original production cel (a hand-painted celluloid still) from the film fetched £115,000 at Sotheby's auction house in New York, three times its estimated price. A digitally restored version of Snow White was released in 1994, and in the same year the film appeared in the USA on home-video for the first time. Most of Disney's other full-length animated features have already been made available in that form although usually only for a strictly limited period of time before being withdrawn. In May 1994 it was reported that nine out of 10 of all home-videos sold have been Disney films. These included:
Pinocchio (1940). Inspired by the stories of nineteenth-century Italian author Carlo Collodi, this film concerns a wilful puppet whose habitual "economy with the truth" results in his nose growing longer and longer. However, by listening to his conscience, in the shape of the loveable character Jiminy Cricket, he mends his ways, bravely rescues his personal Svengali, Geppetto the wood carver from inside Monstro the whale, and eventually achieves his ambition, and is turned into a real live boy by the Blue Fairy. Cliff Edwards, the puckish entertainer, provided the voice for Jiminy Cricket, and he had two of Leigh Harline and Ned Washington's most endearing and enduring songs, "Give A Little Whistle" and "When You Wish Upon A Star". The latter number won an Academy Award, and the two songwriters, together with P.J. Smith, won another Oscar for their original score. The remaining songs were "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life For Me)", "I've Got No Strings", "Three Cheers For Anything", "As I Was Say'n' To The Duchess", and "Turn On The Old Music Box". Some of the other voices which, together with the brilliant animation, brought the various characters to life with startling effect, were provided by Dickie Jones (Pinocchio), Christian Rub (Geppetto), Evelyn Venable (the Blue Fairy), Walter Catlett (J. Worthington Foulfellow), Charles Judels (Stromboli), and Frankie Darrow (Lampwick). Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske were the supervising editors, and the film, which was photographed in Technicolor, took over $40 million in the USA and Canada, becoming the fourth-highest-grossing film of the decade.
Fantasia (1940). This was an astonishingly successful blending of cartoon characters and classical music that featured Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was narrated by Deems Taylor, and contained eight pieces, "Toccata And Fugue In D Minor" (Bach), "The Nutcracker Suite" (Tchaikovsky), "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (Dukas), "The Rite Of Spring" (Stravinsky), "Pastoral Symphony" (Beethoven), "Dance Of The Hours" (Ponchielli), "Night On The Bald Mountain" (Mussorgsky), and "Ave Maria" (Schubert). Amidst all this wonderful music, there cavorted Mickey Mouse and any number of other animals, including hippopotami, dinosaurs, alligators, elephants, and ostriches, along with nymphs, satyrs, the Goddess of Night, and many more strange and fantastic creations. Ben Sharpsteen was the production supervisor, and this incredible piece of entertainment was filmed in Technicolor and Fantasound. It was the second-highest-grossing 40s picture in the USA. Fifty years after it burst gloriously upon the scene, Fantasia was subjected to the currently fashionable desire for "political correctness" which prevailed in the early 90s. Prior to its video release, and at a reputed cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, a black "piccaninny centaurette" seen polishing the hooves of a preening blonde figure was removed from all prints.
Bambi (1942). The general consensus of opinion seems to be that this is the most naturalistic of all Walt Disney's full-length animated features. The animators' skill in their drawing of the animals' graceful movements and charming facial expressions gave the tender, exquisite story of a young deer growing up in a world of changing seasons, an exceptional sense of reality. Apart from Bambi himself, another star to emerge was Thumper the rabbit, whose amusing voice was dubbed by Peter Behn. Frank Churchill and Larry Morey wrote the score, which included "Love Is A Song", "The Thumper Song", "Let's Sing A Gay Little Spring Song", "Twitterpated", and "Little April Showers". David Hand was the production supervisor, and the screenplay was adapted from a book by Felix Salten. By 1993, according to the Variety trade newspaper, Bambi was at the head of the US money-earning list of films made in the 40s.
Cinderella (1950). Based on Charles Perrault's traditional fairytale, this was another triumph for the Disney Studio. Once again, as in previous features, the animators came up with some more endearing creatures. This time they were two resourceful rodents, Jaq and Gus, who enlist the help of their friends to make a gorgeous gown so that Cinderella can finally go to the Ball. The dynamic duo were dubbed by James Mcdonald, and the rest of the soundtrack voices were just about perfect, including Ilene Woods as the lovely Cinderella, William Phipps (Prince Charming), Eleanor Audley (wicked stepmother), Verna Felton (fairy godmother), and Luis Van Ruten (King and Grand Duke). Rhoda Williams and Lucille Bliss voiced the ugly stepsisters and were suitably disagreeable on the incongruously titled "Sing Sweet Nightingale". The remainder of Mack Gordon, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman's score was first-rate, and included "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes", "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo", "The Work Song", "So This Is Love", and "Cinderella". The Technicolor production was supervised by Ben Sharpsteen, and directed by Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, and Clyde Geronomi. Some sources, including Variety, regard Cinderella as a 1949 film because it is said to have been released in December of that year. The newspaper places it third in domestic rental earners during that decade.
Peter Pan (1953). Not regarded as one of the best of Disney's animated features at the time, although it was still an outstanding piece of work. John M. Barrie's classic story was ideal material from which the studio's artists crafted a magical picture. All the much-loved characters were on hand, including Peter himself (dubbed by Bobby Driscoll), Wendy (Kathy Beaumont), the deliciously evil Captain Hook (Hans Conreid), Mrs. Darling (Heather Angel), Mr. Darling (Paul Collins), Smee (Bill Thompson), John (Tommy Luske), and Tom Conway (narrator) - not forgetting Tinkerbell and the animal that Frank Churchill and Jack Lawrence warned about in their amusing song, "Never Smile At A Crocodile". Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain wrote most of the remaining numbers, including the popular "You Can Fly", "Your Mother And Mine", "The Elegant Captain Hook", and "What Makes The Red Man Red?", and there were also contributions from Oliver Wallace and Erdman Penner ("A Pirate's Life") and Wallace also collaborated with Winston Hibler and Ted Sears on "Tee Dum-Tee Dee". The production and direction credits were the same as Cinderella. Peter Pan is third in the line of 50s top money-spinners in the USA, just behind the next listed film.
Lady And The Tramp (1955). The first of these full-length animated features to be photographed in Cinemascope was based on Ward Green's waggish tale about a mongrel called Tramp who falls in a big way for Lady, a spoilt pedigree cocker spaniel, while he is helping her to come to terms with the changes that are taking place (such as the arrival of a new baby) in her owners' family. Getting in on the act are Trusty the bloodhound, Lady's owners Jim Dear and Darling, and a sundry collection of hounds such as Toughy, Bull, Boris, Pedro, and an ex-show dog called Peg. Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph White and Donald Da Gradi wrote the screenplay, while Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee came up with some charming songs that included "He's A Tramp", "The Siamese Cat Song", "Bella Notte", "Peace On Earth", and "La La Lu". Lee herself provided the voices for Peg (an ex-show dog), two naughty Siamese cats, and Darling, and other characters were dubbed by Barbara Luddy (Lady), Larry Roberts (Tramp), George Givot, Bill Thompson, Stan Freberg, Bill Baucon, Verna Felton, and Alan Reed. Production and direction credits as for Cinderella and Peter Pan. A sad aspect of this production is that, nearly 40 years after it was made, Peggy Lee was locked in litigation with the Disney organization over disputed amounts of home-video royalties.
Sleeping Beauty (1959). The Disney Studio's preoccupation with live-action feature films, beginning with Treasure Island in 1950 and leading to 60s classics such as Mary Poppins, meant that this was one of their last animated fairytales - for some time, at least. Extremely expensive to make, it was a box-office failure following its original release, although subsequent re-valuation of the film's outstanding qualities has resulted in substantial earnings from reissues, pushing it into the 50s US Top 6 in more recent times. Like Cinderella, the film was based on a Charles Perrault fairytale in which the three good fairies, Flaura, Fauna and Merryweather, care for the Princess Aurora after the wicked fairy, Maleficent, has put a spell on her. After many exciting adventures involving some superb animation and special effects, the seriously handsome Prince Philip ensures that, as always with Disney, good triumphs over evil. Opera singer Mary Costa voiced the Princess, with Bill Shirley (Prince), Eleanor Audley (Maleficent), Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Candy Candido, and Bill Thompson as the other main characters. The songs included "Once Upon A Dream" (Sammy Fain-Jack Lawrence), "Hail The Princess Aurora" and "The Sleeping Beauty Song" (both Tom Adair-George Bruns), "I Wonder" (Winston Hibler-Ted Sears-Bruns), "The Skump Song" (Adair-Erdman Penner-Bruns), and excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty. This production, which was supervised by Don da Gradi and Ken Anderson and directed by Clyde Geronomi, was shot in Technicolor and the wide-screen process Super Technirama 70, a combination that enhanced the proceedings for some viewers, but was a disturbing influence for others.
The Jungle Book (1967). After a lean spell - and Walt Disney's death the year before - the Studio was back on top form with this captivating film which was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories. It tells of the boy Mowgli who was raised by wolves in the jungle until he was 10 years old. After it is learned that Shere Khan the tiger intends to kill him, Bagheera the panther undertakes to return the youngster to the safety of the man village. After some scrapes along the way involving Baloo the bear, a band of monkeys led by King Louie of the Apes, and Shere Khan himself, the youngster reaches the village where he really belongs. Major features of this production are the inspired choice of actors to voice these marvellous characters, such as Phil Harris (Baloo), Louis Prima (King Louie), Sebastion Cabot (Bagheera), George Sanders (Shere Khan), and Sterling Holloway (Kaa the Snake), and the jazzy score, which comprised "Colonel Hathi's March", "Trust In Me", "I Wan'na Be Like You", "That's What Friends Are For", and "My Own Home" (all by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman), and "The Bare Necessities" (Terry Gilkyson). This joyous and immensely entertaining Technicolor film had a screenplay by Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson and Vance Gerry, and was directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. Since then, there have been two further attempts to bring the story to the screen: Disney's Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994) starring Jason Scott Lee, and The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo (1997, TriStar-MDP).
In the 70s Disney released further full-length animated features, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers, which, although fine in their way, were not in the same class as many of the Studio's earlier efforts. It was not until 1989 that the great Disney comeback began with The Little Mermaid, and continued via Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. That money-spinning quartet was soon joined by other major features such as Pocahontas (1995), with its strong plea for tolerance, Toy Story (1995), The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), and Mulan (1998). In 1994, the "Disneyfication" of Broadway began with an extravagant stage adaptation of Beauty And The Beast. This was followed three years later by King David, the first Disney musical conceived for the stage. It had a limited run at the re-opened New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, former home of the Ziegfeld Follies, which been derelict for some years before Disney spent an estimated £21 million restoring it to its former Art Nouveau glory. Also in 1997, the New Amsterdam hosted Disney's spectacular stage version of The Lion King, which most critics agreed was a "roaring sensation". Not so well received was Elaborate Lives: The Legend Of Aida, which had its premiere on 7 October 1998 well away from Broadway in Atlanta, Georgia.