March 19, 2012

Walt Disney's World

Recently we took a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.  We had a great time with our family, all together again since Trevor came home from his mission.  I wanted to tell you about the man who made it all possible this week.  He has a great inspiring story.

Walter Elias Disney was born into a family of 5 children in 1901.  He immediately showed artistic talent and spent hours doodling all over his schoolwork.  He grew up in rural areas and studied nature and animals when he wasn’t doodling.  He sold some of his drawings to neighbors to make extra money, as his family was poor and times were hard.  In high school, he studied class work by day and went to an Art school at night.  His teacher often called on him to tell some of his stories, which he would illustrate as he spoke using chalk on the chalkboard.  Walt also enjoyed entertaining his friends by performing skits he had seen Charlie Chaplin do.  He was so good at this that some nights he would sneak out to perform at the local theater.  

When he was 16, World War 1 broke out.  He tried to enlist but was rejected because he was too young.  But he persisted, instead joining the Red Cross.  They sent him to France, where he drove an ambulance.  Most of the ambulances were painted with camouflage; Walt painted his with cartoons!

Returning home after the war, Walt set out to begin a business in commercial art.  He began making small animated cartoons for local businesses.  This business eventually failed and Walt began to look for other options.  His brother Roy Disney was in California doing similar work.  Walt packed his bags and moved to Hollywood California.  He and Roy pooled their money ($250) and borrowed more ($500) and started a business in their uncles’ garage.  Walt was only 22 years old. 

Over the next few years, Walt and Roy worked on creating animated short movies, eventually hiring artists to work for them.  In 1925 Walt married an employee, Lillian.  They had two daughters.  Walt was just finalizing his first silent cartoon called “Plane Crazy” when sound technology was introduced.  He held off releasing ‘Plane Crazy’ to try his hand at a cartoon with sound.  In this creative process of 1928, Mickey Mouse was born.

Walt recalled, "When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it's because he's so human; and that is the secret of his popularity.  He popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner.  Born of necessity, the little fellow literally freed us of immediate worry. He provided the means for expanding our organization to its present dimensions and for extending the medium cartoon animation towards new entertainment levels. He spelled production liberation for us.  We felt that the public, and especially the children, like animals that are cute and little. I think we are rather indebted to Charlie Chaplin for the idea. We wanted something appealing, and we thought of a tiny bit of a mouse that would have something of the wistfulness of Chaplin- a little fellow trying to do the best he could.”

The first animated (black and white) movie with synchronized sound was ‘Steamboat Willie’ which Walt produced in 1928.  He voiced Mickey’s voice.  It was a huge success and remains a classic to this day.   

Within a few years, color was introduced to filmography, and Walt seized this new medium with a vengeance.  He obtained a Copyright to ‘Technicolor’ and was the only one able to use it for 2 years, helping to propel his career forward.  Within a few years, Walt released his first color cartoon, ‘Flowers and Trees’ of 1932, and he received his first Academy award because of it.  

In 1937, Walt released his first full-length color animated movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”  It was a huge gamble, as it cost him $1.5 million to produce it.  In those days, that was so much money!  But it was another huge success, making huge profits for Walt.  It began the era of Disney cartoons we still enjoy today.  When television became popular, he stepped up production of short cartoons and other programming like ‘The Wonderful World of Color’ which preceded ‘The Wonderful World of Disney.’  And he started the famous ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ too.  

Walt expanded his vision to include other forms of entertainment.  He wanted a place to take his family that was kid-friendly and safe, with wholesome entertainment.  His idea of Disneyland was born. It opened to the public in 1955.  The grand opening was televised live on ABC.  (Admission was $1, and rides cost between 10 and 35 cents each.)  He said, "Biggest problem? Well, I'd say it's been my biggest problem all my life. MONEY. It takes a lot of money to make these dreams come true. From the very start it was a problem, getting the money to open Disneyland. About seventeen million it took.  And we had everything mortgaged including my personal insurance.  It's no secret that we were sticking just about every nickel we had on the chance that people would really be interested in something totally new and unique in the field of entertainment.  We did Disneyland, in the knowledge that most of the people I talked to thought it would be a financial disaster - closed and forgotten within the first year.  I first saw the site for Disneyland back in 1953.  In those days it was all flat land - no rivers, no mountains, no castles or rocket ships - just orange groves, and a few acres of walnut trees.  We believed in our idea - a family park where parents and children could have fun- together.  Disneyland is a work of love. We didn't go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money.”

Walt later opened Disney World, this time buying up huge tracts of land in Florida so his dream could grow and expand.  He said, “Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland...the blessing of size. There's enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine."

What would the world be like without Disneyland, Disney World, the Disney Princesses, Disney Channel, Mickey Mouse and the other things of Disney?  A mighty boring place!  And it all began because a kid had an imagination and took time to draw what he saw on paper, and then kept pushing his imaginings into reality.  Walt said, "When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do. And one thing it takes to accomplish something is courage."

Dare to dream big.  

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