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The Walt Disney Company: From Mickey Mouse to The Lion King

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Founded October 16th, 1923, The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest companies in the world. But this huge conglomerate had humble beginnings: it launched as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio by Walt and Roy Disney, who began their cartoon efforts with a series of films called "Alice Comedies." Soon after, the Disneys lost the rights to one of their popular cartoon characters, and invented Mickey Mouse as its replacement. Since then, Disney has shaped the animation industry, and has made some of the most beloved films of all time, including "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Sleeping Beauty," "Mary Poppins," "The Little Mermaid," and "The Lion King" to name just a few. In this video, learns more about the history of The Walt Disney Company.

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The History and Origins of The Walt Disney Company

This company is no Mickey Mouse operation. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about The Walt Disney Company.

Launch of the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio

Walt Disney’s animation career began with the short film “Alice’s Wonderland.” After finding a distributor for this series, he and his brother Roy launched the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio on October 16th, 1923.

Mickey Mouse

These “Alice Comedies” dominated the next four years. However, in 1927, Disney introduced Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as his first original character. Unfortunately, Disney’s distributor quickly claimed the rights to this character, so to replace him Disney and animator Ub Iwerks created an iconic cartoon personality: Mickey Mouse.

“Silly Symphonies”

In 1929, the series “Silly Symphonies” was created to capitalize on Mickey’s intense popularity. That same year, the company’s name became Walt Disney Productions, Ltd.

First Academy Award

Color cartoons came next after a deal with Technicolor. The first was the 1932 “Silly Symphonies” short, “Flowers and Trees,” and that effort won Disney the inaugural Academy Award for Animated Short.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

During the 1930s, Mickey was given friends, and “Silly Symphonies” saw even further success. However, Disney’s goal was feature-length animated films. After three years of production, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was released in 1937. It is now credited as the greatest animated film of all time.

Walt Disney Studios

That success allowed the company to build the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California towards the end of that decade. Soon after, Walt Disney Productions went public.

World War II

Disney continued to expand the possibilities of animation with films like “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” “Dumbo” and “Bambi.” However, World War II hurt the company, and to stay afloat they produced propaganda and training videos. Disney then found some success in live-action and documentary filmmaking.

Branching Out

Animated features made a comeback in 1950 with the release of “Cinderella.” This was quickly followed by “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan” and a string of live-action features. In 1953, Disney created its own distribution branch, Buena Vista.


Disney’s first television show launched the following year, and became the namesake for the company’s next project. On July 18th, 1955, Disneyland theme park opened in Anaheim, California, and prompted plans for a similar park in Florida.

Efforts in TV

The remainder of the decade focused on television: shows like “The Mickey Mouse Club,” “Davy Crockett” and “Zorro” found success. However, by the 1960s, “The Wonderful World of Disney” was the company’s primary TV project.

More Classic Films

During this period, both animated and live-action films were popular: “Lady and the Tramp,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Mary Poppins” all became classics.

Deaths of the Disney Brothers and Company Slump

On December 15th, 1966, Walt Disney passed away. He was replaced at the head of the company by Roy Disney. In honor of Walt, on October 1st, 1971, Florida’s Walt Disney World opened to the public. Just a few months later, Roy Disney also died. Until the early 1980s, the company slumped under new leadership, though a few films still found success.

Touchstone Pictures

Disney then began producing more mature content, and created a subsidiary brand to release this material. Touchstone Pictures’ first film was 1984’s success: “Splash.” Around that time, the Disney channel launched and featured both original and existing family-friendly content.

Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Wells

Despite these moves, by 1984, Disney was vulnerable. A hostile takeover was prevented with the additions of Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Wells to the company.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Disney was then rejuvenated. Through mergers and acquisitions, the company came to own media sources like Miramax Films, ABC and ESPN. In 1991, Disney was added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” succeeded tremendously at the box office, while several TV shows also thrived. Disney then partnered with Pixar in 1995 on the ultra-successful computer-animated film, “Toy Story” and its eventual sequels.

Change of Hands

Eisner left Disney amid controversy in 2005, and was replaced by Robert Iger. After buying Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion, a number of the company’s subsidiaries were either closed or sold.

Return to the Animated Tradition

Disney then returned to traditional, hand-drawn animation in 2009, and continued its revival the next year with its fiftieth animated feature, “Tangled.”


With business ventures in film, television, travel and more, Disney has become one of the largest media companies in the world. And, they’ve introduced us to countless friendly faces along the way.

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