WEST CHESTER, PA. (Feb. 20, 2023) — When you hear the name Disney, you probably think of Mickey Mouse. Or the theme parks.
Whatever the case, even today, the multinational conglomerate has become a household name for generations.
The Walt Disney Co. announced last year at its exposition called D23 that its centennial anniversary celebration had commenced, even though the company turns 100 this coming October. In addition, they thanked their loyal fans in an ad last Sunday during the Super Bowl.
This past Wednesday, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia became the first location to welcome the Mouse House for its brand-new limited-time exhibition, “Disney 100: The Exhibition.”
How did the company go from zero to hero today? (See what we did there?)
Walt Disney’s love for entertainment started on Oct. 16, 1923, when he and his brother Roy O. Disney, founded his company, previously known as the Laugh-O-Gram Studios, and rented out a small building for only “$10 a month at the back of a storefront real estate office at 4651 Kingswell Avenue,” as well as an outdoor venue for filming.
Buying a camera for only $200, the duo started their ventures into the film industry with a series of live-action/cartoon hybrid short films called “Alice Comedies,” long before the smash-hit 1951 animated movie “Alice in Wonderland,” also created by Walt Disney, came into life. The shorts starred a girl named Virginia Davis, who featured as the fictional character Alice as she interacted with the cute cartoon characters.
Shortly after, Walt Disney came up with a loveable character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit — who gained significant popularity — and ended up sparking merchandise of him. The only flaw that even took Disney aback: Walt himself did not own the copyrights to the character; it was Universal Studios that did.
Instead of buying back rights to it, Disney created a brand-new character in 1928 to make it more popular than Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
That character in question: Mickey Mouse.
Although he debuted in the cartoon “Plane Crazy” on May 15, 1928 — a silent film to a private audience — it was “Steamboat Willie,” released on Nov. 18 that year, that made him instantly recognizable across the country, which Disney hoped to make happen.
While “Steamboat Willie” was not the first general cartoon to implement synchronized sound, it became the most impactful cartoon of all time. Likewise, “The Jazz Singer,” the first talkie movie released in 1927, served Disney as an inspiration for his sound cartoon.
Sadly, the copyright for “Steamboat Willie” is set to expire and enter the public domain at the end of this year, shortly after the Walt Disney Co.’s centennial anniversary.
According to “Authors Alliance,” “at the time of Mickey’s debut, copyright law protected a work for up to 56 years under the Copyright Act of 1908. Under this law, copyright protection was for an initial term of 28 years, with an option to renew for another 28 years, meaning that the cartoon short would have entered the public domain no later than 1984.”
However, the company heavily and successfully lobbied Congress twice to extend the copyright in 1984 and 1998, respectively.
Despite the political climate against them in recent years, the Walt Disney Co. has become the most successful media conglomerate of all time.
Their animation studio has, for decades, created a cast full of colorful and memorable movies — 61 to be exact — ranging from blockbusters such as “The Lion King,” “Frozen,” and “Encanto” and such underrated movies as “Treasure Planet,” “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “The Black Cauldron.” A brand new installment, Wish, will focus on “the wishing star,” the iconic Disney symbol, and is set for theaters next November.
Another significant portion of the company is the amusement park industry, ranging from Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, to Shanghai Disneyland in China.
Disney has also made landmark deals throughout their history.
On top of their original animated films and theme parks, they also have movies and merchandise based on well-known brands such as Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar.
In 1995, likely due to Walt Disney’s long history with the network, the company performed a $19 billion takeover of the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The Disney-Fox merger, however, was what took the cake in media consolidation history.
According to the book “Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age,” Disney and 21st Century Fox made 21.8% and 12.9% of the market shares of film studios across the country in 2017, respectively.
With Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox, they practically make up now nearly 35% of the film industry.
According to the book, Disney’s recession throughout the early 2000s caused them “to develop (through acquisitions) new stories for movies and its other corporate offerings,” hence why the Disney we see today exists.
Many media experts consider their company’s motives a “synergy,” which is the promotion of products through various subsidiaries, a method other media conglomerates have mimicked since then, significantly raising antitrust concerns during the Disney-Fox merger.
Nevertheless, Disney has retained its spot as number one in LinkedIn’s “Top 25 Companies in Media & Entertainment,” and millions worldwide still find Disney memorable today.
If you want more reasons to be part of Disney history, take it from Alicia Vitarelli, who has been anchoring 6ABC Action News (WPVI-TV), a Disney/ABC-owned-and-operated station in Philadelphia, since 2010.
“It’s honestly a magical place to work,” Vitarelli said. “It’s a company of both dreamers and doers. Walt’s story is one of success, but risk-taking, dreaming and absolute perseverance. I think of those things every day as a storyteller.”
Last Wednesday, she covered the grand media opening of “Disney100: The Exhibition” at The Franklin Institute and interviewed invited members of Disney’s fan club, D23.
“Disney 100: The Exhibition” is now open at The Franklin Institute until Aug. 27.
If there is one thing that no one can take away, it is the quote Walt Disney once said: “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.”
Benjamin Slomowitz is a fourth-year Media & Culture major. firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Disney Debuts Super Bowl LVII Commercial Celebrating 100 Years of Storytelling and Shared Memories.” Disney Debuts Super Bowl LVII Commercial Celebrating 100 Years of Storytelling and Shared Memories – The Walt Disney Company, The Walt Disney Company, 12 Feb. 2023, https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/disney-debuts-super-bowl-lvii-commercial-celebrating-100-years-of-storytelling-and-shared-memories/.
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