What Disney Looked Like the Year You Were Born
It's a small world with a long history.
Walt Disney created a legacy that has lived on far past his days in the animation studio. From blockbuster films to theme parks around the globe, his lasting impact on the world is truly magical. Here, we're taking a look back at the evolution of the Disney empire throughout the years—starting way back in the '20s in Kansas City.
Walt Disney started out as an animator and founded Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City with his friend Ub Iwerks. However, the company failed to survive and they filed for bankruptcy within a year.
Walt had a turn of success with his Alice in Cartoonland shorts, which propelled him into moving to California. His brother, Roy O. Disney, helped him establish Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in Hollywood, where he and his team worked tirelessly on Alice sketches.
Based off of one of Walt's former characters, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mouse was the animator's first character to really take off. The company produced three films featuring Mickey that year, including Steamboat Willie.
With the success of Mickey—and let's not forget, his friends, Goofy, Pluto, and Minnie, of course—the Disney brothers saw an opportunity. In 1930, they signed their first contract to merchandise their characters. AKA you can thank Walt and Roy for that Winnie the Pooh backpack from third grade.
Look closely at Walt Disney's desk, and you'll spot a Donald Duck figurine. The first time the character was ever shown to the public was in 1934's The Wise Little Hen.
Animators worked hard to create the first of a long legacy of Disney princesses. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a massive success. As a result, the company was able to build its entire Burbank studio from the profits of this movie alone.
In the '30s, Walt was mostly focused on Mickey Mouse movies, but by the end of the decade and into the '40s, it was time to imagine some new characters. Walt decided to create cartoon films based off fables and fairytales.
After Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs earned the studio an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, Disney followed the win with the release of Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940, Dumbo in 1941, and Bambi in 1942.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, troops were stationed in California and took over half of Disney’s studios. Walt Disney offered them help in the best way he knew how: artwork. He had animators create cartoon shorts to boost morale, and approved the use of trademarked characters free of charge in things like books and training videos.
In 1953, Peter Pan debuted and was a huge success. Despite its instant fame, Walt Disney himself surprisingly wasn't too thrilled with how it came out. Why? He feared Peter Pan came across as too "cold and unlikeable."
Walt's imagination came to life when his fantasy world theme park, Disneyland, opened up in Anaheim, California. The park was built on 16 acres of farmland and cost $17 million to complete.
Walt Disney Productions incorporated in 1938 and the studio officially went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1957.
When Walt brought actors dressed in costume to the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it was a smashing success. Realizing that he could recreate this experience with meet and greets at his park, he engineered costumes for his employees to wear in the park as they greeted guests.
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews made one "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" impression on Hollywood. Mary Poppins is a film Walt Disney always considered to be a major highlight of his career.
Walt passed away in 1966 from lung cancer at the age of 65, leaving his brother, Roy, to run the business. Walt's wife, Lillian, and daughters, Diane and Sharon, survived him.
One of Walt's last visions was an even more elaborate theme park located on the East Coast. Before he died, he purchased land in Florida for the project. Roy opened Walt Disney World in 1971, naming the park after his brother.
The early '70s were a huge milestone for the company in more ways than one. In 1973, Walt Disney Productions celebrated its 50th anniversary.
In celebration of Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday celebration, comedian trio The Goodies debuted a new song called "M.I.C.K.E.Y M.O.U.S.E," a take on the original theme song all Disney fans know and love.
Most people born after 1980 grew up on Disney VHS tapes, because the very first one was created at the start of the decade. The idea was tested in just four cities at first—Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco—before eventually moving nationwide.
In the early '80s, Disney failed to put out an animated film that matched the success of its previous hits, including the 1981 film The Fox and the Hound.
Walt Disney World opened its latest expansion project in 1982, the Epcot Center. The newest park contained two attractions: Future World and World Showcase.
After being in the works since 1979, Disneyland Tokyo became the company's first international theme park to open.
In the '80s, the company struggled to diversify its film projects, while maintaining a family-friendly brand. The solution? Touchstone Entertainment, which was founded in 1984 under the umbrella of Disney to produce mature projects like Dead Poets Society and Pretty Woman. Splash, starring Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks, was the first movie made by the new studio.
The 30th anniversary of Disneyland was celebrated in style. Here, child actress Drew Barrymore and actor John Forsythe ring in the big day with Mickey, Donald, and Pluto.
Disney's theme parks are known just as much for their concession stands as their rides. Throughout the years, food items have gained a cult following, but none as much as the Dole Whip. The favored Disneyland treat was first introduced in Adventureland in 1986.
It's been a tradition, which seems as old as time, that the Super Bowl MVP announces "I'm going to Disney World" during their post-game press conference. New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms was the first to say it in 1987, and almost every MVP since has followed suit.
An endorsement from Mickey Mouse is as good as any! In 1988, Presidential nominee Vice President George H. W. Bush visited the happiest place on earth with his wife, Barbara.
Disneyland opened its first ever water flume ride, Splash Mountain, in 1989. The ride, known for its 50-foot drop, has become one of the park's most beloved attractions of all time.
The '90s saw a resurgence of animated films thanks to the success of Disney's newest princess, Ariel, in The Little Mermaid. The film was released in 1989 and was followed by more blockbuster hits, like Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992).
One of Julie Andrew's most well-known roles was in Disney's Mary Poppins in 1964. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Andrews. In 1991, the actress was honored by the studio with Disney's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Disney opened its second international theme park in 1992. At the time of its completion, Euro Disneyland (now known as Disneyland Paris) had 29 rides and attractions, six themed hotels, a "Davy Crockett" campground, a full golf course, as well as other restaurants, shops, and entertainment centers.