On October 27, 1954, Walt Disney humbly pined one of the most quotable lines referring to his massive entertainment empire, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it all started with a mouse.”
Although Disney was speaking about his appreciation for his creation, Mickey Mouse, and the impact that the animated rodent would have on what is now The Walt Disney Company, the real hero behind the magic was Walt himself. Disney, which has provided the world with iconic stories such as Cinderella (1950), Peter Pan (1953), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and Marry Poppins (1964), elaborately themed parks that whisk away worry while cementing guests right in the middle of their favorite stories, and so much more, COULD NOT have been born with anyone else at the helm. Time has proven that there will never be another visionary like Walt Disney, and although his company lives on as one of the most recognizable entertainment brands in the world, what Walt created, will never be replicated and is in danger of further slowly burning out without the influence he left behind.
Walt Disney Was the World’s Greatest Dreamer
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney
In a world where genius is often strictly harnessed for personal gain, Walt Disney chose to give his to the world. While others were capitalizing on their brain power to generate wealth, Walt Disney was busy putting himself into debt to bring ambitious visions to life purely for the enjoyment of others. Although his hard work would eventually create a life considered beyond financially secure, his meek and self-effacing approach to animation would ultimately change how the world enjoys popular entertainment. As many dream of riches and fame, Walt Disney dreamed of giving people something they could resonate with and enjoy that would last a lifetime.
A contract signed with M.J. Winkly in 1923 to produce a series of animated comedies would mark the beginning of The Walt Disney Company, then called “The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.” Little did Walt, or his brother Roy Disney, know that they would go on to change not only the face of animation but also to create a company that would pioneer new devices and techniques that would revolutionize how people enjoyed films, as well as how they were made. His dream of creating loveable moving animations would soon be realized, but naturally, Walt wasn’t settled with stopping there. His dreams were big, big enough to build an entire empire.
Walt Loved People, and They Loved Him Back
“We share, to a large extent, one another’s fate. We help create those circumstances which favor or challenge us in meeting our objectives and realizing our dreams.” – Walt Disney
Walt was a creative giant. He was inventive, energetic, as well as resourceful. Many who worked closely with the man behind Mickey Mouse noted that he was people-oriented. Because of his caring and outgoing personality, as well as his progressive visions of stepping outside of the confining animation styles of his time, Walt collected an impressive array of talent, including Mickey’s co-creator Ub Iwerks and legendary cartoonist Marc Davis. Eventually, Walt’s magnetic persona would invite a multitude of bright like-minded creatives that would see his vision to fruition under his oversight. Walt loved his people, and their loyalty to the entertainment legend is a testament to what truly set him apart as a unique world changer.
Walt held high standards that the average individual would consider unobtainable. However, for a select few, the motivation to do the impossible was a fascinating notion, fostering a diverse group of loyal animators and Imagineers that would work tirelessly to see the visions of Walt Disney come to life. Walt was able to not only lobby for his seemingly outrageous ideas, but he was capable of creating intuitive fire in the minds of his employees, seeing them design new methods of animation and styles that would change the way cartoons would be made for generations. This was the simple greatness of Walt Disney. Dream it, motivate others to do it, despite the uncertainty of possbility.
Walt Believed in Originality, Something Disney Has Lost Today
“By nature, I’m an experimenter. To this day, I don’t believe in sequels. I can’t follow popular cycles. I have to move on to new things. So with the success of Mickey, I was determined to diversify.” – Walt Disney
Walt was an evolutionary. Not in thoughts of creation or life cycles but rather in the necessity to stand alone at the top of the animation mountain. In the early days of the Walt Disney Company, in their Burbank Studio, the animation giant was able to concieve new technology that would allow them to create content like nothing that had ever been enjoyed. Making decisions like using technicolor and developing multi- frame animation platforms would eventually lend to the animator’s success after humble beginnings in black and white.
Being a leader in your industry creates the demand for new ideas and further venture into the unknown. Despite his early money problems, Walt (or maybe Roy) always found a way to finance creative genius and intuative thoughts. Walt Disney didn’t want to regurgitate past success. He fostered an environment that constantly pushed the envelope, searching for the next best thing. Unlike Disney movies today, Walt Disney didn’t settle for sequels. Instead, he demanded new ideas that insisted on creating new techniques to continue the standard of setting The Walt Disney Company apart from others. This “always moving forward” approach would lead to worldwide success for Disney, forcing other studios to adapt to the practices earning Disney a reputation as a leader and promoting global recognition.
Walt Refused to Grow Up
“That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget.” – Walt Disney.
Have you ever wondered why the story of Peter Pan, penned initially by Scottish novelist, Jame Berrie, resonated so much with Walt Disney? It’s because Walt refused to grow up. The motivation for creating his empire had little to do with money. Walt even famously acknowledged that after a certain point, money no longer is the incitement behind creating literal worlds of entertainment. Instead, Walt wanted to give those he loved something tangible that they could enjoy and use as an escape from the mundane day-to-day shuffle of life. Walt understood the tenderness and brevity of life. He knew that while most would spend their days working away to scrape by, somewhere along the way, they would lose the sense of wonderment and innocence that once made the world such a formidable yet magical place to us.
This part of Walt, the desire to maintain an essence that although the world can be dark and cold, a fairytale may be right around the corner, was the primary driving force for his jump from animation into theme parks. Walt wanted to keep magic alive for everyone, and he wanted it to be everchanging, adapting to the stresses and dashes of realism of the world outside its bubble. For this reason, Walt Disney created Disneyland, which would open in Anaheim, California 1955. Guests to this happy place would soon learn the out-of-this-world brilliance of Walt Disney as they experienced an immersive, childlike wonder as stories that Disney had told for decades were now unfolding in front of their eyes. They could live out the small crumbs of fantasy that still remained in their hearts, not killed off yet by the unrelenting demands of adulthood. They could be kids again, just like Walt.
The Love of America Motivated a Better Tomorrow for Disney
“Tomorrow will be better as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life.” – Walt Disney.
Walt Disney was a patriot. Raised in the small town of Marceline, Missouri, he was well aware of the average American life looked like. Despite his rise into a figure more significant than life itself, Walt never lost the appreciation and devotion to a country that allowed him to make his wild dreams a reality. While many today are busy bashing the land that they call home, Walt reveled in its freedoms. He used his influence and significance in support of the United States during World War II, as well as heavily shaped his theme park, Disneyland, in appreciation for American history. In fact, Main Street U.S.A is designed to draw influence from the typical small-town streets that one might find scattered across the country.
Walt’s fascination with nature, folk tales, fantasy, and space only rivaled his love for America. His decision to serve with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver during the first world war reflected this call to serve his fellow man. Although the United States has its share of issues, Walt understood and recognized the differences between America and other parts of the world where his dreams would never be afforded the opportunity to become reality. He stands as one of the most influential Americans ever, fitting as he unapologetically loved his country.
Walt Disney Was a Family Man First
“The most important thing is family. If you can keep the family together — and that’s the backbone of our whole business, catering to families — that’s what we hope to do.” – Walt Disney.
Walt Disney famously referenced his daughters when prompted about where the idea of Disneyland came from. Holding to conservative values, Walt prioritized his family over his business. He even insisted that his children be allowed to spend the day with him at his Burbank studio each Sundays, as there are many videos of him riding bikes with his daughters Diane and Sharon. Not only was he loving and passionate about his role as a father, Walt took his responsibility as a husband seriously, dedicating much of his love and time to his wife, Lillian Disney.
Walt Disney relied heavily on his family for support when the demands of his enterprise became heavy. He would house them in a small apartment above the Disneyland Fire Station to be close to them when he would make his rounds around his California-based theme park. In addition to his wife and children, Walt relied heavily on his brother, Roy, for emotional and moral support and as a c0-leader of The Walt Disney Company. While Walt was clearly the idea man behind the company, Roy Disney was the financial wizard who ensured Walt had the funding (even when there was no money) to bring his ideas to life. Walt so influenced Roy that he would take over the company after his brother died of lung cancer in 1966, eventually heading up what Walt referred to as “The Florida Project.” Dedicating it to his brother, Roy Disney would oversee the completion of another enormous dream of his brother, when he opened Walt Disney World in 1971.
Ever the innovator, dreamer, thinker, and loyalist, Walt Disney is still the driving force behind many of the decisions made by The Walt Disney Company today. Walt’s vision is still cemented as one of the core values of the entertainment giant. However, as hard as they may try, Disney still seems to continuously miss the mark compared to the golden years- heralded by the Disney brothers. Although Walt laid a clear roadmap to success for Disney, after the death of his brother Roy, many could say that the company has found itself in questionable hands with unreliable leadership who are heavily focused on ideas and social issues that have little to do with entertainment. Unlike Walt, current Disney leadership seems more concerned with its overall influence instead of holding true to its founder’s innovative, envelope-pushing dreams that laid the people as its priority, depsite the money. Walt Disney was a true dream-maker who turned aspiring objectives into selfless-driven purpose. There will never be another like him, even at Disney. The last true pioneer of magic’s influence and spirit can still be felt on Main Street, U.S.A., today, even if only as a whisper of what Disney used to be.