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    100th Anniversary: The founding of Disney Brothers Studio
    • October 16, 2023

    We look at the first few years of the Disney Brothers Studio, which later became the Walt Disney Co., plus a few things you may not know about some of the greatest filmmakers in history.

    The company that now owns Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and massive theme parks almost failed from the start.

    On Oct. 16, 1923, Walt Disney and his brother Roy Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in Hollywood when Walt Disney was 21. The Disney brothers were born in Chicago and then moved to Kansas City at a young age. Walt Disney drew cartoons for various publications and became interested in cel animation while working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company.

    Starting with bankruptcy

    Walt Disney’s first business venture with animation was called Laugh-O-Gram Studio, where some of the greats in the field worked. After a series of shaky deals with distributors, the business went bankrupt in 1923. Walt Disney sued and won, but the compensation was too little to save the company.

    Moving west

    Walt Disney moved to Los Angeles, where Roy Disney was recovering from tuberculosis, rather than New York, where animation was big business. Walt Disney created a live-action and animated short produced by Laugh-O-Gram called “Alice’s Wonderland.” The brothers founded their company and persuaded both Virginia Davis, who played Alice, and their collaborator, Ub Iwerks, to join them in Hollywood where they had a contract to make six more films of the franchise.

    The “Alice’s Wonderland” series was a success, but Walt Disney wanted to focus more on pure animation instead of mixing it with live action. He developed a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and after losing control of the character, he began work on his most famous creation.

    His wife named him Mickey

    To replace Oswald, Walt Disney and Iwerks developed Mortimer Mouse, but Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian, thought it too pompous and suggested Mickey instead. Iwerks revised Walt Disney’s provisional sketches to make the character easier to animate.

    Mickey had appeared in a few short films, but became a worldwide sensation in 1928 with the release of “Steamboat Willie.” The eight-minute animated film was the first to have synchronized sound. It was an enormous success and led to more Mickey cartoons and the “Silly Symphony” series.

    A nervous breakdown

    In 1931, Walt Disney and his brother felt they were not receiving their rightful share of profits from their distributor. Walt Disney struggled to keep his team together and fought for a greater share of the profits to no avail, which led to a breakdown. He and his wife took an extended vacation to recover.

    Folly or fantastic?

    In 1933, Walt Disney produced “The Three Little Pigs,” a film credited as the most successful short animation of all time. This made Walt Disney believe they could do a feature-length film, and in 1934 work on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” commenced.

    The masterpiece was created by more than 750 Disney artists who worked on the film from 1934 to 1937. The production included 25 background artists, 65 special effects animators and 158 inkers and painters and countless production staff.

    The project, which some dubbed “Disney’s Folly,” went 400% over budget, but the final product was a smash hit when it debuted on Dec. 21, 1937.

    “Snow White” was the first American feature-length animated film and the first Technicolor feature. It cost an estimated $1.5 million during the depths of the Depression but earned $8 million in its first release, which is more than $174 million today.

    Other Disney facts

    Both brothers met their wives in Missouri. Walt Disney married Lillian, and Roy Disney married Edna. They were married until death.

    Walt Disney tried to enter the Army in World War I but was denied because he was too young. He lied about his age to become an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. The war was about over when he got to Europe.

    In 1947, Walt Disney testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee where he claimed several people were communist agitators.

    The feature films of Walt Disney

    1. 1937: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (G)2. 1940: “Pinocchio” (G)3. 1940: “Fantasia” (G)4. 1941: “The Reluctant Dragon”5. 1941: “Dumbo” (G)6. 1942: “Bambi” (G)7. 1943: “Saludos Amigos”8. 1943: “Victory Through Air Power”9. 1945: “The Three Caballeros” (G)10. 1946: “Make Mine Music”11. 1946: “Song of the South” (G)12. 1947: “Fun and Fancy Free”13. 1948: “Melody Time”14. 1949: “So Dear to My Heart” (G)15. 1949: “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (G)16. 1950: “Cinderella” (G)17. 1950: “Treasure Island” (PG)18. 1951: “Alice in Wonderland” (G)19. 1952: “The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men” (PG)20. 1953: “Peter Pan” (G)21. 1953: “The Sword and the Rose” (PG)22. 1953: “The Living Desert”23. 1954: “Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue”24. 1954: “The Vanishing Prairie”25. 1954: “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (G)26. 1955: “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” (PG)27. 1955: “Lady and the Tramp” (G)28. 1955: “The African Lion”29. 1955: “The Littlest Outlaw”30. 1956: “The Great Locomotive Chase”31. 1956: “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates”32. 1956: “Secrets of Life”33. 1956: “Westward Ho the Wagons!”34. 1957: “Johnny Tremain”35. 1957: “Perri” (G)36. 1957: “Old Yeller” (G)37. 1958: “The Light in the Forest”38. 1958: “White Wilderness”39. 1958: “Tonka”40. 1959: “Sleeping Beauty” (G)41. 1959: “The Shaggy Dog” (G)42. 1959: “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” (G)43. 1959: “Third Man on the Mountain” (G)44. 1960: “Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus” (G)45. 1960: “Kidnapped”46. 1960: “Pollyanna” (G)47. 1960: “The Sign of Zorro”48. 1960: “Jungle Cat”49. 1960: “Ten Who Dared”50. 1960: “Swiss Family Robinson” (G)51. 1961: “101 Dalmatians” (G)52. 1961: “The Absent-Minded Professor” (G)53. 1961: “The Parent Trap”54. 1961: “Nikki, Wild Dog of the North” (G)55. 1961: “Greyfriars Bobby”56. 1961: “Babes in Toyland”57. 1962: “Moon Pilot”58. 1962: “Bon Voyage”59. 1962: “Big Red”60. 1962: “Almost Angels”61. 1962: “The Legend of Lobo” (G)62. 1962: “In Search of the Castaways” (G)63. 1963: “Son of Flubber” (G)64. 1963: “Miracle of the White Stallions”65. 1963: “Savage Sam”66. 1963: “Summer Magic”67. 1963: “The Incredible Journey” (G)68. 1963: “The Sword in the Stone” (G)69. 1963: “The Three Lives of Thomasina” (PG)70. 1964: “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” (G)71. 1964: “A Tiger Walks”72. 1964: “The Moon-Spinners” (PG)73. 1964: “Mary Poppins” (G)74. 1964: “Emil and the Detectives”75. 1965: “Those Calloways” (PG)76. 1965: “The Monkey’s Uncle”77. 1965: “That Darn Cat!” (G)78. 1966: “The Ugly Dachshund”79. 1966: “Lt. Robin Crusoe U.S.N.” (G)80. 1966: “The Fighting Prince of Donegal”81. 1966: “Follow Me, Boys!” (G)82. 1967: “Monkeys, Go Home!”83. 1967: “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin”84. 1967: “The Happiest Millionaire” (G)85. 1967: “The Gnome-Mobile” (G)86. 1967: “The Jungle Book” (G)

    Top-grossing Walt Disney animated features domestic gross adjusted for inflation:

    1. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937)Walt Disney’s first feature-length animated film still reigns as the top-grossing animated film, adjusted for inflation at $1,021,330,000.

    2. “101 Dalmatians” (1961)The original 101 Dalmatians, released in 1961, has an adjusted gross of $936,225,101. It was made into a live adaptation starring Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil and followed by “Cruella” in 2022, starring Emma Stone.

    3. “Fantasia” (1940)When first released, it was ahead of its time but has proven to be financially viable, with an adjusted gross of $778,117,595.

    4. “The Jungle Book” (1967)It was the last film that Walt Disney worked on. Its adjusted gross totals $690,380,663. Its live-action/computer-animated remake in 2016 earned more, totaling $966,550,600.

    5. “Sleeping Beauty” (1959)Not sleepy at the box office with $680,974,120 adjusted gross.

    Source: (2020)

    Sources: The Associated Press, Walt Disney Company,,, Library of Congress,,

    Images from Walt Disney Company except the Roy, Walt and Mickey line art by KURT SNIBBE, SCNG

    ​ Orange County Register