The bravado of the Three Little Pigs and Donald Duck’s raucous squawk have already attained film immortality. “Mickey Mouse,” said Low, cartoonist, when introducing a lecturer on Disney’s work. “is the only public fieure in the world to-day who is universally beloved.” Therein lies much of the greatness of Disney’s work—he can bring pleasure to people of all classes, all nationalities and all ages. Whether it be Mickey Mouse, Michel Souris, Michael Maus or Miguel Ratonocito who appears on the screen, he can still command shouts of delight from the audience, for Disney has discovered the secret of international appeal. That is not w say that he may not lose it — satire, especially of the American scene will not be universally understood, and satire, if it becomes bitter, may in the end prove his undoing.
There are other cartoonists in the cinema, and much of their work is good and not a little excellent. but they all must realise that Disney is their master in ingenuity. The standard he has set for himself is so high. with little masterpieces like Lullaby Land, Three Little Pigs, The Band Concert, and the truly exquisite Water Rabies. that he must inevitably fall far below this standard, by comparison, in much of his work. His present output of eighteen pictures a year—nine Mickey Mouse cartoons and nine Silly Symphonies—makes sustained brilliance quite impossible. We could wish that they might be limited to halt’ that number. but the demands of cinemas all over the world make that impossible. But mediocrity is a dangerous canker in any artist’s work. It may spread and one day envelope the whole. Granted that, to a degree, it is inevitable, its presence is yet alarming.
On September 19th, 1928, Steamboat Willie opened at the Colony Theatre in New York and caused a sensation. The Press were delighted and within a week it had moved to the Roxy Theatre. Even so it was impossible for Disney to make a deal on his own terms, so he decided to release Mickey on the hide-pendent market with the help and financial backing of Powers. On his return to Hollywood, Disney de-cided to strike out on a new line, since both he and Powers were of the opinion that another series besides Mickcy’s should be produced. and thus the two series could be run in com-petitive houses. And so the first Silly Sym-phony was made, and in February, 1929. another Mickey, The Opry House and the first Silly Symphony, The Skeleton Dance, built on , a musical theme, the “Dansc Macabre”, were taken to New York for sound recording. The Opry House, in which Mickey played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude on the piano, was quite a success, but the Silly Symphony was not well received by cinema managers, who considered it far too gruesome. In the end it made its debut in a Los Angeles cinema in July. 1929. and it, also, was an immediate success. This led to a booking at the Roxy Theatre in New York, and so by the summer of 1929 the position of both Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies was secure.
After the success of Mickey Mouse and Athc Silly Symphonies in 1929. everything went smoothly for a year or two. • Thcn Disney got a bee in his bonnet, or so it seemed to his studio staff. Colour began to attract him more and more. He had always wanted to make coloured cartoons, and by 1931 the idea was no longer an impracticable dream. Colour fascinated him. Here again he was not first in the field The first cartoon in Technicolor (then a two-colour process) ap-peared in the introductory sequence to The King of Jazz on March 30th. 1930. and the first colour cartoon proper was Ted Esh-baugh’s Goofy Goat, a complete cartoon story done in Multicolor and shown for the first time on July 6th, 1931. The studio could not sec cyc to eye with Disney over this matter of colour. To begin with the cost or colouring cartoons was con-siderable and there seemed little chance of getting back the original outlay. Secondly the black-and-white cartoons were doing very nicely and extensive bookings had been made. Those who had booked cartoons in advance would probably be indignant if asked to pay more because some were to be made in colour. Thirdly, and most important of all. the studio hadn’t the capital. But Disncy persisted. The money question, he realised, was the chief problem. Then he thought of a little nest-egg which he had been accumulating against a rainy day. A sub-sidiary company, formed to market the rights for making Mickey Mouse dolls and toys. had made quite a handsome profit. Here was the money for colour. In the end the studio gave in. If the boss had set his heart on a colour cartoon, then let a colour cartoon be made. It was made, was a Silly Symphony in Technicolor called Flowers and Trees, and was first shown in Hollywood on July 15th. 1932. Two more coloured Silly Symphonies rot-lowed —13»g Neptune and Babes in thelVood—and then Disney got another bee in his bon-net. It buzzed and buzzed, and Disney repeatedly put forward his suggestion to the studio, who as often rejected it. But Disney could not relinquish this new idea. Once again the staff gave in. if he had really set his heart on making a cartoon about three little pigs, then thcy might as well make one about three little pigs and make him happy. Frank Churchill, the studio’s chief composer and conductor, since the advent of sound, wrote a little ditty to go with the film called -Who’s afraid of the Big. Bad Wolf?” It was destined to become the first song hit ever to come from an animated cartoon. Three Little Pigs was made, and had its premiere at Radio City Music Hall in May.•1933. Unlike the first Mickey Mouse, it caused no immediate sensation. Thc audience laughed, but not immoderately. But then. like a snowball, its popularity began to grow. When it was generally released it seemed to sweep through both America and England. The snowball grew bigger and bigger until it reached truly amazing propor-tions. People went to see those Three Little Pigs again and again. Everyone began to sing or hum or whistle Frank Churchill’s little melody. Dance bands played it all over the world. What pleasure that little picture must have given to people all over the world!
The next step was to produce Mickey Mouse himself in colour (until then it had only been used in the Silly Symphonies), and at the beginning of 1935 the full glory of those red velvet pants and the true magnificence of the pearl buttons burst upon a delighted world. Not that they were at first apparent in his debut in colour. when he was discovered in a long military cloak and high hat, con-ducting the William Tell overture in The Band Concert. probably the funniest -short” comedy that has ever been made; but once Mickey and his friends had taken the plunge it soon became apparent that the black-and-white cartoons had served their purpose. In 1935 they were discontinued altogether. But the greatest and most important land-mark in Disney’s career has yet to be dealt with. As early as 1934 Disney had started working on his first full-length cartoon in Colour. Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs., the most ambitious project he had ever attempted. No time or trouble was spared to make it a success, the fact that it was not destined for completion until 1937 being proof of this. The animation of little Snow-White was considerably in advance of any of Disney’s other human figures.
The Amazing Story of Walt Disney