Walt Disney’s signature, contracting him to the Alice Comedies on October 16th 1923, was the beginning of the “Disney Company”, The company had previously known as Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.
Walt had decided to take up an offer from his brother Roy Oliver Disney to join him in Hollywood, leaving Kansas City behind.
But Walt brought with him one bit of Kansas City, his last one-reeler named “Alice in Wonderland”. It’s combination of live action with animation kick started the Alice Comedies.
The Disney Companys first Alice Comedy, named Alice’s Day at Sea, was released in 1924. Later, at the suggestion of Roy, the Disney Company was renamed Walt Disney Studio in 1926.
The Alice series ended in 1927 giving way for the very first cartoon “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit”.
Next came Mortimer Mouse. Created by Disney and Iwerks, Mortimer failed to find a distributor. However, with prompting from Lillie Belle, it was decided to cast Mortimer in the first sound animated film. That film was named Steamboat Willie. Mortimer soon became Mickey and as they say the rest is history.
In a ten-year span between 1927-1937 legendary cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy and Donald Duck all joined the Disney gang in the Mickey Mouse series.
Walt Disney went on to make history in 1937 when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the first feature length animated film to be released. With an estimated budget of $1.5 million, Snow White gripped global audiences and became the highest grossing film until Gone With the Wind unseated it from the top in 1939.
The success of the film enabled Disney to build a new campus for Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, which opened for business on Christmas Eve, 1939.
His staff, by this time, had swelled to more than a thousand artists, animators, writers, and technicians. The Walt Disney Studio had officially grown up.
Walt Disney Studios had just completed Pinocchio and were working on Fantasia and Bambi when World War II broke out in 1939. While Pinocchio and Fantasia were both released, neither performed particularly well.
After the US entered the war, ninety-four percent of Disney’s studio facilities were taken over by the military for work on training films for the armed services, health films for the general public, and short propaganda pieces like Der Fuhrer’s Face.
The cheaply produced Dumbo made some money for the studio, but Bambi, finally released in 1942, also bombed on its initial release.
For the next several years, the studio focused on shorts and compilation films. It was not until the late forties that they had recovered enough to start concentrating on feature films again. Cinderella was released in 1950, followed by Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty.
During the Fabulous Fifties, the studio had branched out into nature documentaries, live action features such as Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and television. They were handling their own distribution through their new subsidiary, Buena Vista Distribution. By the end of the decade, the Disney Empire was a major success, and Walt Disney Productions had become the world’s leading purveyor and innovator of “family entertainment”.