The Origin and Evolution of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Walt Disney Animation Studios

It’s incredible to learn we are now celebrating 97 years of movies made by Walt Disney Animation Studios! With so many wonderful films, there’s no wonder why generations of movie goers adore Disney’s animated full-length features. Combining masterful artistry and storytelling with groundbreaking technology, Walt Disney Animation Studios is a filmmaker-driven animation studio responsible for creating some of the most beloved films ever made.

Walt’s Early Days in Animation

On Jan. 29, 1920, Walt Disney saw an ad for a $40-a-week position at the Kansas City Film Ad Co. The high school dropout’s task was drawing and manipulating stick figures used in theatrical cartoons. The company was the largest of its type in the country. Disney would draw a character, cut out the parts that would move, pin them to a board and photograph them as they were shifted ever so slightly. If done enough times, a film with continuous action could be made.

“These were for ads shown before a movie,” says historian J.B. Kaufman, author of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Ultimate History. “It was simple and basic, but it gave Walt a chance to experiment with animation.” When he’d returned from France after driving a Red Cross ambulance during World War I, Disney found work as a newspaper cartoonist, but the Film Ad Co. job took him in a different direction — and eventually to Los Angeles to open his own company in 1923. He later said, “The trick of making things move on film is what got to me.”

Birth of the Disney Company

On October 16, 1923, Walt Disney and his brother Roy found the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in Hollywood, California.

A talented artist from 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. While there, he finally sold a short film produced by Laugh-O-Gram, Alice’s Wonderland, and signed a contract to make six more such films. In order to produce the series, the brothers founded their company and persuaded both Virginia Davis, who played Alice, and their collaborator Ub Iwerks to join them in Hollywood.

Birthplace of Mickey Mouse

After the success of the Alice Comedies and a series based on a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney began work on his most famous creation. With the 1928 release of Steamboat Willie, the world was introduced to Mickey Mouse. The character would go on to become one the most recognizable cartoon characters in history.

MVMCP Characters

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The popularity of the Mickey Mouse shorts convinced Disney his studio could produce a feature film, which he began to do in 1934. The project, which some dubbed “Disney’s Folly,” went 400 percent over budget and required over 300 animators, artists, and assistants, but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a smash hit when it debuted just before Christmas 1937.

Walt Disney himself said, “I just thought it was a perfect story … ‘Snow White’ started a whole new era.”

Generations of Films

It’s incredible how they’ve made 58 full-length animated features in the past 97 years!

Meanwhile, the next animated movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, comes out in 2021. You can check out the trailer for that upcoming movie here. Are you excited for seeing Raya and the Last Dragon next year?



Kevin Koszola