Early Walt Disney Cartoons

by Nancy Hayden
Mickey Mouse is known throughout the world.

Mickey Mouse is known throughout the world.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It is incredible to think of all that Walt Disney's imagination has given to the world. A legacy that includes the most visited theme parks in the world and a globally iconic figure in Mickey Mouse all began with simple drawings in the 1920s. Disney had a vision for his work that took him from crude cells of animation to feature films in just over a decade.

Earliest Works

In 1922, at just 21 years of age, Walt Disney was making his living as an advertising cartoonist in Kansas City when he created short cartoons entitled, "Newman Laugh-O-grams." These included the "Four Musicians of Bremen" and "Little Red Riding Hood," which is credited as being the first Walt Disney cartoon. In 1923 he moved to Los Angeles and established the Disney Brothers Studio. He began work on 56 shorts called "Alice Comedies." The shorts revolved around Alice's adventures in Wonderland and Disney got attention for "Alice's Day at Sea." He then created his first animal character, Oswald the lucky rabbit. Oswald was the star of "Trolley Troubles" and "Poor Papa." These early works were all rudimentary, silent and in black and white.

Meet the Mouse

By 1927 Disney had gained attention from the "Alice Comedies" and established Walt Disney Studios. He created a new animal character named Mortimer Mouse and worked with his chief animator to develop it. By 1928, Mickey Mouse was born and appeared in the silent short "Plane Crazy" where he imitated flight pioneer Charles Lindbergh to impress Minnie. That same year Mickey starred as a steamboat captain in "Steamboat Willie" and in "The Gallopin' Gaucho." Meanwhile, sound came along in films and Disney re-released "Steamboat Willie." As the first cartoon with synchronized sound, it became a bit hit and is widely credited as Mickey's film debut.

Silly Symphonies

Following early success with Mickey, Disney began a new project that would last for a decade and stretch the limits of animation. The shorts were set to orchestral music and called "Silly Symphonies." Disney created a total of 75 separate shorts within the series between 1929 until 1939. The first short, about a dancing group of skeletons in a night-time graveyard, was called "The Skeleton Dance." In 1932 he released "Flowers and Trees," which introduced anthropomorphic cartoon characters and for which Disney won his first Academy Award. In total, the shorts of "Silly Symphonies" won seven Oscars.

First Feature

Many of the themes used in "Silly Symphonies" came from fairy tales, and Disney had some of his most successful shorts with stories that revolved around famous children's stories such as "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Ugly Duckling." This inspired Disney to go even further. In 1932, he began work on his first animated feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The film took five years to make and cost nearly $1.5 million, a staggering sum, especially during the Great Depression. It debuted in 1937 and launched the industry of animated feature films.

Photo Credits

  • Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images