Walt Disney rose from an unsteady childhood with a job-shifting father to become the head of a massive entertainment conglomerate. Far more than a simple producer of films, Disney's impact on entertainment in the post-World War II era had far-reaching effects that have lasted until the present day. While many of these effects have been long considered positive by many, Disney has still not been immune from criticism.
Disney was the first pioneer to make a full-length animated film. Before "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937, animated pieces had been limited to short episodic stories, usually intended for humor. However, with the release of "Snow White," Disney showed the world that animation was a viable medium for conveying a feature-length story. "Snow White" paved the way for Disney's next few animated films like "Pinocchio," "Dumbo" and "Bambi," anthropomorphizing animals or objects in order to convey stories with morals that could be enjoyed by both adults and children. These films laid the foundation for Disney's success as a feature film animator and later as a producer of live action-animation hybrids.
Disney also revolutionized amusement parks, transforming their public images from a motley collection of rides and shows to a full-immersion experience. Disneyland, which opened in California in 1955, transported guests to another world. Upon entering the park, visitors walked along Disney's meticulously planned Main Street, USA, leaving 1950s California for a sense of a turn-of-the-century small town. Beyond Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland each offered guests the opportunity to become engrossed in an intricate and detailed world planned by Disney himself. Disney World in Florida, completed shortly after Disney's death, allowed the east coast a taste of Disney's world building. Both parks revolutionized the notion of the amusement park by creating such detailed and consuming experiences that had never been experienced before the early 1950s.
In the 1950s, Disney became the host of the Sunday evening television broadcast, and he represented himself on television as the very embodiment of mainstream conservative American values. He portrayed himself as wholesome, looking back with nostalgia to the past and ahead to the future with hope. He avoided anything controversial or any serious issues of the day and instead maintained his square image, providing many post-war Americans with a sense of comfort and ease after the trauma that was World War II.
Disney's innovations, from his animated feature films to theme parks and television personality, drew criticisms from the post-war intellectual community. Disney, to them, represented a kind of escapism where Americans were being lulled into a sense of avoidance of the world's trials and obstacles. Even if a film such as "Bambi" showcased difficulty or strife, the plot usually ended positively and cleanly. True hardships were glossed over in favor of an escapism into nostalgia and longing for right to win. Critics like Richard Schickel were disturbed by "Disneyfication" and what they saw as the widespread advocating of a conformist and dull mindset. This debate continues to rage decades after his death.