"He was a storyteller—a showman—a dreamer—a genius."
—Film critic Leonard Maltin, The Disney Films
Once upon a time, there was a boy who wanted to entertain people. He attempted various careers to find out how best to do that—acting, cartooning, filmmaking—until he decided to try and break into the new and expanding field of animation. Since cartoons were mainly a novelty at the time, he had little trouble absorbing all there was to be known about it, and then he began pushing the envelope. After several of his animators were recruited out from under him, and his mascot character stolen away, it seemed all hope was lost for this aspiring animator.
Then he (or his pal, Ub Iwerks, more likely) drew a rough draft of a little cartoon mouse.
Walt Disney's animation studio, Disney, which he founded with his brother Roy, became a pop culture phenomenon. Mickey Mouse became beloved by children everywhere during The Golden Age of Animation, and soon after his Three Little Pigs short met similar fame and success. Then, Disney decided that short cartoons weren't enough and that he would make a feature-length film. At the time, some scoffed at the plan, calling it "Disney's Folly" and saying the animation wunderkind had bitten off more than he could chew. They were quickly silenced when they saw the movie (or, perhaps even more importantly, its profits). Seventy years later, it is number 34 in the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Films list, and the only one to be animated.
After completely dominating the field of animation, and inspiring many new techniques in the field, Disney (a driven perfectionist who was never satisfied with any of his work) began to move in other directions -- namely, television and theme parks. Again, he was ahead of his time in both fields, turning potential disasters into huge successes. His ultimate dream was never realized -- the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, a fully-functional city where people could live and work, centered around an arts college, which his detractors have noted sounds disturbingly in the details like The Prisoner's Village. He died of lung cancer before EPCOT was finished, and without his guidance the plan soon became another theme park. However, thanks in part to his prescient foundation of the California Institute of the Arts which taught major film greats like Tim Burton and John Lasseter, his legacy lives on with the Walt Disney Corporation, one of the most powerful media enterprises in the world. The Disney studios are symbolized by an image of Cinderella's/Sleeping Beauty's castle.
Walt Disney earned fifty-nine Academy Award nominations, and of those he won twenty-six, giving him more awards and nominations than any other individual. He also won four Oscars in 1953, the most that any one person has ever one in a single year (as of 2020).
There are numerous Urban Legends. Rumors about Walt Disney being less friendly than many people would see him are common. He was rarely satisfied with the films his studio produced and was intensely critical of his employees (and perhaps justifiably afraid of unions, as he once had an entire animation staff sell him out to work with a competitor) but stories also abound of Walt's supposed racism, sexism and antisemitism, and supposedly he never actually drew anything, took credit for people's work, and was so extremely paranoid with the threat of communism he put innocent people in jail during the McCarthy Communist witch hunts. Many of these attitudes can be attributed to the time in which he lived -- most of America at the time saw little problem mocking blacks, Jews, Native Americans, and women, and reporting suspected communists was actively encouraged by the government. In truth Walt employed several Jewish and black animators, was close with his female employees, and devoted to his daughters (to the point that he shielded them from intense public scrutiny in an effort to avoid a repeat of the Lindbergh kidnapping).
Perhaps the oddest Urban Legend that after his death Walt's body was placed in a cryostasis chamber under Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. (Everyone knows it's really just his head that was frozen in Cinderella's Castle at Disney World, of course.) The actual truth is that he was cremated.
See Mr. Alt Disney.
- Academy Award: He won four Honorary awards: One in 1931 for the invention of Mickey Mouse, one in 1938 for Snow White, which looked like this, and two non-statuette awards in 1942.
- The Determinator: To start with, Walt went through many failures early in his career -- first, his doomed Laugh-O-Grams studio, the failure of the Alice Comedies, and even after he got his first true hit, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, he didn't even get to enjoy it before he had all but three of his animators hired out from under him by Charles Mintz, the boss of his distributor, Winkler Pictures, and then reminded that he never owned the character to begin with, and given an ultimatum of taking a big budget cut or losing the right to use his own creation altogether. But did that stop him? Nope. He quit the studio shortly after, learning an important lesson of owning everything he made, and to be his own boss from there on out. And let's not forget how Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, "Disney's Folly", turned out -- despite Hollywood and even his own wife thinking he had gone over his head and was heading for failure. Not!
- Famous Last Words: Of the cryptic variety. Disney's last communication is generally accepted to be a piece of paper with two words scrawled on it: "Kurt Russell". Nobody -- not Disney's relatives, not his friends, not even Kurt Russell himself -- has the slightest idea what he meant by this.
- Farm Boy
- Porn Stash: Alledgedly had a collection of old Playboy magazines, although this was more because they originally belonged to his dad and he kept them out of memory of him, since Walt had a hard time getting it up.
- Saved From Development Hell: Walt had planned to do Beauty and The Beast and The Little Mermaid after the success of Snow White, but plans for these were put to a close. The reason why is because Beauty and the Beast had story problems with the second act, while The Little Mermaid had money problems. Years later the projects were picked up again by Roy Disney, which helped kicked in The Renaissance Age of Animation.
- Uncle Pennybags: Was a known philanthropist and a well-renowned TV show host, and he is still fondly remembered by many previous co-workers.