After Mickey Mouse and the "Silly Symphonies" hit the jackpot, animator Walt Disney could have just rested on his laurels and watched the money roll in. If he had done so, Disney would still be an important part of animation history, similar to Walter Lantz, creator of Woody Woodpecker, or Max Fleischer, who brought Popeye, Betty Boop, and others to the screen. However, Disney was known for his restlessness and impatience with success. Disney was constantly looking to build off his prior achievements in order to create something bigger and better.
And so, in the early 1930s, Disney started down a path towards feature length cartoons that would bring the art of animation a giant step forward. Today, nearly 70 years later, people may consider the idea of feature-length cartoons as fairly commonplace. After all, feature length cartoons have been with most people for a lifetime. When Disney first started to move down the path that led to the first feature length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a feature-length animated film was revolutionary.
Animation historian Charles Solomon remarked about Disney’s move to features, "The silent comics whom Walt admired and knew—Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy—had all moved from shorts to features. Features commanded more respect, a higher price, and allowed for a much greater development of the material. I think those reasons moved Walt to the idea of a feature" (Doron).
As Disney himself explained, "I saw the handwriting on the wall. My costs kept going up and up, but the short subject was just filler on any program. And so I felt I had to diversity my business. You could only get so much out of a short subject…I don't know why I picked "Snow White." The story is something I remembered as a kid. I once saw Marguerite Clark performing in it in Kansas City when I was a newsboy back in 1917. It was one of the first big feature pictures I'd ever seen. That was back in 1917…I thought it was the perfect story. It had the sympathetic dwarfs, you see? It had the heavy. It had the prince and the girl. The romance. I just thought it was a perfect story" (Sciretta).
Outside of Disney’s imagination, the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs began in a dimly lit soundstage in 1934 when Disney first introduced his plans to his animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. The relationship between these two men is legendary. They first met as students at Stanford University, worked together at the Studio for over four decades ,and then went on to co-author four books including The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. "We were pretty confused about what Walt was doing," admits Thomas. "Why was he doing a feature in the first place? What made him think he could sustain the audience interest for a whole feature length? We were all pretty nervous about it" (Disney).
Creating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs necessitated the development of a variety of new animation techniques, and Disney knew his staff needed training for the effort. So, in the years prior to its creation, he used his Silly Symphonies to hone animation techniques and style. Charles Solomon has remarked, "Before they started Snow White, the Disney team created several films with heroines, as a way of learning how to draw a convincing female character for the screen. The first in that series is The Goddess of Spring, a rather rubbery-limbed version of Persephone. Her arms tend to ripple when she moves, but she was an admirable first attempt. Compare that to another film a year or two later called The Cookie Carnival, and the sugar cookie girl, who is the heroine in the story, is much more feminine and more solid. The sugar cookie girl was animated by Grim Natwick, who would be the lead animator of the heroine in Snow White" (Disney).
The world's most famous animated character, an international ambassador of goodwill and a universally recognized corporate symbol, Mickey Mouse has been analyzed by scientists and psychologists, praised by writers and directors, and depicted by artists in every medium. Mickey has survived this attention with unflagging good cheer. His smile, which is more famous than the Mona Lisa's, beams from the printed page, from movie screens and televisions, and from three-dimensional figures, including plastic toys and bronze statues.
According to the well-known story, Disney based the character on a mouse he had adopted as a pet while working in a Kansas City studio. Animator Ub Iwerks reworked Disney's sketches making the new character easier to animate, but Walt supplied his personality and for many years his voice. As many of the old animators have commented, "Ub designed Mickey's physical appearance, but Walt gave him his soul" (Solomon).
Mickey's popularity skyrocketed during the early '1930s, and he soon eclipsed Felix the Cat as the world's favorite animated character. "A Mickey Mouse cartoon" appeared on theatre marquees with the title of the feature, and "What, no Mickey Mouse?" entered the popular lexicon as a synonym for any disappointment. Between 1929 and 1932, more than one million children joined the original Mickey Mouse Club. Mary Pickford, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and King George V of England were all Mickey fans. Novelist E.M. Forster wrote in 1934, "Mickey is everybody's god, so that even members of the Film Society cease despising their fellow members when he appears." In 1935, the League of Nations presented Disney with a gold medal declaring Mickey "an international symbol of goodwill."
The Mickey Mouse comic strip debuted in January of 1930, and he began appearing in other forms. In 1929, Disney had licensed the use of Mickey on a writing tablet. In 1930, the studio began authorizing other Mickey Mouse merchandise. In 1932, Herman "Kay" Kamen, a former hat salesman who had built a successful advertising business in Kansas City, called Disney about developing character merchandise. Disney and Roy had been unhappy with the quality of some of the earlier merchandise and were interested in Kamen's offer. He came to Los Angeles, a deal was struck, and the number of products bearing Mickey's likeness expanded rapidly. Mickey appeared on everything from a Cartier diamond bracelet worth $1,250 to tin toys that sold for less than $1. In 1933 alone, 900,000 Mickey Mouse watches and clocks were sold, along with ten million Mickey Mouse ice cream cones. By 1934, Disney was earning more than $600,000 a year in profits from films and merchandise (Solomon).
Meir, Doron A. 2d Animation. Animation Arena. 6 Apr. 2009 http://www.animationarena.com/2d-animation.html.
Sciretta, Peter. Disney's Return to 2D Animation - The Princess and the Frog Teaser Trailer. 30 July 2008. FILM. 6 Apr. 2009 http://www.slashfilm.com/2008/07/30/disneys-return-to-2d-animation-the-prince-and-the-frog-teaser-trailer/.
Solomon, Charles. "Mickey Mouse and the Disney Repertory Players." The Golden Age of Mickey Mouse. Disney Co. 6 Apr. 2009 http://disney.go.com/disneyatoz/familymuseum/exhibits/articles/mickeymousegoldenage/index.html
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Disney Co. 6 Apr. 2009 http://disney.go.com/disneyatoz/familymuseum/exhibits/articles/snowwhiteseven/index.html.