A Writer's Journey

May 28, 2011

Influences on a Writer Part Deux—The Disney Edition

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 4:24 am
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I am a Disney girl. I tell people I was raised in the Magic Kingdom. Which is almost true as my first visit to Walt Disney World was when I was about 18 months old. My favorite movie of all time is “Beauty and the Beast.” So it’s more than fair to say that Disney has had an impact on me as a writer.

I’ve described may story to many people as “a fairy tale without the fairies.” What that means is, that it’s a fairy tale with a prince, a princess, some bad guys and a quest. However, there is no magic involved. No unicorns. No mermaids. No witches or wizards. No spells. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was marketed more as an alternate historical fiction rather than fantasy.

So I guess you can see the Disney influences though.

But as the days go on, I realize I am influenced more and more by Walter Elias Disney himself. I often quote the man when I get a chance.

  (Photo from Pop Crunch)

For those of you who don’t know, Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago. He showed promise as an artist from a young age. As a high school student, he attended art school at night to perfect his skills. He was also intrigued by the burgeoning film industry, watching movies and known to imitate Charlie Chaplin around his friends. His teachers were very supportive, letting him tell stories complete with illustrations.

  (Photo from Just Disney)

Walt adored his older brother, Roy. Roy was sent over to Europe during World War I and Walt longed to follow him. He lied about his age and joined the Red Cross as a volunteer. He spent a year in France, driving an ambulance and drawing. He returned home from Europe and started to make his own cartoon shorts. These were his Alice shorts, in which a live actress interacted with an animated world. Walt headed west to join brother Roy in California and his Alice adventures soon found success.

And love. Lillian Brands was employed by Walt and they soon fell in love. On July 13, 1925, the two were married. (Fifty-five years later, my parents would get married on the same day). The two would later have two daughters, Diane and Sharon (who they adopted). Walt would be a family man throughout his life and spent Saturdays with his daughters. These memories would be the driving force behind Disneyland later on.

Out in Hollywood, Disney also created his own cartoon character. This was Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit. He became very popular but Disney soon learned he didn’t own Oswald. The studio did. On the verge of losing everything, Disney boarded a train. It was on board this train that he drew a little mouse. He was going to name the fellow “Mortimer”; Lillian suggested “Mickey.” He made his debut in “Steamboat Willie” in 1928. It was one of the first cartoons to use synchronized music.

And Mickey was huge!

(Photo from Just Disney)

Walt continued to make advances in animation. He signed a deal with Technicolor and brought colored cartoons to the big screen. He also used a multi-plane camera to add depth to his cartoons. In 1937, he tried something revolutionary. Until then animation was used either with live-action mixtures or as shorts that aired before a movie. But Disney decided to make a feature film entirely of animation. It was a risky move and one that could’ve ruined him. But “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was a huge hit. It’s interesting to see footage from Snow White’s premiere. Hollywood went all out for it. Walking the red carpet with Mickey Mouse and pals were such luminaries as Clarke Gable and Louise Lombard.

Snow White’s success propelled Disney’s studios forward. They continued to make more movies, including the beloved “Pinocchio.” That movie, of course, provided the world with the song “When You Wish Upon a Star.” I swear that it’s the company’s theme song. The studio did need to go on hiatus when World War II started and the US entered. Disney did his patriotic duty and created several propaganda cartoons during the war. I saw a few when I visited the Museum of American History in Washington last year.

In the post-war years, Disney enjoyed great success in both animated and live-action movies. But as the years passed, Walt turned to another idea. He recalled the times spent with his two daughters at amusement parks. He recalled sitting and watching his children have fun. He dreamed of a place where the parents could join their children in the merriment. And thus Disneyland was born.

(Photo from Just Disney)

Walt turned to a growing medium: television. He made a deal with ABC (funny in retrospect) to produce TV shows. He documented his plans for Disneyland and its construction. He also produced shows including “Davy Crockett” which became incredibly popular in the US. Star Fess Parker became an instant celebrity. (Fun fact: People thought that the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” was an old folk song Disney found, not a song written specifically written for the show).

On October 1, 1953, Walt Disney welcomed specially invited guests to Disneyland. However, the opening was a bit of a disaster. Okay, that’s a complete understatement. It was a complete disaster. Someone made counterfeit tickets and a larger crowd than expected stormed the park. Many rides were not operational or even completed when the park opened. It is said that the tar hadn’t harden completely on the sidewalks. Vendors ran out of food and garbage littered the ground.

But Disneyland became a success. It continued to grow and new attractions were constantly added. This was Walt’s greatest desire—that Disneyland would never stop changing. Most Disney fans would wish this wasn’t so—or at least find a way to change Disneyland without losing some of the classic attractions. For the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, Disney’s Imagineers were contracted by several corporations to create expositions for them. My parents both went to the World’s Fair as both grew up in Queens, the borough where the expo was held. Those familiar with the Disney parks will recognize the expositions: it’s a small world (you will have that son stuck in your head all day now), Progressland (now the Carousel of Progress), Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and the PeopleMover.

Walt’s plans were growing bigger as well. He dreamed of a city, a perfect city. And of a Disneyland on the east coast. He started buying land in Florida to achieve this goal. At first, he created a dummy company who purchased the land in Orlando. Newspapers did some digging and eventually revealed Walt Disney to be behind the deals.

Sadly, Walt would not see these dreams revealed. He was a longtime smoker and found himself in failing health. He entered the hospital for what his employees thought was a surgery to correct an old polo accident. Instead, they found a tumor. Before he entered the hospital, he visited the studios one more time.  He met with Marc Davis, who was working on the Country Bear Jamboree. He approved of the sketches he saw and then said good-bye to Davis. This was startling to Davis as Walt never said “good-bye.”

On December 15, 1966, Walt Disney died. The world mourned his loss. But his dreams didn’t die. His older brother, Roy, came out of retirement to oversee the construction of “Walt Disney World” in Orlando. It opened in 1971; Roy died months later.

But the Disney name has continued on. And it is still the first name in family fun and entertainment.

Walt is an inspiration to me.

His creativity and his drive speak to me. I admire him greatly and count him as one of my heroes.

(Photo from Travis N)

And now, some quotes from Walt Disney:

“We are not trying to entertain the critics. I’ll take my chances with the public.”

“The era we are living in today is a dream of coming true.”

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and at the bottom of the Spanish Main … and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”


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