October 11, 2006
Adventureland: Disney’s Foreign Operations
As a teenager in Kansas City, Walt Disney went to the movies at least five times a week. He was a fan
of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Ben Turpin and the Keystone Cops. He studied their techniques and, in
the dark of the theater, scrawled down notes about their facial expressions, body language and the methods
they used in the construction of their gags. He also studied the short films that were an integral part of the
programs in the 1920s.
He was particularly fond of the animated cartoon shorts that were beginning to be a popular feature of
movie programs. He was both fascinated and dissatisfied with them because he was already convinced that
he could do better himself.
Walt Disney got financial backing for a film production company, Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc, and ran a
cartoon school. He made cartoon shorts based on well-known fairy tales, but in 1923, at the age of 22,
Walt filed for bankruptcy. He moved to Los Angeles, started Walt Disney Studio and, in 1927, he delivered
his first Oswald the Lucky Rabbit film to Universal Pictures. It was rejected. He destroyed it and made the
next one, Trolly Troubles, which was an instant success. Universal took full advantage of Oswald’s success,
collecting royalties for the use of the name and image and then hiring Disney’s animators to continue the
series without Walt. But in 1928 Walt developed a new cartoon figure inspired by a mouse that Walt had fed
every day in his Kansas City office. He’d even given that mouse a name – Mortimer. But Walt’s wife, Lilly,
thought Mickey was a bolder sounding name.
Walt Disney Productions grew to make feature length cartoons, but because of the production costs the
operation was highly leveraged. Walt was regarded as a genius of filmmaking but a disaster as a businessman.
His brother Roy looked after the business aspects and they continuously argued about uncontrolled...