While it is our business here on Fool.com, every once in a while we have to take time out from the stock market's frenetic pace and enjoy life's simple pleasures. Today, on Mickey Mouse's 75th birthday, I am doing just that by taking my one-year-old grandson to Mickey's Toontown Fair at Disney World in Orlando. I can't wait to see the marvelous Disney creations through his eyes -- and get his picture taken with that famous senior citizen named Mickey Mouse.
So, if you're looking for serious analysis of the Walt Disney Company
Mickey Mouse made his screen debut in Steamboat Willie on November 18, 1928. A lot has changed since he was conceived on a cross-country train ride and was almost named Mortimer.
Mickey was born out of financial necessity. Walt Disney had traveled to New York to get a new contract and more money to improve the quality of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit productions. To his surprise, the copyright owners turned him down. His trip back to LA was spent trying to figure out what to say to the studio's employees, and the mouse was born.
Mickey's arrival wasn't an instant financial success, however. His first silent cartoon, Plane Crazy, was not purchased by any distributor. A second silent Mickey cartoon, Gallopin' Gaucho, ran into the "talkies." While Warner Brothers, part of today's Time Warner
Finally, in 1928, Walt risked everything on a cartoon with sound and music. Steamboat Willie launched the company that became known as the "House that Mickey Built."
The 1930s was the golden age for Mickey. He starred in 87 cartoons. There was big risk at the studio, too. In 1934, Walt started making a feature-length animated film -- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That was something that had never been done before and some thought the whole idea of it was absolutely goofy. The film, released in 1937, was the largest grossing movie ever -- until Gone With the Wind. It also put Disney on firm financial ground.
World War II disrupted the company's revenue. Although the 1940 releases of Pinocchio and Fantasia were well received at home, the studio lost money in foreign markets due to the war and animation costs were very high. Eventually, the studio suspended almost all activity so it could focus on military training films and goodwill tours. In fact, the password for the Allied forces on D-Day was "Mickey Mouse."
After the war, Disney went back to its roots and did cartoons and feature films (that all included animated sequences). The company regained its financial footing in 1950 with three hits -- its first totally live-action film, Treasure Island, the return to classic animation with Cinderella, and the first Disney Christmas TV show.
In 1953, Walt took another tremendous risk. He purchased a 180-acre orange grove in California. The $17 million project was so different that the press coined a term to describe it -- "theme park"
The July 17, 1955 opening of Disneyland was a disaster. Temperatures were over 100 degrees and, because of a plumbers strike, few water fountains worked. However, ABC did broadcast from the park on its first day of operation. Who would have guessed that Disneyland would be the success that it has been and that Disney would eventually buy ABC (Capital Cities) in 1996 for $19 billion?
Of course, Disney took another big financial risk in 1965 when the company purchased 47-square miles in Central Florida and started the $400 million Florida project that culminated with the 1971 opening of Walt Disney World. Opening day had a disappointing crowd of less than 10,000 -- when some had predicted 100,000. Today it is the most visited theme park in the world, and a tremendous financial success.
Speaking of visits, I'm off to the Magic Kingdom -- you're never too old for some fun. See you on Fool.com again tomorrow.
W.D. Crotty owns stock in the Walt Disney Company and will be wearing a Fool.com hat when he tours the Magic Kingdom today. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.