Through the Years of Disney: A Timeline of History and Facts

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Walt Disney

Credit: D23

The Walt Disney Company has become a world-famous phenomenon that everyone around the world knows and loves. But it wasn’t always magic and happiness for Walt Disney or the company.

Did you know that the company’s origins weren’t with the animated drawing of Mickey Mouse? Did you know at the beginning, the company didn’t generate much income?

The Walt Disney Company has certainly had its ups and downs throughout the years. Take a look at this Through the Years of Disney timeline.

The Walt Disney Company
Credit: Disney

Through the Years of Disney: A Timeline 

1923: Walt Disney signs a contract to produce a series of Alice Comedies for M.J. Winkler, which was the beginning of Disney Bros. with his brother, Roy.

1926: Disney Bros. Cartoon Studio moved to Hyperion Avenue and changed its name to The Walt Disney Studio.

1927: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit makes its debut.

Walt Disney
Credit: D23

1928: Walt Disney lost the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series contract to Universal Pictures. After his loss, Walt, Roy, and Ub Iwerks created the Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters. Mickey Mouse makes his debut in Plane Crazy, and Steamboat Willy becomes the first synchronized sound cartoon.

1929: The Walt Disney Studio changes its name again, this time to Walt Disney Productions Ltd., and three other Disney companies are formed, including Walt Disney Enterprises, Disney Film Recording Company, and Liled Realty and Investment Company. Also, The Skeleton Dance, which was the first of a Silly Symphonies series, makes its debut.

Plane Crazy
Credit: Disney

1930: Disney productions’ distribution moves to Columbia Pictures.

1932: Disney productions’ distribution moves from Columbia Pictures to United Artists. Walt Disney also wins an Academy Honorary Award at the 5th Academy Awards for his creation of Mickey Mouse. Flowers and Trees, a piece from the Silly Symphonies series, also won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. (Did you know it was the first Technicolor cartoon?) Mickey’s Revue was also released.

1933: Three Little Pigs won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

1934: Donald Duck is introduced as a character in the film The Wise Little Hen, and The Tortoise and the Hare wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Donald Duck
Credit: Disney

1936: Disney distribution is moved, again, from United Artists to RKO Radio Pictures.

1937: Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is released in 1937.

1938: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wins an Academy Honorary Award. Walt Disney Enterprises, Disney Film Recording Company, Liled Realty and Investment Company, and Walt Disney Productions, Ltd. all merge to form Walt Disney Productions.

1940: The studio moves to Burbank, California and becomes a publicly traded company. Pinocchio also wins an Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

Snow White
Credit: Disney

1941: Fantasia wins two Academy Honorary Award and Dumbo wins an Academy Award for Best Scoring in a Musical Picture. Also this year, a bitter animators’ strike occurs and the studio begins making propaganda films to boost U.S. morale during World War II.

1944: The company is struggling as it finds itself short on income so they re-release Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which not only generated revenue but began a pattern of the re-releasing of animated feature films.

1945: The Three Caballeros is released as the first live-action combined with Disney cartoons film.

1946: Song of the South and Make Mine Music are released.

1947: Song of the South won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and an Academy Honorary Award.

Song of the south
Credit: Hollywood Reporter

1949: The studio begins production on its first feature-length live action film, Treasure Island and licenses characters to the Ice Capades.

1953: WED Enterprises is formed as an umbrella organization to control the rights to Disney. It contains the Disneyland design team and owns and operates several attractions inside Disneyland, including the Disneyland Monorail System and Disneyland Railroad. Disney makes a Disneyland programming deal with American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres to fund Disneyland.

1954: Disney studio ends its distribution deal with RKO Radio Pictures, and founds its own distribution arm: Buena Vista Film Distribution Company Inc., to distribute Disney feature films. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea wins Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects and becomes the first distributed film by the Buena Vista Film Distribution Company.

1955: Disneyland opens in Anaheim, California, The Lady and the Tramp is released, and The Mickey Mouse Club opens on ABC television, while Magic Kingdom premiers on ABC radio.

Disneyland Opening
Credit: D23

1957: Old Yeller is released, and Zorro aired on ABC television.

1961: Disney studio purchased the film and merchandising rights to A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books.

1963: The Enchanted Tiki Room opens in Disneyland, which is the first attraction featuring audio-animatronics.

1964: Disney releases Mary Poppins, which becomes the first Disney film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The movie also won five other Oscars, including Best Actress to Julie Andrews.

Mary Poppins
Credit: Disney

1966: Winnie the Pooh and The Honey Tree is released, and Walt Disney is diagnosed with lung cancer. Disney passes away on December 15.

1967: Construction begins on Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida.

1969: The Haunted Mansion opens at Disneyland.

1971: Roy Disney passes away — Donn Tatum becomes chairman of the company and Card Walker becomes president. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is released and wins an Academy Award for Best Special Effects. The Magic Kingdom opens as the first park at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Disney World Opening
Credit: D23

1977: Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, resigns from the company, resulting in a decline of overall product quality and issues with management.

1982: The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, (Epcot) opens in Walt Disney World. The Coca-Cola Company tries (unsuccessfully) to buy out and takeover Disney.

1983: The Disney Channel begins production and Tokyo Disneyland opens in Japan.

1984: Another buyout attempt occurs by Saul Steinberg. Roy E. Disney and his business partner, Stanley Gold, remove Ron W. Miller as CEO and President and replaced him with Michael Eisner of Paramount Pictures as CEO and Frank Wells of Warner Bros. as COO and president

1985: Touchstone Television is founded and becomes the producer of Home Improvement and Boy Meets World.

Boy Meets World
Credit: CNN

1986: Walt Disney Productions changes its name to The Walt Disney Company and its distribution company’s name from Buena Vista Distribution Company to Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

1987: The Disney Store opens in Glendale, California. Disney signs an agreement with the French government to create the first Disney Resort in Europe: the Euro Disney. Touchstone Films is renamed Touchstone Pictures.

1989: Who Framed Roger Rabbit is released and nominated for four Academy Awards, including a Special Achievement award for its animation direction.

1989: The Little Mermaid wins Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. Disney-MGM Studios opens at Walt Disney World.

The Little Mermaid
Credit: Disney

1991: The first Disney Vacation Club Resorts opened at Walt Disney World. Beauty and the Beast is released and becomes the first animated full-length feature film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It wins Oscars for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

1992: The company released The Mighty Ducks and Aladdin, which won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. Euro Disney opens outside of Paris.

1994: Euro Disneyland was renamed Disneyland Paris and The Lion King was released, which won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

1995: Disney announces plans to purchase CapitalCities/ABC Inc., including ABC stakes in A&E Television Networks, ESPN, and DIC Productions LP. Pocahontas was released and won two Academy Awards. Toy Story won an Academy Special Achievement Award for being the first full-length computer-animated feature.

Toy Story
Credit: Disney

1997: Disney enters a 10-year distribution partnership with Pixar Animation Studios.

1998: Disney and the Hong Kong government announce a new resort in Hong Kong, and Disney Cruise Line sets sail with its first ship. Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens in Walt Disney World.

2000: Iger becomes President.

2001: Disney buys Fox Family Network and changes its name to ABC Family. Monsters Inc. wins an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

2002: Disney dives into video games with the release of Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts
Credit: Kingdom Hearts

2003: Roy E. Disney resigns as chairman of Feature Animation and from the board of directors. Talks to extend the Pixar distribution agreement break down so Pixar winds up seeking a new distribution partner. Disney releases Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

2004: Disney purchases The Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House franchises from The Jim Henson Company for $75 million. The Disney Store is sold and licensed to The Children’s Place.

2005: Robert Iger becomes CEO and focuses on repairing the Disney-Pixar relationship. Disneyland celebrates its 50th anniversary while Hong Kong Disneyland opens.

2006: Disney purchases Pixar Animation Studios for $7 billion and also releases Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which wins an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Disney re-acquires the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from NBCUniversal.

2007: Disney acquires New Horizon Interactive and Club Penguin and changes the name of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Ratatouille wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Club Penguin
Credit: IMDB

2008: Disney Store is reacquired from The Children’s Place and control of The Muppets franchise moves from Disney Consumer Products to Walt Disney Studios.

2009: Walt Disney Studios enters a distribution deal with DreamWorks Pictures. The D23 official fan community also launches. And Director Emeritus Roy E. Disney passes away of stomach cancer. On the last day of 2009, Disney acquires Marvel Entertainment.

2011: Disney licenses theme park rights to the Avatar franchise from James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment and announces its first Avatar-themed project at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World.

2012: Disney acquires Lucasfilm from George Lucas, including its Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises properties. Disney releases its first Marvel film distributed by Disney, Marvel’s The Avengers.

Credit: Variety

2015: Disney combines its Consumer Products and Interactive Media divisions into Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. Disney’s Marvel Studios and Sony announce a partnership to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The studio also releases Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first Lucasfilm distributed by Disney.

2016: Shanghai Disneyland opens and ABC Family changes its name to Freeform. Construction begins on a Star Wars-themed part of Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. DreamWorks ends its film distribution deal with Disney. Disney’s Zootopia wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, The Jungle Book wins for Best Visual Effects and Spider-Man appears for the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universes series in Captain America: Civil War.

2017: Disney proposed ending its existing deal with Netflix. Disney also announces plans to acquire key assets of 21st Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch. Coco wins two Academy Awards, for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song and Pandora – The World of Avatar opens at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.

Credit: Disney

2018: Comcast and Disney end up in a bidding war but Comcast drops the offer to pursue Sky Plc, leaving Disney free to acquire the Fox assets. Black Panther becomes the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and wins Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score.

2019: Ron W. Miller passes away. Disney acquires 21st Century Fox entertainment and cable television groups, with the exception of the broadcast television, news and sports group, which are now owned by Fox Corporation. Disney plans to launch their own streaming service, Disney+,.

The Walt Disney Company has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years, but somehow they still create magic each and every day for everyone around the world.

Source: The Street

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