From pencil and paper to media giant: A century of Disney

16 Oct 2023 03:56pm
Image for illustrative purposes only. - Facebook
Image for illustrative purposes only. - Facebook

PARIS - The Walt Disney Company celebrates its 100th anniversary on Monday, marking the occasion with the release of a short film featuring more than 500 characters from 85 films.

The nine-minute short entitled "Once Upon a Studio" combines digital images, hand drawings and live-action to honour the studio's mammoth body of work.

Here are some major milestones in the history of the global entertainment giant.

Walter Elias Disney is born in December 1901 to an Irish-Canadian father and a German-American mother in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1923, he joins his brother Roy in Hollywood, where they set up a studio in a garage.

Mickey Mouse makes his first appearance in the 1928 short film "Steamboat Willie".

Initially christened Mortimer, the mouse is later renamed with inspiration from Walt Disney's wife Lilly.

Mickey Mouse becomes so famous during the 1930s and 40s that he is used as a code name for the Normandy landings by Allied troops on June 6, 1944.

Disney's first colour feature film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is released in 1937 and awarded an honorary Oscar the following year.

The company issues its first shares in 1940 and employs over 1,000 people at its studios in Burbank, California.

On July 17, 1955, Disney opens its first theme park in Anaheim, California, with a second one, Magic Kingdom, unveiled in Orlando in 1971.

The parks revolutionise the tourism industry and later expand outside the United States - first in Tokyo in 1983 and later in Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Walt Disney dies in 1966 at the age of 65. He still holds the record for the most Oscars won during a lifetime, having been honoured 22 times.

"I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing: that it was all started by a mouse," he said.

Walt's brother Roy heads the group for five years.

Michael Eisner takes over the helm of the group in 1984.

During his 21 years at the helm, he transforms Disney into a powerful multinational entertainment company and sales soar.

The group buys the ABC television network, the ESPN sports channel and Miramax Films, as well as developing merchandise including clothes, video games, toys, records and cruises.

Disney even creates its own currency - the "Disney Dollar" - which was used in theme parks for 30 years until being discontinued in 2016.

Eisner steps down after a shareholder revolt in 2003-4, led by Walt's nephew Roy Disney.

Bob Iger becomes Disney CEO in 2005 and over 15 years boosts share prices through acquisitions and brand diversification.

Disney relaunches its animation business with the $7.4-billion purchase of Pixar in 2006.

It then buys Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion and Lucasfilm and "Star Wars" in 2012 for $4.05 billion.

International box office sales for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", which was released for the franchise's 40th anniversary in 2017, exceeded $1.3 billion according to IMDBPro.

To compete with streaming giant Netflix, the group launches Disney+ in 2019, an on-demand service offering films and series from Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.

The success of Disney+ helps to partially revive the group, which suffers losses after the Covid-19 pandemic forces it to close parks and cinemas.

But the streaming platform begins to lose subscribers in 2022, leading Disney to call back its former CEO Bob Iger.

In a quest for profitability, the company announces 7,000 layoffs.

By mid-2023, Disney+ has more than 145 million subscribers.

Although traditionally conservative, Disney in 2022 denounces a new law prohibiting Florida elementary schools from addressing subjects related to gender and sexual orientation.

In his campaign against "woke" ideology, the state's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis hits back at Disney by ending the special economic status enjoyed by the group in Florida since 1967.

In May 2023, Disney decides to abandon plans to build a $900 million campus in central Florida to house 2,000 employees. - AFP