Walt Disney Day
the first Monday in December
Walt Disney Day is held on the first Monday of December in remembrance and honor of Walt Disney, whose birthday is December 5. Disney created cartoon characters, pioneered animated cartoon films, founded The Walt Disney Company, and came up with and built theme parks. During today's celebration, Disney movie marathons are held and cakes are often baked into the shape of Disney characters. Chicago, the city of Disney's birth, celebrates a Walt Disney Day on Disney's actual birthday each year.
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901. When he was young, the family left Chicago and moved to a farm near Marceline, Missouri, where he showed a propensity for drawing and painting with crayons and watercolors. The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where Disney studied cartooning and then took classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design. Eventually, the family circled back to Chicago, where Disney went to high school. There he focused on taking photographs, drew for the school paper, studied cartooning on his own, and gained aspirations to be a newspaper cartoonist. But World War I arrived, and Disney found himself as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross in Europe.
Upon returning home, Disney worked as a drafter and inker in commercial art studios. At that time, he met Ub Iwerks, an artist, who became a frequent early collaborator. The two started a small studio in 1922, where they used an old movie camera to make short advertising films, did a series of cartoon sketches, and produced a pilot film, Alice's Wonderland. The studio didn't last long and Disney decided to move to California to work as a cinematographer. But when the Alice's Wonderland pilot gained notice, he once again opened a studio—this time in Hollywood—with his brother, Roy. Iwerks joined them to follow up Alice's Wonderland with the Alice Comedies.
Iwerks and Disney came up with a new character, Mickey, a mouse, and used him in two silent shorts: Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Gaucho. But with the advent of sound in film with The Jazz Singer in 1927, they decided to bring sound into their animation and presented Mickey in Steamboat Willie in 1928, which was received with great success. Following the creation of Mickey came Minnie Mouse, and then Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy.
Many began working at The Walt Disney Company as artists and designers, and while Disney himself was involved in all aspects of the films being made, his main role in the company was as a coordinator and decision-maker. Walt Disney produced the successful The Three Little Pigs, which was followed by other popular short films. Feature-length films arrived at the company in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He went on to develop other feature-length films in the early 1940s, including Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, and Fantasia. An animators' strike followed this slew of hits, and the later films of the decade weren't up to the same caliber of quality as these first ones, but the early 1950s brought a return to form with Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
Disney started producing live-action films, like The Absent-Minded Professor in 1961, and then the wildly successful Mary Poppins in 1964. Walt Disney also moved to the medium of television: He produced series for children, such as Zorro and Davy Crockett; a Sunday night showcase that has gone by a number of names over the years, such as Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and The Wonderful World of Disney; and a variety show with teenagers, The Mickey Mouse Club.
Another part of Disney's legacy involves theme parks. He came up with the concept for and built Disneyland near Los Angeles in 1955. He started to build another park, Walt Disney World, in Orlando Florida, but he died before it was finished—he died on December 15, 1966, and Walt Disney World opened in 1971. From theme parks to cartoon characters, to animated cartoon films, Walt Disney has left an indelible mark on American and world culture, and we remember and honor him today.
How to Observe Walt Disney Day
Some ways you could observe the day include:
- Stop at the Walt Disney Birthplace, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, or the Walt Disney Family Museum.
- Visit Disneyland Park, Walt Disney World, or another Disney theme park around the world.
- Watch an animated short or feature-length film released by The Walt Disney Company. Why stop at one? Have a Disney movie marathon! You could even invite some friends over to celebrate and bake a Disney-themed cake.
- Watch a documentary or read a biography about Walt Disney.