For a company that’s nearly a century old, Disney is sure going strong. Currently the world’s second largest entertainment company, The Walt Disney Company is known around the globe for making movie magic and being home to the most recognizable characters in film and television history. Although most of Disney’s famous characters have been based on centuries old stories (Aladdin, Snow White, Goldilocks, Cinderella, the list goes on and on), and their more recent output has come from acquisitions including Lucasfilm and Marvel, there’s no denying the creative impact that they’ve had on nearly every living person since the 20th century.
But with such a storied history comes decades of forgotten facts and interesting trivia about The Mouse House. So we’re taking a look behind the scenes of your childhood entertainment factory and telling you 13 Facts You Didn’t Know About Disney.
File this one under “world-shattering,” because that’s exactly what would have happened if Disney had been able to retain their exclusive patent for Technicolor. Once Walt Disney saw the potential in releasing full-color cartoons, he negotiated the exclusive rights for the studio to use the process. After distributing the cartoon Flowers and Trees and Three Little Pigs in Technicolor in 1932 and 1933 respectively, Disney was granted full rights to the process until 1935.
Luckily for the world, and unluckily for Disney, his exclusivity window ran out and Technicolor soon moved to every other studio in Hollywood; thus ending Disney’s reign of being the only company allowed to make color films. With the technology’s success in everything from cartoons to live-action, soon every film began using the process and by the early 1960s nearly everyone – including Disney – was releasing all of their films in color.
One of the most iconic pieces of Disney history is Fantasia, specifically The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of the original 1940 film. So it’s safe to say that most people have seen the titular sorcerer of this segment many times over the years, as he teaches Mickey Mouse and watches brooms come to life with the flick of a wrist. Since his initial appearance in 1940, the sorcerer has made many appearances in Disney canon, including in various television cartoons, Disney theme parks, and the Kingdom Hearts video game series.
So it’s surprising then that after all this characters’ fame, most people don’t know his name. As it turns out, it’s Yen Sid, which you may be familiar with if you read it backwards. Yep, all this time it was staring you right in the face, or at least it would have been had you known his name; the Sorcerer is secretly named Disney.
Disney didn’t just pioneer animation and open up the industry to innovation and compelling storytelling filled with rich characters; it essentially wrote the book on how to draw characters. While Disney’s influence can be felt in nearly every piece of television or film animation over the last nine decades, perhaps the biggest influence Disney had on what came after it was located on characters’ hands. Just look at how nearly every cartoon character has only four fingers and it’ll all make sense.
Starting with Mickey Mouse, animators had attempted to draw him with five fingers but scrapped the idea when they thought it looked strange. Ultimately deciding that four fingers felt more natural, Mickey came into the world with three fingers and a thumb, and everyone else followed suit. Whether it’s an animal or a human, it’s tough to find cartoons characters with five digits on their hands. From The Flintstones to The Simpsons to Family Guy to South Park to Bob’s Burgers, you can trace the origin of most modern cartoons back to Mickey Mouse and his original animators.
Walt Disney had his hands full in the 1960s as Disney started to morph into the mega-company we know today. Between working on animated and live action films, as well as Disneyland in California and the top-secret Disney World in Florida that was nearly set to open, Walt Disney was tiring out and unable to focus on the classic Disney films that made his company world-famous. After Sword in the Stone under-performed critically, Walt decided to dive head-first into his company’s next feature and personally supervise every aspect of its development; that film was The Jungle Book.
The story goes that Disney wanted to change nearly everything from the original Rudyard Kipling book and make it a more fun Disney-esque film. While Walt ended up alienating many at Disney, the film ended up being a major success and has since influenced the most famous Disney films that followed with its inclusion of a famous comedian voicing a sidekick. However, with all the film’s success, Walt never lived to see his final creation succeed, as he died of lung cancer shortly before the film was completed. Without Walt Disney around to influence his own company, Disney went into a tailspin for the next several decades as the quality of films suffered and no one at the company could seemingly recapture that Walt Disney magic.
After Sleeping Beauty was released in 1959, Disney took a break from the princess films that made them famous and branched out into other territories. Though many of the films that followed were forgettable failures, especially after the death of Walt Disney, the move that signalled the beginning of the Disney Renaissance was bringing princesses back in a big way. After 30 years without a single Disney princess, one made a huge splash and reignited Disney’s future; it was Ariel, and the film was The Little Mermaid.
Originally planned as one of Disney’s earliest features – back when Walt Disney was adapting all sorts of Hand Christian Andersen stories – the film was delayed in the late 1930s only to resurface decades later. A genuine smash for Disney, The Little Mermaid paved the road for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and the rest of the 1990s Disney classics that an entire generation grew up on. So it’s safe to say that bringing the princesses back to Disney was a great call.
Another Disney innovation, the motion picture soundtrack as we know it today didn’t exist before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Sure, movies had soundtracks, but it wasn’t until Snow White that these soundtracks were released commercially, as it was assumed that no one would want to buy just the songs and sounds from a film; especially considering that the moving image part of the film was what made it so novel at the time.
Despite past conventions, the score and songs from the film were released alongside the film, although it wasn’t Disney that released them. Seeing as Disney didn’t have its own music publishing wing at the time, an outside company called Bourne Co. Music Publishers published the album and retained the rights to classic songs such as “Heigh-Ho” and “whistle While You Work.” Although Disney has tried numerous times over the years to buy back the rights to the music from Snow White, they have been unsuccessful and Bourne Co. still holds the rights to this day.
When you think of Mickey and Minnie – perhaps the most famous cartoon couple in history – you think of two mice with a perfect relationship that were meant to be together. So in true Disney fashion, their relationship becomes truly magical when you realize that the two people who voiced Mickey and Minnie were married to each other in real life.
Though Wayne Allwine was not the first person to voice Mickey Mouse – that would be Walt Disney, until excessive smoking damaged his vocal chords – he joined the Disney mail room in 1966 and eventually moved up the ladder to become Mickey’s infamous voice. Then Allwine met his soon to be wife, Russi Taylor, after she auditioned for the role of Minnie in 1986 and got it. From there, the two realized that their on-screen chemistry as mouse lovers was too good to pass up, and they ended up getting married in real life five years after they started pretending to be a couple on screen. How’s that for a picture perfect Disney story?
Apparently hyena researchers are super into hyenas, because when they allowed Disney animators into the University of California’s Field Station for Behavioral Research in order to observe hyenas, they made the animators promise to portray hyenas in a positive light. When the animators came away from that visit and eventually churned out The Lion King – featuring hyenas as immoral villains – the researchers got pissed.
While some simply boycotted The Lion King and claimed that it would be a set-back to protecting hyenas in the wild, one biologist reportedly took Disney’s hyena slight even further by attempting to sue the company for “Defamation of Character” on behalf of all hyenas. Seeing as hyena defamation isn’t exactly a thing, legally speaking, it’s safe to say that the lawsuit was laughed out of court in the same way that the hyenas from The Lion King would’ve laughed at a biologist suing an animation studio.
Disney has a long history with the Best Picture category at the Oscars, but during Walt Disney’s tenure at his company he only saw one film nominated for Best Picture; Mary Poppins. While the story of Disney’s involvement in Mary Poppins was chronicled in Disney’s own (admittedly rosy view) Saving Mr. Banks, it’s widely known that Walt Disney felt very proud of Mary Poppins and viewed it as one of his greatest achievements.
But despite Disney (the company and the man) never winning a single Best Picture trophy, Disney made history by making the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture. When Beauty and the Beat broke through the notoriously dramatic Best Picture category, it proved that there was room in movies for more than one type of story. And though an animated film didn’t get nominated for Best Picture for another 18 years – that would be Disney-Pixar’s Up in 2009, and again with Toy Story 3 in 2010 – as Disney makes more strides in animated storytelling it’s going to be increasingly hard to deny them the Best Picture trophy.
It’s easy to look at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs now and say that it was a success – after all, adjusted for inflation it is still one of the top 10 all-time hits at the North American box office – but before its release in 1937 no one was quite sure what to make of this weird and risky experiment. Costing Disney $1.4 million dollars – that’s over $24 million in today’s dollars – Snow White was a huge gamble in that it was the world’s first feature length animated film. Walt Disney was trying to prove that audiences were willing to sit through an 83 minute cartoon, and he staked his entire company on that gamble.
Starting production in early 1934, Snow White was unheard of to everyone; including those at Disney who had only ever worked on short films. While the film was meant to expand the studio’s reach and allow it to venture into more daring films, its initial cost was only meant to be $250,000. So after the budget ballooned and everyone tried to talk Walt Disney out of the project, the film that was referred to in the industry as “Disney’s Folly” – the film that Disney had to mortgage his house in order to finish financing the film – ended up smashing the box office to pieces and leaving the company we now know as Disney in its wake.
Even in retrospect it’s tough to see how important Fantasia really was, not only to Disney, but to cinema as a whole. It challenged conventions and it resulted in – as one critic wrote – “high art and low art (collapsing) into one another.” It was a series of short films, boldly animated and constructed around famous orchestra pieces, all combined into a feature length film and meant to change and renew itself into a new experience every couple of months. It featured new technology developed by Disney – a surround-sound system called Fantasound – and tickets were such a hot commodity that they had to be reserved.
But after the stunning success of Snow White and Disney’s subsequent films, perhaps ambition got the best of it as Fantasia both crashed and burned at the box office and failed to impress critics of the day. Reviews claimed that the film was pretentious and regrettable, and it ended up losing $15 million (adjusted for inflation) at the box office. Nearly unable to handle the loss, Disney closed in on bankruptcy before backing away and surviving. And the happy ending finally came for Fantasia and Disney when the drug-fueled 60s provided the film with an audience appreciative of its psychedelic qualities.
If you thought that the Hollywood Walk of Fame was only for real people, you thought wrong, because if you’re walking on the sidewalk at Hollywood and Vine you’re going to eventually come across some fictional characters. One of those fictional characters will be Mickey Mouse, and you’ll now know that he was the one who started this trend of engraving a fake name into a slab of stone embedded in the ground, because Mickey was the first animated character to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
While other Disney characters on the Walk of Fame now include Snow White, Donald Duck, Winnie the Pooh, and most recently Tinker Bell, Mickey got the ball rolling by demanding equal rights to animated characters. Or at least, the people in charge of the Walk of Fame were running out of real celebrities. Either way, Mickey is on there, and there’s no taking that away from him.
Chances are you’ve heard the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself after a particularly good moment or win in your life. You may even know that this phrase originated after the Super Bowl, when Phil Simms and the New York Giants beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. What you don’t know is that Simms wasn’t just super stoked about Disney World; he actually got paid $75,000 by Disney to utter the line in the case of a win.
Since 1987, when Simms cashed his big Disney check, athletes have been paid to say “I’m going to Disneyland/ Disney World as part of a cleverly orchestrated Disney campaign. Athletes that meet Disney’s requirements and say the money-line are treated to an all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland or Disney World, including a flight on a private jet and a suite for them and their family. But they also have to participate in a parade and take part in various Disney events during their stay, which should tip off those that don’t read this list that something is up with these athletes who seem to love Disney World so much; they’re being paid for it.
Which of these facts surprised you most? Do you know of any under the radar Disney facts that we missed? Let us know in the comments!