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Friday, December 5, 2014

Always taking new paths

Before there was Bugs Bunny or Roger Rabbit or any other animated “rabbit” character, there was a 1926 rabbit named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  Praised as “exceptionally clever,” Oswald was hugely popular and had a high merchandise tie-in performance – always a plus, I guess, in the animation world (think everything “Frozen”).

As Oswald’s popularity continued to soar, his young creator decided he’d like a little larger share of the profits for his creation. But instead of giving him more, the powers that be in the New York advertising world proposed reducing his amount and threatening to take away the rights to Oswald if the animator did not agree.  He did not, and he lost Oswald, which, fortunately for the rest of the world and for posterity, resulted in his turning to a new creation – a little mouse named Mickey.

Based on a mouse he had adopted as a pet while working in his threadbare Laugh-O-Gram studio in Kansas City, young Walt Disney and his good friend Ubbe Iwerks  reworked mouse sketches made by Disney to make a new animated character.  And, beyond any earlier creations, Mickey Mouse also talked.  From 1927, the year of Mickey’s arrival on the scene, until 1947 (the year I was born, although I can’t really say there was any sort of tie-in) Mickey's voice – and personality, of course – was provided by Disney.  In the words of one Disney employee, "Walt gave Mickey his soul."

And thanks to the greed of a corporation that wanted more control of Oswald the Rabbit, who faded from the scene once Disney left him behind, an entertainment empire was formed. 

 Walt Disney and Mickey at Disneyland
While Walt Disney – born this day in 1901 –  was primarily known as a cartoonist and business mogul, he also was a terrific writer and had an uncanny ability to recognize and adapt others’ writing into the many movies his new studio produced.  By the time of his death, at the relatively young age of 65, Disney had won 22 Academy Awards (nominated an astounding 59 times) and 4 honorary Academy Awards for his work.  He also won 7 Emmys for his television productions.

“Life is composed of lights and shadows and we would be untruthful, insincere and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows,” Disney once said, when asked why he sometimes created characters and dialogue not as upbeat and “happy” as his early cartoon work.  “We keep moving forward,” he said, “opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Great advice for writers, too. 

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