A beautiful princess and a handsome prince. To add some classic struggle and fight, put in an evil relative or another prince.
I grew up watching Disney movies like most of you. I even saw most of the Disney princess movies.
(Don’t give me that look now. When the character is that beautiful how can you resist watching it?)
Anyway, back to the story for the day.
Which is the oldest Walt Disney character you can think of?
Mickey, is it?
Before I first heard this story, I believed the oldest creation of this master to be Mickey Mouse. Facts differ.
Most of you don’t know, before Mickey, Disney had another character. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, it was popular. The character was called “Oswald” and the show was called “Oswald The Lucky Rabbit”. It was a silent cartoon that made its way to people’s lives sometime in 1920s.
That was the time when Disney was a startup. I know it is a bit hard to imagine after you’ve thought of going to the famous Disneyland for the coming summer, but like every other company, Disney was also a startup at some point. It was THAT time.
As a startup making films in the 1920s was very difficult. Disney and every other small studio had to rely on larger studios and distributors to promote their films. Disney was a startup and in one of the most difficult times.
Being small in size they had no control over the deal.
The larger studios took control of Disney ranging from the characters to the profit share. I know it sounds a bit strange, they were his customers and they had control over every detail of the deal. But, that’s the way it was.
So, it was the year 1927, Disney was working with Universal Pictures and a distributor called Winkler Pictures. Universal wanted the character of the new series to be a rabbit. Disney followed.
He and his best animator, who was also his long time friend, Ub Iweks made a character who looked like a rabbit and named him Oswald. I am not sure if Universal named it Oswald or Disney did.
This character, the luck rabbit Oswald turned out to be a huge success. People loved it.
So, Disney went to Winkler Pictures to ask them for a higher fee and higher share of profits after the amazing success of Oswald. The owner, Charles Mintz refused.
Okay, not a big problem by now. They had a contract, right?
Well, things went bad next year. In 1928, it was the time for the contract renewal for Disney, what did Winkler do this time? Instead of increasing their profits, the distributor gave them a pay cut.
Yeah, you may read the last line again.
Still not that bad. Here is the part that hurts.
“Take it, or I’ll ruin you. I already have your key artists signed up.”
Was what the owner, Charles told Disney while handing him the contract.
Now, if you were the size of Disney and as someone as huge as Winkler handed you a deal like that. What would you have done?
Ohh wait! I left an important part.
With this contract, they didn’t want to take away just Disney’s animators, they also took away his most successful creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
How could they?
Turned out, in the fine print of the last contract, the legal ownership of the character Oswald belonged to Universal Pictures, of which Walt Disney was unaware of until he heard.
Now back to question. Charles, from Winkler offered him to turn his studio, Disney into a subsidiary of Winkler or start the company all over again.
What would you have done?
He did the same. He chose the latter option. Instead of surrendering to a behemoth of the industry like a coward, he decided to start all over again.
They might have taken his most famous character, most of his animators but they didn’t take away his courage and creativity.
He didn’t even try to sue the man who took everything away from him, he didn’t even try to look for another job. He was ready to give it another try. He had his friend Ub Iweks and a head full of creative ideas, both of which were enough to bounce back and take back what he lost.
During the train ride back to his home he thought of another character that could replace Oswald in Disney Studios’ portfolio. His wife named him and Ub drew him. The character was none other than, Mickey Mouse.
But he couldn’t do something he had already done, he couldn’t just make something that already existed and still be a success. He decided to do something amazing.
While Oswald was a silent character, Walt decided to make Mickey talk. He wanted to add sound effects, music and dialogue. He believed this would leave a huge impression on the audience.
He wasn’t wrong. The first Mickey Mouse film premiered on November 18, 1928 and the audience was left spellbound. Mickey, Walt and his team received a standing ovation.
All of this just in 8 months. In 8 months of losing everything he had built, Disney was at the top of the industry and Mickey opened the floodgates for the money. He became the Walt Disney we know him as today.
While most of us have heard of the extremely popular Steve Jobs story of how he got fired and bounced back, Walt’s story is less known irrespective of the impact he had on us as children.
This kind of stuff doesn’t happen with everyone, not everyone loses everything and then bounces back. Some of us are lucky enough to never face this, while some of us, get so discouraged that we refuse to get back up.
At that moment, it is stories like these that give us hope.
At last, I’ll leave you with the famous quote by Rudyard Kipling.