ANIMATION HAS COME A LONG WAY since Steamboat Willie's release in 1928, a good 84 years, and what feels like how many technological light years ago. As the very first animation to feature a fully post-produced soundtrack, the short film by Walter Elias Disney and Ub Iwerks was a breakthrough in the genre. It was not the first, however, but the third, of the Mickey Mouse shorts, but its innovation in sound garnered it a chance to be distributed and become the film in which Mickey makes his debut.
The brainchild of Walter Elias Disney, who would have been celebrating his 111th birthday today, Mickey takes his speaking voice and personality from Walt himself, who provided Mickey's grunts, chuckles and minimal speaking lines until the late 1940s. It has been said that though Mickey's physical appearance was designed by Ub Iwerks, "Walt gave him his soul."
Flat backgrounds, limited movement and questionable treatment of animals, Steamboat Willie is today, in many ways, a crude cartoon to see, but a classic nonetheless that serves as a milestone for animation. While its quality can only now only be appreciated by its significance and nostalgia, there's no denying that its essence transcends time and technological advancement; the essence of bringing joy, music and magic through the most vivid of characters who become a part our lives.
Mickey, while undeniably the most iconic of all, is but as a trailblazer for a long list of personalities we had met growing up: from the lovable Genie, Sebastian, Mushu and Baloo, to the lovely Ariel, Jasmine or Belle, the adorable Bambi, Thumper, Flit, Figaro and Flounder, to the despicable Maleficent, Scar or Jafar, and all other goofy, zany, cute and cuddly, magical, mystical and majestic personas in between.
Disney is and has always been magic. Happy birthday Mister Walter!
Steamboat Willie, 1928. Directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Walt Disney Animation Studios YouTube Channel