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Brokaw: History looks at ‘How Disney Built America’

By Francine Brokaw - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jun 8, 2024

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"How Disney Built America" is a six-part documentary on the History Channel. The final episode airs Sunday, June 9, 2024.

History Channel has an in-depth look at how Walt Disney and the Disney Co. built America. This six-part series delves into the beginning of Walt’s fascination with animation and follows his triumphs and a few tragedies along the way.

In the first episode, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit catapulted Walt into the film business. But due to a contract, Oswald was not his property so what did he do? He went out and created Mickey Mouse, who was the first animated character to talk. Walt worked to create a way to put sound directly onto film, which was completely different than the way “The Jazz Singer” was filmed. Walt’s way was cleaner, clearer and went along with the video without any glitches. You know the kind when the voices and the mouths don’t synch up? Well, that was not the case with Disney’s new way of making talking films.

As the world changed, Mickey provided not only entertainment, but a positive outlook through the depression and hard times. Walt was insistent Mickey always remained a good guy. To work against Mickey, Donald Duck was created, and more characters joined the team.

The second episode looks at how Walt revolutionized the animation industry. With Roy Disney looking out for the financial end of the business, Walt was forging full steam ahead with the creative side. He was the first to utilize technicolor, and his short animation “Flowers and Trees” was not only the first animated film to be produced in technicolor but also the first full color film to utilize that process.

To make his ideas come to life in a realistic way, he created the multiplane camera, which, incidentally, is on display at the Disney Studio in Burbank, California. This massive camera system was what made the movements of the animated characters as realistic as humans. And Walt wanted them to be just that. He wanted his animated characters to bring laughter and tears to audiences. And he succeeded.

Walt made animation an art form. He began training classes for animators, used his chemists (mainly women) to mix up special paint for their colors and was the first creator to utilize story boards. Today, story boards are ubiquitous in filmmaking for both animated and live-action films.

When “Snow White” was released with astounding success, it became the No. 1 feature film. Without Walt Disney pushing the boundaries, the animation business would not be where it is today.

The next episode explores the concept and creation of Disneyland. For Walt Disney, it was like putting guests to the park inside the films and TV shows so families could enjoy the experiences together. Audio animatronics was invented so the animals in the Jungle Cruise could move and make sounds. The idea of forced perspective was used to make all the buildings in the park look bigger than they are. To help fund this project, the Disney brothers turned to ABC. With the advent of television, populating the time slots was a concern for networks. Walt agreed to make a weekly series for the network, and each week viewers were given updates on the new theme park. Disneyland ushered in the theme park.

Episode 4 focuses on the great merchandising the company has been an expert on. Mickey Mouse was the first celebrity to be on a cereal box. Now, the characters are all on clothing and accessories, and the toys that correspond to the films are prevalent throughout the world.

Episode 5 looks at the “city of the future,” Epcot, which was Walt’s final dream. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see its completion. And the Epcot we know today is not the original dream of Walt Disney; however, Roy did his best to fulfill his brother’s dream. The final episode airs Sunday. It looks at the complete picture of how Disney built its empire and is a major aspect of America.

The History Channel is available on various services. The series is also available to stream the next day on the History Channel app, history.com and across major TV providers’ video-on-demand platforms. It will also be available to own on Amazon Prime Video or wherever you purchase your favorite series.


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