Scene from 'Steamboat Willy'. Image from http://www.cartoonreviewsite.com
‘Steamboat Willie’, a comical film about a little mouse named Mickey, who works on a steamboat, under the command of the big and disgruntled Captain Pete. Feeling overworked Mickey decides to take a couple of breaks, and sings, dances, and plays music (occasionally at the expense of a couple of animal’s discomfort) and tries his best to have fun. The cartoon was first released in 1928, by Walt Disney, and was not only the first film to show Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but it was also the first ever cartoon to have sound! Of course, despite being one of the more famous of Walt Disney’s early creations, ‘Steamboat Willie’ was not the first motion picture Walt Disney had created. In fact, Walt Disney had made several cartoons before ‘Steamboat Willie’, the most recent of these cartoons was called ‘Oswald the lucky Rabbit’.
Oswald became the precursor to Mickey Mouse, in both character, and style. In his first appearance, Oswald is a trolley driver, who throughout the whole cartoon tries his best to maintain control of his trolley, and transport his passengers safely to their destination. The cartoon, however was not as successful as Disney had hoped. To make matters worse, after working under Charles Mintz in New York, Mintz took all rights to Oswald the Rabbit, as well as the Oswald series, making Oswald now legally belonging to him. Robbed of the rights to Oswald, Walt Disney decided to create a new character, one that was much like Oswald, but not a rabbit. And so Disney decided to change his character from a rabbit, to a mouse.
This mouse would soon become Mickey Mouse, the loveable mouse in red pants we all know and love. Disney then decided to go to Hollywood, to work on a cartoon series using his new character. There he, his brother Roy, and his lead animator Ub Iwerks began drawing out plans for their newest cartoon ‘Plane Crazy’. Their workstation was a garage belonging to Walt and Roy’s uncle. Walt’s wife Lillian, and Roy’s wife Edna, were drafted to provide the ink, and paint for the cartoons that were to be created here in the garage. After the completion of ‘Plane Crazy’, Walt still felt that there had to be some sort of improvement, after ‘Plane Crazy’ failed a screen test. While halfway finished with his next cartoon ‘Steamboat Willie’ (which was inspired by ‘Steamboat Bill, Jr’ by Buster Keaton) Disney decided that his cartoons needed to have sound. And so he hired animation music composer Carl Stalling to create a soundtrack for the cartoon, and after they used the new Cinephone Process, developed by Pat Powers, to synchronize the soundtrack, Steamboat Willie was complete. In 1928, ‘Steamboat Willie’ was presented in the Colony Theatre, and became the bedrock of Walt Disney’s success.