How Disney has changed in a world without Walt


On Dec. 15, 1966 one of the most prominent pioneers of the entertainment industry, Walt Disney, passed away from lung cancer. He had been a prolific smoker but, to avoid setting a poor example for kids⁠, very few images exist of him with a cigarette in hand. The empire of the Walt Disney Company began on Oct. 16, 1923 as the “Disney Brothers Cartoon Studios,” named after the Disney brothers. Walt was the dreamer and his brother, Roy Disney, was the logistics half of the company.

In 1923, Disney was a small animating company, producing short seven minute films such as “Steamboat Willie.” Disney really began producing films in the 1930s with its biggest movie of the decade being “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937 and numerous other shorts, such as “The Grasshopper and the Ants.” Some of these shorts were created to teach certain lessons, such as appreciating what you already have, but the majority were meant to be animated comedic skits.

The Disney brothers opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California on July 17, 1955. Walt Disney introduced the park with the lasting words, “To all who come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” Opening day was incredibly busy; attractions were overcrowded and the Mark Twain River Boats were close to sinking due to the sheer number of occupants. The King Arthur Carousel was designed after a park that Walt Disney had taken his children to on weekends; Walt noticed that all the kids would fight for the white horses, so he created a carousel with only white horses.  

Walt Disney had a habit of executing outlandish ideas such as The Matterhorn and the innovative monorail track known as the “People Mover.” Upon Walt’s death, many Disney engineers, or Imagineers, were left wondering how much of their jobs did Walt do for them. Shortly before his death, Walt lived to see the addition of the It’s a Small World ride in Disneyland, which had originally been designed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. All of the costumes and dolls featured in It’s a Small World were created by one woman: Mary Blair. There have since been updates to the ride, all done in Blair’s style.

At the time of his death, Disney had been planning the construction of Walt Disney World in Florida as well as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). However, he died mid-planning on both EPCOT and Disneyworld. On Oct. 1, 1971, Disneyworld opened and EPCOT opened 11 years later in 1982.  The following year in 1983, Tokyo Disneyland opened and the Disney Channel first aired on cable.

In 1984, a new CEO took control: Michael Eisner. Under Eisner’s control, the first Disney store opened its doors and, within three years, 49 more Disney store locations popped up. These stores brought in millions of dollars in profit. The increase in money led Disney-MGM studios to build Disney’s Hollywood Studios within Walt Disney World as a tribute to Hollywood.

The last three major actions of Michael Eisner were the purchase of ABC Television Group in 1996, the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in 1998 and the opening of Disney’s California Adventures (DCA) in 2001. But despite founding DCA, Eisner did not put much money into the project, and the park featured rides such as the short-lived and wildly unpopular Superstar Limo. Eisner’s main focuses were the stores and pins, which was reflected in the countless pin stands that populated DCA before the remodel.

In 2005, Eisner was removed from the position of CEO and Bob Iger took the job. A year after Iger’s appointment, Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion dollars, acquiring the rights to movies such as “Ratatouille,” “Toy Story” and “Up.” Right after the acquisition of Pixar, Iger announced a $1.1 billion dollar budget for the redesign of DCA. This revamping made that half of Disneyland significantly more popular and brought in even more profit for the park.

Marvel Studios, the company that brought viewers “Thor,” “Iron Man” and “The Avengers,” was bought by Disney in 2009; the acquisition of Lucasfilm and its “Star Wars” franchise quickly followed. With Disney’s ownership of Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, the company established a monopoly on the entertainment industry.

In 2012, DCA received a new themed land: Cars Land, themed after the popular “Cars” movies. The land features the popular Radiator Springs’ Route 66 Main Street, the Cozy Cone Motel and Flo’s Diner; Cars Land quickly became one of the most visited areas in Disneyland. In the summer of 2019, the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opened, which features Batuus’ Blackspire Outpost. There, you can buy custom lightsabers, get a drink at Oga’s Cantina or pilot the famous Millenium Falcon. Additionally in 2019, Disney released its streaming service Disney+ for all things Disney in America, Puerto Rico, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2018, Bugs Land in DCA was closed in preparation for the addition of the new Marvel Campus, coming the summer of 2020. The Marvel Campus will only have one ride when it opens that is similar to the Midway Mania shooting game at Pixar Pier, only slightly more technologically advanced as it responds to the rider’s hand movements. The year of 2020 will also see the installation of a second ride in Galaxy’s Edge: the trackless Rise of the Resistance, which will open late due to an unfortunate misplacement of sensors. 

Disney has also expanded globally with full parks in Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo, as well as vacation resorts in Hawaii. Disney has even extended to an international cruise line, and owns its own island off the coast of Florida.

Although a world without Walt Disney is a less joyful world, Walt’s legacy lives on in the ever-expanding empire of the Walt Disney Company. Though many changes have been made over the 54 years since the fantasy mastermind’s death, Disneyland still brings joy to millions of families every year across the globe and continues to create family-friendly entertainment that is adored by parents and children alike.

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