Happy Birthday, Walt Disney | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 06.12.2001
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Happy Birthday, Walt Disney

The film producer Walt Disney was born 100 years ago today. He created cartoon figures like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and became a pioneer of animated film.


The world's most famous mouse

Mickey Mouse is an American icon. The animated mouse which Walt Disney created in the 1920s could be called America's most successful ambassador. Mickey, his cast of friends and his candy-colored world are known all over the world.

"Mickey Mouse symbolizes America just like Coca Cola does," says Andreas Platthaus, a German journalist who has written a book about Walt Disney. Disney's America, he says, is a peaceful rural place without racial conflicts. Family values rank highly and you can always count on a happy ending.

Disney is America

Movie-goers across the globe have come to identify Disney with America. But it's not only the scenes and the stories which are so typically American. The way Walt Disney commercialized his creations can also be called a typically American example of entrepreneurship.

Part of that commercial success can even be traced to Germany. Shortly after the first Mickey Mouse films were shown in German theaters at the end of the 1920s, German toy manufacturers started producing Mickey figurines.

When Walt Disney found out about these early cases of product piracy, he took the German toy makers to court. Disney won and he invested the money he received from this copyright case into making new and better movies.

"I don't make films to make money, I make money to make better films"

Disney was a dedicated innovator. In 1928, he produced the Mickey Mouse film "Steamboat Willie" - it was the first animated film with sound. In those early days of "talking pictures", many Hollywood directors and producers were still debating the general value of sound movies.

When audiences first saw "Steamboat Willie", they were electrified: never before had they seen animated creatures that could talk, sing and play instruments. What they had indeed witnessed, was an early example of Disney magic.

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