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The Cat's Eye

The Cat's Eye

The Cat's Eye

Steamboat Willie enters public domain

The official Steamboat Willie poster released in theaters in 1928. Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios. Image is public domain.

Disney is famous for its animated character Mickey Mouse. However, there were many characters before Mickey that represented the Disney franchise. The very first character shown by Disney was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The character had big ears and overalls similar to Mickey, but in 1927, Mickey wasn’t even an idea in Walt’s mind.

By 1928, Walt Disney changed Oswald into a mouse character, keeping many of the same features as the original concept art. Also released in 1928, the first sound movie, “The Jazz Singer,” was released and was a big hit.

Walt was inspired by this film and created his own, starring Mickey Mouse as a riverboat captain named “Steamboat Willie.” This was technically not the first reveal of both Minnie and Mickey Mouse. The characters were in two other films beforehand; however, because it was one of the first animated short films to incorporate synchronized sound and animation, this was the first film people recognized Mickey and Minnie in.

Though it was not the first it was the most notable film. The first synchronized films were by Dave and Max FLeischer’s Inkwell Studios. The Studio produced a Car-Tunes series. Disney was groundbreaking because while Inkwell Studios was mostly synchronized it was not perfect meanwhile, Disney was.

Disney used a click track to cue the musicians and keep them on time. The film was the first of its kind to be perfected.

According to National Public Radio, “New versions of Mickey Mouse remain under copyright.”

Disney was able to keep Steamboat Willie copyrighted for 95 years but after many compromises with the copyright group, it was released into the public domain. Disney was even able to extend their copyright. The character was originally supposed to be released in 1984.

According to Time Magazine, “Many lawmakers agreed, and in 1976 the law was changed to allow owners to retain copyright protections for the duration of the life of the author plus an additional 50 years.”

Steamboat Willie now joins the short list of Disney characters in the public domain. This list includes Winnie-The-Pooh, Sherlock Holmes, and Robin Hood. In the past as soon as the Disney company’s famous stuffed bear Winnie-The-Pooh entered into the public domain the character was adapted for horror movies for Jagged Edge Productions in association with ITN Studios.

The iconic intro to most films features pages flipping over Steamboat Willie until it becomes a clear animation. This is to tie back to the fact that up until 2009 all of Disney’s films were hand-drawn. Their last hand-drawn film was “Princess and The Frog.”

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About the Contributor
Taylor Birdwell
Taylor Birdwell is a Senior at RCHS. This is her second year in journalism. She is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for the school newspaper The Cats Eye. She enjoys Journalism for the fact she can expand her writing skills and be more involved with school activities. While not working on the paper Birdwell enjoys art, reading, theater and music.

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