On this day in history, November 18th, 1928, the Walt Disney Company made history with the public debut of an animated short called Steam Boat Willie. It’s a cute short that introduced Mickey Mouse to the world. It was also the first time that synchronized sound was added to a cartoon rather than the a traditional piano accompaniment. The short also introduced Clarabelle Cow, and Peg leg Pete into the Disney Cast.
Here’s a link to the short if you’ve never seen it in full:
Here are three things most people don’t know about this short.
The first is that it was loosely influenced by a Buster Keaton film called “Steam Boat Bill Jr.” which came out in May of that same year. In fact, much of the stunt style and slap stick comedy used in the early Mickey Mouse shorts were influenced by Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and other comedy greats like the Keystone cops. If you have the time I’d suggest watching that film as well, it’s a piece of film history and the cornerstone of visual comedy in the film and animation world.
The second interesting fact that you might not know is that this short was also one of the main influences behind the recent short “Get a Horse” from the use of the song to many of the characters and props present in the modern short. Some of the sound was recycled. In a way the animators were bringing the animation style full circle by referencing Mickey’s first appearance in a short that tied together traditional animation and modern computer techniques.
The other thing that many people don’t know is that this isn’t actually the first time Mickey appeared on screen. His first screen appearance was to a small audience on May 15th 1928. That short was called Plane Crazy and showed Mickey building his own home made airplane in an attempt to emulate Charles Limburg, a reference that most people in todays era wouldn’t get at first site. The short didn’t have sound, but its success was the reason Walt was able to continue on to make the iconic Steam Boat Willie. So if you really think about it, this day is more of Mickey’s public debut than his birthday.
Either way, happy official birthday Mickey and happy anniversary to the short that changed the world of animation.