November 18, 1928: Steamboat Willie is released. Distributed by Celebrity Productions, the black-and-white short ran for 7:16 minutes. It is considered to be Mickey Mouse’s debut as well as Minnie Mouse’s. Although they both appeared in a preview a few months prior, this is their big production. Steamboat Willie was directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks who also created the story line. It was voiced by Walt Disney and music was provided by Wilfred Jackson and Bert Lewis. Animation was by Iwerks, Jackson, and Les Clark.
It is the first cartoon with synchronized sound. It was the first cartoon to have a post-production soundtrack added which was far different from previous cartoons with a sound track. In addition, it was quite popular. The short is a parody of Buster Keaton’s film, Steamboat Bill Jr. also produced in 1928. That was a reference to the song, “Steamboat Bill,” by Arthur Collins and produced in 1911.
The cartoon s shows Mickey as a pilot of a steamboat whistling Collin’s song. It appears that Mickey is the captain and all goes well until the real captain appears. Mickey is banished from the bridge and falls down a flight of steps after slipping on soap. A parrot makes fun of him and Mickey throws a bucket of water at the bird. The boat stops to pick up cargo and Minnie has to run to catch the boat before it leaves the dock. Again, a slapstick chain of events follows. Mickey gets in trouble and is sent to peel potatoes and the parrot ends up in a pan of water. The cartoon ends with Mickey laughing as the bird struggles in the water.
The cartoon today takes some heat because of its cruelty to animals. However, it has also received critical acclaim. Part of this is due to introducing one of the world’s most popular characters, but it is also due to innovations evident in the film. Steamboat Willie is 13th among The 50 Greatest Cartoons as voted by members of those working in animation in 1994. In 1998 it was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry.
“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.”
“Animation offers a medium of story telling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world.”
“I am not influenced by the techniques or fashions of any other motion picture company.”
“I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.” – all from Walt Disney
Also on this day:
Jonestown – In 1978, a mass suicide takes place in Jonestown, when 913 of Jim Jones’s followers kill themselves.
Great Shot – In 1307, William Tell shot an apple from his son’s head, according to legend.