Disney Eras,  Entertainment,  Film

The Golden Age: The Birth of Disney Animated Feature Films

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

The Golden Age was the era between 1937 and 1942 that put Walt Disney Productions on the international map and proved that animation could go farther than just 5-minute gag reels. This era includes the following films: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. These films made a huge impact on the film industry and set Disney up for future success.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The Golden Age began with Walt Disney Productions first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film depicts a young princess who is exiled into the woods by her evil stepmother and rescued by seven dwarfes who make her a part of their household.

The film was a critical and commercial success making $418 million (including re-releases over the years since). It made $8 million during its initial release against a $1.5 million budget. The film was nominated for Best Musical Score at the 1938 Academy Awards. 

This first feature-length animated film paved the way for others that were released later on in the 1950s and beyond.

Pinocchio (1940)

The second film to come out of the Golden Age was Pinocchio. The film follows a wood carver named Gepetto who carves a wooden puppet named Pinocchio. He is brought to life by a Blue Fairy and tell him he can become a real boy only if he proves himself to be “brave, truthful, and unselfish.” 

The groundbreaking film made achievements in the area of effects animation, giving realistic movements to machinery, vehicles, and natural elements such as rain, lightning, smoke, shadows, and water. It won two Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Original Song for When You Wish Upon a Star.

Unfortunately, it bombed at the box office due to World War II cutting off European and Asian markets overseas.

In April of 2015, a live-action adaptation directed by Robert Zemeckis officially entered development and filming began in March of this year.

Fantasia (1940)

The third film to come out of the Golden Age was Fantasia. The film includes 8 animated sequences set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, 7 of the sequences are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The soundtrack was recorded using multiple audio channels and and reproduced with Fantasound, a pioneering sound system that was developed by Disney and the Radio Corporation of America aka the RCA. It was the first commercial film to be shown in stereo and a precursor to surround sound that we have today.

It became critically acclaimed and was seen by some critics as a masterpiece. It made an estimated $76.4-83.3 million in the box office against a $2.28 million budget. Fantasia was first released as a theatrical roadshow across the United States between 1940 and 1941.

Dumbo (1941)

The fourth film to come out of the Golden Age was Dumbo. The film focuses on an elephant named Jumbo Jr. who is ridiculed for having large ears but learns to accept his flaws along with the help of his friend Timothy, a mouse.

The film utilized watercolor to render the backgrounds. It is one of the few films to use this technique. Other Disney films used gouache and oil paint.

The film is 64 minutes long which makes it one of Disney’s shortest animated feature-length films. It made $1.3 million against a $950 thousand budget which could be seen as a flop today. Dumbo didn’t require the special effects that Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi did which significantly increased their budgets.

Bambi (1942)

The fifth film to come of the Golden Age is Bambi. The film follows a deer named Bambi and his adventures with his friends Thumper (a bunny rabbit) and Flower (a skunk) while learning to adapt on his own and grow up.

The film received 3 Academy Award nominations: 1 for Best Sound, 1 for Best Song (for Love is a Song sung by Donald Novis), and 1 for Original Music Score.

With a budget of $858,000, the film made $267.4 million (including re-releases). It received mixed reviews from critics at the time of its release. Now, it is viewed as one of the greatest animated films ever made.

Time to Wrap It Up

Disney’s Golden Age paved the way for many of the films that we love today and heavily impacted the film industry. These films change the way many saw animation and realized that beautiful things can be made using it. Walt Disney and his team elevated hand-drawn animation by using life-like movements, multiplane camera effects, and groundbreaking surround sound.

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