Off to the Oscars We Go: The History of Animated Features & the Academy Awards

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When it premiered back in 1928, Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie was a near-overnight success. As the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to make it to theaters, the short film is responsible for launching the empire that would make Disney a household name. In the years that followed, Disney and his studio produced more Mickey pictures as well as a series of shorts that didn’t feature a single recurring character, the Silly Symphonies. Disney’s shorts started as black-and-white cartoons with sound effects and voices synchronized perfectly to the images. By 1932, the studios added color to their pictures; an incredible, realistic sense of depth (thanks to a snazzy device called the multiplane camera); and original songs and music.

At the fifth annual Academy Awards, Best Animated Short Film became a category. Disney’s first all-color short, Flowers and Trees (1932), nabbed the Oscar, kicking off an eight-year winning streak for The Walt Disney Studios. But this was also the Great Depression era: If folks had money to spend on entertainment, they were going to see double features, and maybe, just maybe, catch a short film before those feature-length ones. Part wise business decision, part creative exercise, Disney devoted much of the Studios’ time and resources toward the production of Hollywood’s first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).