The Disney Cartoon That Introduced Mickey Mouse & Animation with Sound (1928)

In 1927, The Jazz Singer star­ring Al Jol­son, one of the first great “talkies” to use syn­chro­nized singing and speech, hit Amer­i­can the­aters and thrilled audi­ences. Know­ing that change was afoot, Walt Dis­ney spent $4,986 to cre­ate his first sound car­toon, Steam­boat Willie (1928). Remem­ber­ing the film many years lat­er, Dis­ney said:

The effect on our lit­tle audi­ence was noth­ing less than elec­tric. They respond­ed almost instinc­tive­ly to this union of sound and motion. I thought they were kid­ding me. So they put me in the audi­ence and ran the action again. It was ter­ri­ble, but it was won­der­ful! And it was some­thing new!

These tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions make Steam­boat Willie rather leg­endary. But the film retains land­mark sta­tus for anoth­er rea­son. It marked the first pub­lic debut of Mick­ey Mouse and his girl­friend Min­nie, two of the most rec­og­nized car­toon char­ac­ters world­wide. Ub Iwerks, the cel­e­brat­ed Dis­ney ani­ma­tor, first brought Mick­ey to life, and we have been liv­ing with him ever since — although, as you will see, his per­son­al­i­ty has soft­ened over time.

You can see Mick­ey star­ring in two oth­er ear­ly ani­ma­tions: Plane Crazy (1929) where the Mouse imi­tates Amer­i­ca’s hero at the time, Charles Lind­bergh. And The Gal­lopin’ Gau­cho, anoth­er 1928 release.

Steam­boat Willie appears in the Ani­ma­tion Sec­tion of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Walt Dis­ney Car­toons Are Made

The Mak­ing of a Nazi: Disney’s 1943 Ani­mat­ed Short

Des­ti­no: The Sal­vador Dalí – Dis­ney Col­lab­o­ra­tion 57 Years in the Mak­ing

Ger­tie the Dinosaur: The Moth­er of all Car­toon Char­ac­ters

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