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EXPLORE Walt Disney

In 1966, the year Walt Disney died, 240 million people saw a Disney movie, 100 million tuned in to a Disney television program, 80 million bought Disney merchandise, and close to seven million visited Disneyland. Few creative figures before or since have held such a long-lasting place in American life and popular culture.

From Steamboat Willie to Pinocchio to Mary Poppins, Disney’s movies grew out of his own life experiences. He told stories of outsiders struggling for acceptance and belonging, while questioning the conventions of class and authority. As Disney rose to prominence and gained financial security, his work became increasingly celebratory of the American way of life that made his unlikely success possible. Yet despite the success he achieved, he was driven and restless, a demanding perfectionist on whom decades of relentless work and chain-smoking would take their toll. 

A polarizing figure — though true believers vastly outnumber his critics — Disney’s achievements are indisputable. He created one of the most beloved cartoon characters in history, Mickey Mouse; conceived the first-ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; pioneered the integration of media and marketing with thousands of branded products; and conceived Disneyland, the world’s first theme park and a three-dimensional realization of his own utopian universe.

The NEH-funded PBS American Experience documentary Walt Disney offers an unprecedented look at the life and legacy of one of America’s most enduring and influential storytellers with rare footage from the Disney archives, scenes from some of his greatest films, and interviews with biographers and historians, animators and artists who worked on Snow White and other early films, and designers who helped create Disneyland.