Steamboat Willie (1928) Director: Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
Running at seven minutes and twenty three seconds Steamboat Willie is the first animated short cartoon to feature a synchronized soundtrack to match the animation. The title is a reference to Buster Keaton’s film released the same year, entitled Steamboat Bill, Jr. and both are based on the popular song “Steamboat Bill” featured in the cartoon alongside “Turkey in the Straw.”
This classic cartoon is definitely worth watching time and again, not simply for the novelty of sound joined with moving animation, but also for its innovative production. The cartoon debuts Mickey Mouse and his hilarious high jinks as he works on a steamboat with the captain, Pete. Mickey is regularly punished and he uses other animals onboard as a means to his own end until the film closes when Pete puts him to work peeling potatoes. The film also features the introduction of Minnie Mouse.
Walt Disney was inspired to create a sound cartoon after watching The Jazz Singer (1927). Though there were other sound cartoons released throughout the mid 1920’s, Steamboat Willie was by far the most successful and popular. Disney had also made other silent cartoons prior, but they did not make as much of a splash as this film. Ub Iwerks was Disney’s animator who co-created Mickey Mouse. The budget for this short film was a mere $4,986.
In order to screen the idea of the film, Disney hosted a small viewing party for Disney employees and their wives while playing the songs and sound effects live behind a curtain. It was a huge success and this gave him the confidence to complete the project. However, the film has garnered controversy lately for the status of its copyright. Though it was intended to enter the public domain, Disney lobbied congress for an extension that now lasts until 2023.