Here are 50 things you might not know about eight of the most well-known early full-length animated feature films produced by Disney — "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Dumbo," "Bambi," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan."
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was the world's first full-length animated feature, and 4 1/2 years of work went into making a picture that nobody believed would succeed. It was called, "Disney's folly.
The film went on to become a smash hit, and laid the foundation for what has grown into a Disney empire.
Video: Watch a 1937 trailer for the film here, and a trailer for a re-release of the film below.
When money for "Snow White" began to run out, the studio brought in an executive from the Bank of America and tried to persuade him to give them more money by showing him the pencil tests of the film. In parts where the animation hadn't been completed, still pictures and sketches were presented, and Walt Disney filled in the story blanks with songs and explanations.
The banker, according to stories, watched the whole presentation impassively and didn't say anything as Disney walked him to his car. As he was getting into the car to leave, though, the bank executive said, "Oh, by the way, that thing is going to make you a pile of money."
Disney got the check.
The Great Depression helped turn Disney into what it has become. Because it was the only studio hiring during the Great Depression, artists naturally flocked to Disney, giving the studio its pick of the country's best animators.
It was a rush to the finish for "Snow White" — the film was completed 2 ½ weeks before its premiere and the studio didn't have the time or money to roll out a full advertising campaign. Instead, according to art director Ken Anderson, everyone in the studio got little placards advertising the film and blanketed the town, tacking them to telephone poles.
Walt Disney hadn't settled on the names of the dwarfs within a year of the film's release date — names like Jumpy, Baldy, Wheezy, Awful and Deafy were considered and rejected before the studio settled on Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful and Doc.
Clip: See Snow White's first meeting with the dwarfs
Actor Billy Gilbert, known for his sneezing abilities, auditioned for the role by walking into Walt Disney's office and sneezing about five times in a row. Disney said, "You've got the job."
Pinto Colvig voiced both Grumpy and Sleepy, but is perhaps best known for providing the original voice — and distinctive laugh — for the classic Disney character Goofy.
Check out Goofy's first appearance in the Disney short below:
The famous song, "When You Wish Upon a Star" was included in "Pinocchio" simply because the story needed to introduce the idea of wishing on a star, according to the DVD commentary — nobody expected the song to become a theme for the company.
According to animator Ward Kimball, people at the studio were feeling pretty cocky after "Snow White," and just started throwing "Pinocchio" together. As a result, Disney halted production about six months into the film, saying, "Scrap it. We're starting over." This is where the idea of Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio's conscience came into existence.
"Pinocchio" was the second full-length animated film released by Disney, but according to the studio's timeline, it was originally supposed to have been the third film. "Bambi" should've come out before "Pinocchio," but animating deer realistically was such a challenge that the film was pushed back and "Pinocchio" took its place.
>> Top: Walt Disney sketches two 12-week-old fawns that will act as the models for the hero and heroine of Disney's new production, "Bambi," in Hollywood, Calif., July 24, 1938.
>> Bottom: Frank Thomas, legendary Disney animator and one of Walt Disney's 'Nine Old Men,' visits with a deer in the studio.
Watch Geppetto's nightcap when he's running around trying to put out Pinocchio's fiery finger — it vanishes and reappears multiple times.
According to writer and artist Bill Peet, if the animators had used all the material they storyboarded for "Pinocchio," the movie would have lasted for two days
Walt Disney liked to include visual gags in his film, so he would offer financial incentives for them. According to the DVD commentary, a so-so gag would get you $5, a good gag would get you $10 and a full sequence idea could maybe earn you $25. Jiminy Cricket's encounter with a bubble when he and Pinocchio are searching the ocean for Geppetto is an example of one of these gags.
When Jiminy Cricket is lecturing Pinocchio about going to school rather than running off with Honest John and Gideon to become an actor, he is standing in a flower known as a Jack-in-the-pulpit. According to the film's commentary, when it comes to animation, none of the decisions in storytelling are an accident.
Walt Disney had already embarked on a revolutionary path with full-length animated films, but during "Fantasia," he toyed with two new revolutionary ideas: wafting flower scents through the audience during the Waltz of the Flowers (making the film a 4D experience) and filming the opening song — Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor — in 3D.
"Fantasia" developed from the idea of doing a Mickey Mouse short titled, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The idea was later used in the film, and Mickey Mouse got a complete redesign for the sequence, which transformed him into the familiar character the world knows today. ("Fantasia" was the first time Mickey had pupils, for example.)
Mickey was always intended for the role as the sorcerer's apprentice, but other ideas — like using Dopey for the apprentice instead — were floated at times.
The sorcerer's name in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence is Yensid, or Disney spelled backwards. According to the DVD, the sorcerer was partially modeled after Walt Disney, including the eyebrow raise, which was a classic look Disney gave whenever he was displeased with something.
Fantasia was the first film to show a flying horse, therefore becoming the film that answered (or chose the answers to) questions like: "What does a horse do with its legs when it flies?" and "What legs would a horse land on — front or back?"
Because animation is a long, expensive process, Disney animators frequently used live action reference footage to help capture realistic movements and get actions right the first time.
In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," animators used footage of a UCLA football player running and knocking over barrels to capture Mickey's trying to reach the out-of-control mop in the flooded room.
Later in the film, footage of the same live action actors used for Snow White and her prince were used to help with the animation of Hyacinth Hippo and Ben Ali Gator.
"Dumbo" was an extremely important film for Disney, because it came when the studio desperately needed a boost. "Fantasia" and "Pinocchio" had not replicated the success of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the company's new studio needed to be paid for and the war in Europe had severely impacted the market. The world was closing in on Walt Disney, according to the DVD commentary — and luckily, "Dumbo" delivered.
From the voices of the characters to the animators, "Dumbo" is full of ironic choices. Edward Brophy, the voice of the kind mouse who befriends Dumbo after the baby elephant is rejected by the mean circus elephants, was known for playing gangsters on film.
Bill Tytla, who animated the evil Stromboli in "Pinocchio" and the terrifying Chernabog in the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in "Fantasia," was responsible for the animation of the cute, floppy-eared Dumbo.
Video: See a clip of Edward Brophy in the 1939 film "Golden Boy" here
Early Disney films often featured the same voice actors, with two prolific and recognizable Disney repeats, Sterling Holloway and Verna Felton, both voicing characters in "Dumbo."
Holloway, who voiced Mr. Stork in the film, would later appear in "Bambi" (adult Flower), "Alice in Wonderland" (Cheshire Cat), "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" (Pooh) and "The Jungle Book" (Kaa the snake), among others.
Felton voiced Dumbo's mother and the mean elephant matriarch, and would later go on to voice the fairy godmother in "Cinderella," the Queen of Hearts in "Alice in Wonderland," Aunt Sarah in "Lady and the Tramp" and Flora in "Sleeping Beauty," among others.
In the original story treatment for "Dumbo," Timothy the mouse talked about why elephants are afraid of mice, explaining that in primordial times, mice were huge and elephants were tiny. Over time, the animals evolved so that mice were tiny and elephants were huge, but the elephants never forgot.
Timothy the mouse, by the way, was originally supposed to be a little red robin.
"Dumbo" was so successful that Time Magazine planned a huge feature on the movie, but those plans were wiped away when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
According to the DVD commentary, animators of the pink elephants sequence are often asked by today's animators, "What were you guys on?" implying that they would have needed the aid of substances to help them come up with the sequence.
The answer, according to the pink elephant animators, was nothing—they trained themselves to think in the ways that were necessary to produce the sequence.
"It's very hard to convince the younger generation of filmmakers that we weren't using some sort of elixir to achieve these results," the "Dumbo" animators said.
The creativity exhibited in "Dumbo" and other Disney films likely ties in part back to Walt Disney's creating what could almost be considered "master classes" for his animators, bringing in people like Salvador Dali, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Aldous Huxley to speak, collaborate and teach.
>> American film producer Walt Disney, right, of cartoon fame, poses with Spanish painter Salvador Dali at Dali's home in the small Catalan village of Cadaques, Spain, Oct. 8, 1957.
There are only about 1,000 words of dialogue in the entire film of "Bambi."
In "Bambi," the common enemy of all the animals is man, who enters a peaceful world and disrupts and destroys it. According to the movie's special features, Walt Disney wanted to turn the tables and show the hunter burned to death by the forest fire that he inadvertently started, but that idea didn't make it into the final film.
The character of Thumper developed largely through the voice casting process.
During the recording session, multiple children came into the studio and delivered the line, "Did the young prince fall down?" When young Peter Behn came in, he delivered the line just as you hear it in the movie: "DID THE YOUNG PRINCE FALL DOOOOOWN?"
According to John Lasseter, the person leading the recording session hinted, "Get that kid in the back; he can't act," but legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who were listening to the recording session, went, "No, no, no — bring that kid forward."
One of Thumper's most famous lines — "If you can't say something nice . . . don't say nothin' at all" — reflects the fact that behind the scenes, the young boy had a hard time remembering and finishing long lines.
Thumper used to have a father who played a large role in the film, but eventually filmmakers decided the rabbit family was just fine with only a mother.
One scene that was cut from the film involved Bambi accidentally swallowing a bee, which then ended up buzzing around in his stomach. The other animals would have to go to Bambi's ear to talk to the bee and his mouth to hear the bee's response.
The voice for the young Faline was provided by Cammie King Conlon, who played Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara's daughter Bonnie Blue in "Gone With the Wind."
The voice for young Bambi, Donnie Dunagan, later went on to a 25-year career in the Marine Corps, and says that one of his regrets is not telling close friends that he was part of "the wonderful work of Mr. Disney."
Dunagan says he didn't tell people about his involvement with "Bambi" because he was a battalion commander in the Marine Corps, and if he had picked up the nickname Bambi, he "would've been history."
If the movie "Cinderella" had lost money, historian Christopher Finch suggests that it would have been the end of Disney animation, or at least Disney feature animation.
The movie was a hit.
As a cost-saving device when making Cinderella, the filmmakers shot the entire film in live action, blew up the images, and traced right over them to create the animated film. Some animators liked it and others didn't, according to the film's special features.
Even though the live action shots were used as guides, however, the Disney artists didn't mindlessly trace over them — they infused them with drama, taking each image further than reality alone could take them.
"Cinderella" opens with the mellow, quiet voice of a narrator telling the story of Cinderella, her father's marriage and how she lost her father. The voice actress behind that opening also appeared in a later Disney film, but in a very different role…
Compare and contrast:
See the "Cinderella" opening here
Watch a Cruella De Vil scene from "101 Dalmatians" here
Ilene Woods recorded demos of songs for the film as a favor for some friends. Those demos were presented to Walt Disney, and he liked her voice so much that he gave her the role of Cinderella.
Walt Disney originally envisioned "Cinderella" as one of the studio's Silly Symphonies, and artists were invited to submit visual gags for that proposed short film. Some of those gags — like when the shoe flips off of Druzella's foot — survived for years and made it into the final long film.
When Disney didn't like where the short was going, though, the project was set aside. The studio returned to "Cinderella" over the years, going through numerous writers and drafts in the quest for the perfect telling of the story.
In various drafts, the role and personality of Prince Charming were expanded, Cinderella had a pet turtle named Clarissa and the stepsisters had a very grumpy singing teacher. In one version, the duke took Cinderella to the castle all dressed in rags and — to quote Walt Disney — when the prince saw her, "He doesn't give a darn what she's in."
The Disney artists struggled in coming up with the right look for Cinderella's fairy godmother. Kendall O'Connor, who was an art director and layout artists at the studio, decided to take a stab at the character. He imagined what his wife would look like when she grew older, put that design to paper and took it to Walt Disney, who approved it. O'Connor also designed Cinderella's coach.
Mary Alice O'Connor, the woman behind the fairy godmother, was something of a fairy godmother in real life, helping to create the famous Hollywood Canteen during World War II and becoming known for the service she performed throughout her life.
Walt Disney would "cast" his animators to the characters he thought would be best for them. Frank Thomas, the animator responsible for some of the most iconic scenes involving the seven dwarfs, Bambi and Pinocchio, was assigned Lady Tremaine, Cinderella's wicked stepmother. He later said that he was amazed Walt would give him that character.
The roots of "Alice in Wonderland" run deep for Walt Disney, from the one-reel film "Alice's Wonderland" produced in 1923 by Disney's first studio — Laugh-O-Gram Studio — to the Mickey Mouse cartoon "Thru the Mirror" and the subsequent work done for feature-length Alice films. Although work began moving forward on a full Alice film as early as 1933, a finished full-length animated feature film wouldn't be released until 1951.
According to bonus features on the "Alice in Wonderland" DVD, there was talk of Ginger Rogers starring in a live-action/animated Alice film, but that idea went away "very quickly."
>> Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance in a scene from the 1936 movie "Follow the Fleet" in Hollywood, Ca. in 1935.
Writer Aldous Huxley — famous for his dystopian novel, "Brave New World" — did some writing on Alice for Disney, but the filmmakers did not use his work.
According to Disney artist and historian Stacia Martin, there are more songs on screen for "Alice in Wonderland" than in any other Disney film.
For the Mad Hatter tea party scene, the animators brought in vaudeville actor Ed Wynn to perform the role of the Mad Hatter.
During the recording of that session, filmmakers said Wynn "went to town" and things happened that had never been rehearsed or written in the character's lines. They later brought Wynn back to record a "clean" version of the scene, but when it wasn't as funny as his improvised version, they scrapped the "clean" one and went with the sound that had been put down in the live action reference tape instead.
See some of the live action reference footage done for "Alice in Wonderland" below:
As with previous Disney films, filmmakers used live action reference footage to help with the animation of "Peter Pan."
Kathryn Beaumont, who played both Alice in "Alice in Wonderland" and Wendy Darling in "Peter Pan," was afraid of heights, which made the flying reference footage difficult. However, she says the live action reference for the Peter Pan character — dancer and choreographer Roland Dupree — helped her through the filming.
According to the "Peter Pan" commentary, at the time the film was made, the voice actors were more likely to record their dialogue together than they are in today's films.
Because of that, the animators recommend listening to Mr. Smee in particular when watching "Peter Pan," because the voice actor, Bill Thompson, would play off Captain Hook (Hans Conried) and the other actors regularly.
Thompson was a Disney regular, appearing in "Alice in Wonderland" (White Rabbit), "Peter Pan," "Lady and the Tramp" (Jock), "Sleeping Beauty" (King Hubert) and "The Aristocats" (Uncle Waldo).
Finding the perfect sound for Tinker Bell was a challenge; filmmakers soon discovered that chimes didn't sound right, and that bells didn't sound right either.
Eventually they found that cutting up pieces of aluminum and stringing the pieces together would give them just the right sound.
Tinker Bell has — let's face it — a bit of an attitude problem during the film. The reason why is simple, according to "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie: fairies are so small that they only have room for one emotion at a time.
The live action reference actress for Tinker Bell, Margaret Kerry, said that she would use Tinker Bell's tendency to get mad and jealous as a way to teach her own children about good behavior, choices and consequences. Nobody, she said, saw Tinker Bell becoming one of the most recognizable faces of Disney today.
Kerry also did voiceover work for the mermaids in Mermaid's Lagoon.
Animators Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston make cameos — of a sort — in the film. Kimball animated himself as the squat Lost Boy in the bear costume. Johnston is Mr. Smee, right down to the glasses and personality.
Voice actor Candy Candido provided the voice for the Indian Chief in "Peter Pan," but many people would've heard his voice before, even if they didn't know it — he was the "Angry Apple Tree" in "The Wizard of Oz."