With Walt Before Mickey, KVibe’s first full-length feature film directed by founder Khoa Le, still currently playing in theaters, we thought it’d be the perfect time to take a look at what inspired Disney.
He, himself, was known as a great motivator, and there are numerous stories about his ideas being first met with doubt before he was able to work his magic and get everyone on board.
But not many know what inspired the great inspirer. What lit the fire in him that made him so passionate and persuasive with his ideas? Let’s take a closer look…
The first source of inspiration wasn’t a what but a who.
Walter Pfeiffer was a childhood friend of Disney’s whom he had met when he and his family moved from Chicago to Kansas City. The Pfeiffer family lived three houses from the Disneys.
The young Walt often spent most of his free time at the Pfeiffer household and they were basically like his second family, but it was the Pfeiffer’s support for Disney’s and their own Walt’s interest in entertainment and show business that would serve as an inspiration for the young icon-to-be for the rest of his life.
The two kids both aspired to be performers on stage someday and created a vaudeville act for the neighborhood kids, dubbing themselves “The Two Walts,” with Pfeiffer’s father helping coach them and his sister playing the piano while the two Walts sang and did other acts. Disney even did an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin and the pair’s act appeared at local amateur theater nights and won several prizes.
Later on in 1920, when Disney and Ubbe Iwwerks were trying to start their own studio, the Pfeiffer’s support would again inspire Disney as Mr. Pfeiffer used his union connections to get the pair a project requiring them to draft the letterhead for the Leather Workers Journal and create the cover for an upcoming issue.
Disney and Iwwerks were able to move out of the space they were using into their own space with the money they earned, and although the pair quickly disbanded before reuniting later, the series of events led to Disney’s introduction to animation.
More importantly, Disney would never forget the Pfeiffer family’s support and it would serve as a source of inspiration for him for years to come.
Kansas City’s Electric Park lit a lightbulb in Disney’s mind.
Another huge source of inspiration for Walt Disney was an amusement park in Kansas City that a young Walt and his little sister would become regular visitors of when their family moved there from Chicago.
Electric Park was located just 15 blocks from their new home and from the moment Disney first saw it, with its acres of pavilions and towers around a large lake, all outlined in bright white lights, he dreamed of recreating his experience of first seeing and entering the magical realm for others.
It looked like a city straight from a fairy tale and had beaches, a roller coaster, a log flume ride, restaurants, music halls, pony rides, a huge fountain in the lake where young women donning Greek costumes posed in colored lights, and a miniature train that ran in a continuous loop around the park.
Disney would go on to incorporate many of Electric Park’s features into his Disneyland plans, including the train and the fireworks at closing time as well as the park’s meticulously maintained grounds and landscaping.
Electric Park was in operation in Kansas City for nearly 30 years and didn’t just serve as inspiration for Disneyland but also inspired Disney to continue to try to bring magic into people’s lives any way he could, and he would never stop doing just that for the rest of his life.
Disney was inspired by “what was around.”
In Walt before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928 by Timothy S. Susanin, the book Walt Before Mickey is based on, Virginia Davis, the child star of Disney’s animated series of Alice Comedies, recalled that Disney, “would be inspired by what was around.”
While that sounds simple enough, it says something about his general disposition toward inspiration. Part of what made Disney such an inspiring motivator was his ability to find inspiration at any moment from almost any source. You could say he was particularly susceptible to being inspired and Davis’ story about the making of Alice’s Day at Sea is a perfect testament to that notion.
When Walt first moved to Los Angeles, he stayed at his uncle, Robert Disney’s home. The house is believed to be the house used as Alice’s home in Day at Sea and his uncle’s household dog, a Germen shepherd named Peggy, would also go on to have a role in the film.
Peggy appeared in the opening as well as the remainder of live-action segments of the piece along with Virginia, who believed that Walt was inspired to put the dog in the film simply because it was around set and she got along with it well.
On top of that, Disney probably did it to save money, but the point is, as Davis said of Disney, “He would spin his stories around what was available.”
Disney had an ability to find inspiration in the little things and from the most unexpected places, and to then turn those initial sparks into fully fledged characters, stories, and projects.
We all need to be inspired sometimes.
The bottom line is that, just like all of us, even a legendary motivator like Disney needed some inspiration of his own every now and then, and his ability to be open to being inspired at any moment, from anywhere or anything, is what made him such a successful dreamer.
To learn more about Disney, particularly his early life and career, check to see if Walt Before Mickey is playing at a theater near you here or visit the official movie site to pre-order a DVD copy of the film.
And if you haven’t yet, check out the trailer below:
About Us: KVibe Productions is a leading film & video production company in NJ / NY. We can handle every aspect of production, whether it’s a corporate video production, a commercial, a feature film, etc., and at KVibe, we create to inspire.