Hidden Stories: Walt Disney: A life full of setbacks

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. constant presence / ˈkɒn stənt ˈprɛz əns / (n.) – someone or something that can always be seen or noticed in a place, event, period of time, etc.

    My grandparents were a constant presence in my childhood.

  2. from the ground up / frʌm ðə graʊnd ʌp / (idiom) – from the very start when nothing has been done yet

    David sold his company for a huge profit and built a new one from the ground up.

  3. turn down / tɜrn daʊn / (phrasal v.) – to reject or refuse someone or something

    Lisa’s really upset because her book has been turned down by five publishers.

  4. intellectual property rights / ˌɪn tlˈɛk tʃu əl ˈprɒp ər ti raɪts / (n.) – the rights given to creators over their own creations, such as books, illustrations, etc.

    My paintings are protected by intellectual property rights and cannot be used without my permission.

  5. make ends meet / meɪk ɛndz mit / (idiom) – to earn enough money to buy the things that one needs to live

    Sheila had to work two jobs just to make ends meet.


Read the text below.

With 12 Disney parks, dozens of Disney hotels, and over 85 million downloads of the Disney Tsum Tsum mobile puzzle game, it is safe to say that Disney is a constant presence in most people’s lives. But what do you know about the man who started the company?

Walt Disney was the creative genius behind the Disney company. Under his guidance, the company produced classic animated movies such as Pinocchio, Cinderella and Bambi. He also created many classic Disney characters, such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. But success didn’t come easily.

Disney formed his first animation shop, Laugh-O-Gram Studio, in 1921, but it had trouble making money and closed down. Disney started again from the ground up, founding the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in 1923 with older brother Roy. The studio was successful and led to a familiar-looking cartoon character: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, created for Universal Pictures in 1927.

Oswald was popular, but when Disney wanted more money to make the cartoons, he was turned down. Worse, he discovered that Universal owned the intellectual property rights to Oswald. So, he dropped Oswald and created a new character that looked a lot like Oswald — Mickey Mouse.

Things began to look up in the 1930s. His Snow White received praise for its new animation techniques. But Disney’s path was still a difficult one. Many of the movies we know and love, such as Fantasia, actually lost money for the company when they were first shown in cinemas. In fact, Walt and Roy had to cut their employees’ wages to make ends meet. This led to a strike of animators.

In spite of all the setbacks, Walt Disney never gave up, continuing to create animations and new ways to entertain throughout his life. (Hannah Brown)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Disney is a constant presence in most people’s lives. Do you think the company will continue to be popular in the coming years? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Disney created many classic characters, such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Why do you think Disney characters are loved by so many people all over the world? Do you have a favorite Disney character? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Many of the Disney movies we know and love actually lost money for the company when they were first shown in theaters. Why do you think that is? Do you know any other movies that are loved now but were not considered successes when they first came out (ex. Fight Club, The Shawshank Redemption)? Discuss.
  • Disney was the creative genius behind the Disney company. However, teams of talented people worked under him. Do you think Disney should be given all the credit for his company’s success? Why or why not? Discuss.