It all started with a mouse part 3: 1940-1941

Read part one here and part two here.

(If you click on the film titles it will take you to the films trailer or clip)

In this third part of the disney timeline I will be going though the years 1940 and 1941 in these years disney released four films in these years. These are Pinocchio, Fantasia, The reluctant dragon and Dumbo. The first of the films we are going to be driving in to is Pinocchio.

Pinocchio – 1940


When Walt decided to make Pinocchio in to a film he set out to surpass the success of Snow White. The cost was no object as Walt poured a sizeable portion of the Snow White profit in to the new movie. The storybook setting inspired much intricate detail in the film’s production design. Sculptors crafted three dimensional models of the characters and many of the props including the pleasure island stagecoach, stromboil’s birdcage and the ribcage of monstro the whale.

The main challenge was Pinocchio himself. Trying to reflect the character as portrayed in the original book by Cario Collodi, Disney’s first version of the wooden puppet was a sticklike and unsympathetic delinquent with hands like paddles and a cocky personality.


However in February 1939 animator Milt Kahl designed a cute and rounded character.

Pinocchio Stat - Early

Once he was drawn it was only a simple matter to add the wooden joints and nails to make him a puppet. In creating Pinocchio Walt wanted his artist to capture the movements of an actual wooden puppet. Wah Ming Chang, Charles Cristadoro and Bob Jones crafted a 3D model of Pinocchio and Bob Jones also created a fully functional Pinocchio to help publicise the film.


After creating Pinocchio it was time to make Jiminy Cricket. Walt turned to animator Ward Kimball to design a cute cricket. Jiminy Cricket wasn’t introduced into the story until nine months into the production. As in the original book Pinocchio killed Jiminy (who was only known as talking cricket) by throwing a mallet at him.


After 14 or so different versions the artist finally eliminated all insect appendages and come up with a tiny bald man – like character wearing a tailcoat suggesting folded wings and with two hairs acting as antennae’s.7430b635ae74f2e17d01165cf232bf4e

At the time of it’s release it was the most elaborate animated movie ever. Initially, Pinocchio was not a box-office success. The box office returns from the film’s initial release were both below Snow White’s unprecedented success and below studio expectations. Of the film’s $2.289 million negative cost – twice the cost of Snow White – Disney only recouped $1 million by late 1940, with studio reports of the film’s final original box office take varying between $1.4 million and $1.9 million.Many film historians consider this to be the film that most closely approaches technical perfection of all the Disney animated features. Film critic Leonard Maltin said, “with Pinocchio, Disney reached not only the height of his powers, but the apex of what many critics consider to be the realm of the animated cartoon.” Despite its initial struggles at the box office, a series of reissues in the years after World War II proved more successful, and allowed the film to turn a profit. By 1973, the film had earned $13 million from the initial 1940 release and four reissues;further reissues in subsequent years have brought Pinocchio’s lifetime gross to $84,254,167 at the box office.

Pinocchio was the first animated film to win an academy award in a competitive category.winning two for Best Music, Original Score and for Best Music, Original Song for “When You Wish Upon A Star”

Fun facts:

  • In 2003 the marionette of Pinocchio was discovered in near perfect condition in a homemade plywood cabinet (which had been covered by telephone cables over the years) built in to the basement at walt disney studio in burbank. Today the priceless figure has a new home in disney’s animation research library.
  • Figaro was Walts favourite character. He pushed for the kitten to appear in the film as much as possible. After the film Disney swapped Minnie Mouse’s little cocker spaniel with Figaro


  • During the musical number “when you wish upon a star” when a spotlight is seen on Jiminy Cricket you can see two books to the left of the screen which are peter pan and alice in wonderland.screenshot-2014-04-03-20-11-36.png

Fantasia -1940


Fantasia began in late 1937 with a chance meeting at a beverly hills restaurant between Walt and famed conductor Leopold Stokowski. Walt mentioned that he was considering “the sorcerer’s apprentice” as a deluxe short to star mickey mouse. Stokowski offered to conduct the music. This soon evolved into an entire feature consisting of classical pieces as interpreted by the disney artist. Walt and his artist meet regularly with Stokowski and listened to the world’s most acclaimed classical music. They final settled on seven pieces of music. Some of these include:

  • ‘The dance of the hour’ featuring hippos and croc’s in a ballet


  • ‘The nutcracker suite’ featuring the comical mushroom from the chinese dance


  • ‘pastoral symphony’ which is interpreted as a life in mythical ancient greece. It features centaurs frolicking in the shadow of mount olympus.


The animation effects artists animated both the real and the fantastical including bubbling lava, delicate sprites and intricate snowflakes.


Fantasia was first released in theatrical roadshow engagements held in thirteen U.S. cities from November 13, 1940. While acclaimed by critics, it was unable to make a profit due to World War II cutting off distribution to the European market, the film’s high production costs. The film was subsequently reissued multiple times with its original footage and audio being deleted, modified, or restored in each version. As of 2012, Fantasia has grossed $76.4 million in domestic revenue and is the 22nd highest-grossing film of all time in the U.S. when adjusted for inflation. Fantasia, as a franchise, has grown to include video games, Disneyland attractions and a live concert. Fantasia was honoured with a special academy award for its sound, which recognised fantasia as a work that widened the scope of motion picture as an art form.

Fun Facts:

  • Walt had intended to turn fantasia into a ongoing event re releasing it every year with new segments. His vision was finally realised in late 1999 with Fantasia/2000.
  • The only Walt Disney animated film that reaches the two hour mark.
  • yen sid (the sorcerer in the sorcerer’s apprentice) is Disney spelled backwards.

The reluctant dragon – 1941


The Reluctant Dragon is a live action and animated film produced by Walt Disney, directed by Alfred Werker.The first twenty minutes of the film are in grayscale and black-and-white, the remainder is in Technicolor. Most of the film is live-action, with four short animated segments inserted into the running time.The film was released in the middle of the Disney animators’ strike of 1941. Strikers picketed the film’s premiere with signs that attacked Disney for unfair business practices, low pay, lack of recognition, and favoritism. At one theater, sympathizers paraded down the street wearing a “dragon costume bearing the legend ‘The Reluctant Disney'”. Critics and audiences were put off by the fact that the film was not a new Disney animated feature in the vein of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio, but essentially a collection of four short cartoons and various live-action vignettes. The Reluctant Dragon cost $600,000 to make, but returned only $400,000 from the box office.


Dumbo – 1941


In 1940 Walt stopped Ward Kimball in the studio car park to tell him a story of an outcast elephant with oversized ears. Kimball instantly knew that it would make a heartwarming story.Dumbo was made to recoup the financial losses of Fantasia. It was a deliberate pursuit of simplicity and economy for the Disney studio, and at 64 minutes, it is one of Disney’s shortest animated features.

To create the colourful circus backdrop Walt turned to the big top aficionados Bill Peet (story artist) and Herb Ryman (pre production) who had both painted circus scenes.


Many were surprised when Walt assigned Bill Tytla as directing animator as Bill was best known for animating powerful characters such as the demonic chernabag in Fantasia. Bill shut himself in his office for two weeks and emerged with the charming little character, whose sincere expressions and mannerisms the animator had observed in his own two year old son.

Disney artists came up with the idea of a mouse (who is traditionally seen as an elephants enemy) as Dumbos best pal. Timothy the mouse talked enough for both himself and the voiceless Dumbo. However the artists had trouble finding the perfect voice for Timothy. That was until Walt gave them the advise to simply look for some one who made them laugh. They casted Hollywood character actor Ed Brophy, well known for playing comical crooks.

Despite the advent of World War II, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 1940s. After its October 23 release, Dumbo proved to be a financial miracle compared to other Disney films. The simple film only cost $950,000 to produce, half the cost of Snow White, less than a third of the cost of Pinocchio, and certainly less than the expensive Fantasia. Dumbo eventually grossed $1.6 million during its original release; it and Snow White were the only two pre-1943 Disney features to turn a profit. The film was re-released in theaters in 1949, 1959, 1972, and 1976.

Dumbo won the 1941 Academy Award for Original Music Score, awarded to musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington were also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song for “Baby Mine” (the song that plays during Dumbo’s visit to his mother’s cell), but did not win for this category.The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.

Fun Facts:

  • One of the films highlights is the brilliantly conceived “pink elephants on parade” sequence. years ahead of its time in colour, form and surreal imagery.
  • Mrs Jumbo (dumbo’s mother) only speaks once when she says Dumbo’s name.
  • Dumbo is the first protagonist in a Disney animated film to have no spoken dialogue.


Well thats all for this third part. In the next part I will be going though the years 1942 to 1946. These years include the films Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make mine music and the song of the south. Hope you enjoyed this part and cant wait for the next one.

Thanks for reading


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