Young Walt Disney – Walt Before Mickey

It has truly been an incredible opportunity for us to be a part of telling the story of such an American icon as Walt Disney. We’ve all grown up with the legend of The Walt Disney Company whether it be through the movies, television, theme parks, stuffed toys and the countless spin off companies today including sports and news.

Some of us who are a little older even grew up watching and seemingly knowing “Uncle Walt” as he appeared on television and sometimes film giving us little life lessons, tours of disney land, interviews etc.

However, most of us had never seen the beginnings of his life. Where did he come from? What was he like? How did he become the legend that we know today?

Walt & Ruth Disney

Walt & Ruth Disney

Walt’s family was from Ireland originally but immigrated to America living in parts of Canada and Chicago. His father was a part of the gold rush before he finally settled on that little farm in Marceline, Missouri. Of course, that only lasted for about four years and then the family picked up and left for Kansas City, where the Walt we know and love got his start. He was fascinated by animation. Of course, life also got in the way at times and his family needed money. So, Walt and Roy took up a paper route at very young ages and began to work early in the morning before school delivering papers and then again after school to right before supper. Often this left Walt dozing off in class due to the sheer exhaustion from having to keep those long hours.

Walt Disney in 1912

Walt Disney and his fellow Newsboys – 1912

Despite his lack of participation in class due to his busy “extra curricular” schedule, Walt still seemed to foster his love for drawing and kept his sights on his dream. In his teens, Walt’s family moved back to the big city of Chicago where his father had acquired shares in a company there.

While in high school, Walt became the cartoonist for the school newspaper and began taking night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. He started to learn the latest techniques. Soon, however, the War came calling and Walt wanted to join, so he dropped out of school at sixteen to join the War. He was, of course, rejected for being underage but he and a friend ended up joining the ambulance corp and were shipped to France for a year.

When he returned, Walt moved back to Kansas City where he began his artistic career. He originally thought he’d become an actor but no one would hire him. He tried driving an ambulance but no one would hire him there either. Thanks to his brother, Roy, Walt was able to get a job at the Pesmen-Ruben studio and the rest, as they say, is history.

Young Walt Disney

Young Walt Disney – circa 1917

After a short stint at Penmen, Walt met Ub Iwerks and they formed a bond that would last right until the day that Walt passed away. This is really where the magic started and where Walt Before Mickey – the film, will take you; inside all of the failures and triumphs, the aches and pains, the love and hardships and eventual history that was to be made; the partnerships, the players and rising against the odds to realize a dream that was a young lifetime in the making.

Walt Before Mickey has had a similar journey.

From just a crazy idea, to gathering the right people, to adding an incredible amount of determination and know how, a lot of love and hard work, this movie made its own journey. A journey that will culminate in the opening on August 14th at AMC Theaters Downtown Disney itself. How fitting. We’ll also be at SilverSpot Cinemas in Coconut Creek and Bow Tie Cinemas up in the NY/NJ area.

I wonder if Walt, all those years back then, knew just how big his dream would become and that we would be telling stories about him all these years later. So many people affected. Such a worldly presence. A man and a company that means so much to so many. Mickey Mouse, Oswald The Rabbit, The Alice Comedy Series, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs… and on and on. Perhaps he knew what he was doing? Perhaps he knew what he was creating?

Walt-Disney - 1922

Walt Disney – 1922

The executive producers (Armando and Arthur), the cast, crew and production team definitely knew how special this opportunity was for all of us. We knew how important it would be to tell the best story possible and just like Walt, do it under financial constraints and adversity. Like Walt, we persevered and made it through to the finish line. It’s a feat that we are all extremely proud of.

Now, here’s hoping that all of you will go see it and feel the same way that we do about the film.

“A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

Dream big!

Visit us at and Follow Khoa and I as we take you on our continued journey into independent filmmaking.

Don’t forget, next up for us is Brandini – The Film, a story about a young man who sacrifices his family, his friends, his livelihood and love in order to follow his heart.

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1 Comment

  1. Virginia Freed Carmichael says:

    Hi Donn, Do you know how long “Life Before Disney” will be playing in Orlando at the AMC theater? I think you said it starts Aug 14th. Don’t want to miss it but can’t go that day. Thanks.

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