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Steamboat Willie
Mickey Mouse series

Steamboat Willie title card, featuring Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse
Directed by Ub Iwerks
Walt Disney
Produced by Walt Disney
Story by Walt Disney
Ub Iwerks
Voices by Walt Disney
Animation by Ub Iwerks
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by Celebrity Productions
Release date(s) November 18, 1928
Color process Black and white (Film) / Redrawn Colorized (TV)
Running time 7 min (one reel)
Language English

Steamboat Willie (1928) is an animated cartoon released on November 18, 1928. It was the third Mickey Mouse cartoon, behind Plane Crazy (released six months earlier) and The Gallopin' Gaucho (made earlier, but released after). It was the first Disney cartoon to feature synchronized sound.[1] Disney used Pat Powers' Cinephone system, created by Powers using Lee De Forest's Phonofilm system without giving De Forest any credit. Steamboat Willie premiered at New York's 79th Street Theatre,[2] and played ahead of the independent feature film Gang War. Steamboat Willie was an immediate hit while Gang War is all but forgotten today.

The cartoon was written and directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. The title is a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr. Music for Steamboat Willie was put together by Wilfred Jackson, one of Disney's animators — not, as sometimes reported, by Carl Stalling — and comprises popular melodies including "Steamboat Bill" and "Turkey in the Straw".

It is noted in the history books as the first animated short feature film with a completely post-produced soundtrack of music, dialogue, and sound effects, although other cartoons with synchronized soundtracks had been exhibited before, notably by Max Fleischer's series Song Car-Tunes made in DeForest Phonofilm starting in May 1924, including My Old Kentucky Home (1926), and Paul Terry's Dinner Time (released September 1, 1928).

The film has been the center of a variety of controversies regarding copyright. The copyright of the film has been repeatedly extended by acts of the United States Congress. However, recent evidence suggests that the film may be in the public domain due to technicalities related to the original copyright notice.

The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, maintained by the Library of Congress. In 1994, it was voted #13 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.

Contents

Censorship

A full 30 seconds of scenes of what might be considered cruelty to animals have been removed from several versions of Steamboat Willie, including Mickey pulling a cat's tail and then swinging the cat by the tail above his head, picking up a nursing sow and "playing" her babies like an accordion keyboard, and using a goose as bagpipes.[3] On or before October, 2008 however, Disney seems to have moved toward honoring historical accuracy by showing the original, in its entirety, on the "Cartoon" channel offered in the rooms of Disney World resort hotels. Also, when Pete throws Mickey off the bridge, Mickey blows a big "raspberry" sound at Pete from behind, Pete wheels around, but Mickey waves his hands behind his rear to give the impression it was flatulence.

In June 1927, producer Pat Powers made an unsuccessful takeover bid for Lee DeForest's Phonofilm Corporation. In the aftermath, Powers hired a former DeForest technician, William Garrity, to produce a cloned version of the Phonofilm system, which Powers dubbed "Powers Cinephone." By now, DeForest was in too weak a financial position to mount a legal challenge against Powers for patent infringement. Powers convinced Disney to use Cinephone for a few sound cartoons such as Steamboat Willie, The Gallopin' Gaucho, and Plane Crazy (all 1928) before Powers and Disney had a falling-out over money — and over Powers hiring away Disney animator Ub Iwerks — in 1930.

Copyright

The film has been the center of some attention regarding the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act passed in the United States. Steamboat Willie has been close to entering the public domain in the United States several times. Each time, copyright protection in the United States has been extended. It could have entered public domain in 4 different years; first in 1956, renewed to 1984, then to 2003 by the Copyright Act of 1976, and finally to the current public domain date of 2023 by the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The U.S. copyright on Steamboat Willie will be in effect through 2023 unless there is another change of the law.

Many people have claimed that these extensions were a response by the U.S. Congress to extensive lobbying by Disney. Others claim that the copyright extensions that Congress has passed in recent decades have followed extensions in international copyright conventions to which the United States is a signatory. (See US Copyright Law, Universal Copyright Convention, and Berne Convention.)

In the 1990s, former Disney researcher Gregory S. Brown determined that the film was likely in the public domain in the United States already due to errors in the original copyright formulation.[4] In particular, the original film's copyright notice had two additional names between Disney and the copyright statement. Thus, under the rules of the Copyright Act of 1909, all copyright claims would be null.[4] Arizona State University professor Dennis Karjala suggested that one of his law school students look into Brown's claim, as a class project. Lauren Vanpelt took up the challenge and produced a paper agreeing with Brown's claim. She posted her project on the Web in 1999.[5] Disney later threatened to sue a Georgetown University law student who wrote a paper confirming Brown's claims.[4][6]

DVD release

Steamboat Willie has been released uncut as part of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD collections twice:

  • Disc One of Mickey Mouse in Black and White.
  • Disc Two of The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, as part of a tribute to animator Ub Iwerks.

It was also released on a DVD titled "Vintage Mickey" which is a small collection of black and white Mickey cartoons.

On Disc 2 of the Diamond Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the short appears as an example of how sound was first produced, with the short being presented in HD.

Video games

Steamboat Willie was the basis for, and title of, the first level in the game Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse for Super Nintendo, Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega CD and PlayStation (as Mickey's Wild Adventure). Save for Mickey Mouse himself and collectible items, the entire level remains black and white initially, though color is gradually added as the level progresses. In the Sega CD and PlayStation versions of the game, the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey returns in the penultimate level along with the other featured Mickeys to help defeat Pete.

A Steamboat Willie-themed world named Timeless River is featured in the Disney/Square Enix video game Kingdom Hearts II, featuring appropriately "period" versions of the familiar characters.

See also

References

  1. ^ Disneyshorts.org
  2. ^ 1519 Second Avenue at 79th Street, now the synagogue Temple Sharaay Tefila. By 1941 it had been renamed the Colony Theater.
  3. ^ Disney Shorts - Steamboat Willie
  4. ^ a b c Menn, Joseph (2008-08-23). "Disney's rights to young Mickey Mouse may be wrong". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/p/2008/aug/22/business/fi-mickey22. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  5. ^ Vanpelt, Lauren (Spring 1999). "Mickey Mouse -- A Truly Public Character". http://www.public.asu.edu/~dkarjala/publicdomain/Vanpelt-s99.html. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  6. ^ Hedenkamp, Douglas A.. "Free Mickey Mouse: Copyright Notice, Derivative Works, and the Copyright Act of 1909 (Spring, 2003)". Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal (2). 

External links

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