A pair of world icons hit the silver screen for the first time at the Colony Theater in New York City on November 18, 1928: Mickey and Minnie Mouse starred in Steamboat Willie, one of the earliest examples of a motion picture soundtrack working in sync with an animated feature. Funded by Walt Disney, the 8-minute cartoon launched his career and led to the development of an entertainment juggernaut. Widely regarded as Mickey and Minnie’s first appearance on film, in truth the pair showed up in a handful of screen tests several months before.
The process to make Steamboat Willie began when Walt Disney approached his brother and co-producer, Roy, about his fascination with a movie called The Jazz Singer in 1927. (The two-hour musical featured the first synchronized soundrack in history.) Though at least two other animated shorts had sound — one in 1924 and the other just weeks before Steamboat Willie was released — none of them had much in the way of financial success.
What really set the short cartoon apart and eventually led to its commercial success was the process by which the sound was married to the moving image. Costing just under $5,000, the two-month effort started with the animators. Produced in large part by Ub Iwerks, a team of three created drawings to depict the interaction between Mickey and his boss, boat captain Pete, while they attempt to move some cattle downstream, picking up Minnie along the way. …(Read more)