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Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie is a 1928 American animated short

lm directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. It was produced in black-and-white by Walt Disney Studios and was
released by Celebrity Productions. The cartoon is considered the debut of Mickey Mouse[2] and his girlfriend
Minnie, although both the characters appeared several
months earlier in a test screening of Plane Crazy. Steamboat Willie was the third of Mickeys lms to be produced,
but was the rst to be distributed because Walt Disney,
having seen The Jazz Singer, had committed himself to
producing the rst fully synchronized sound cartoon.[3]
Steamboat Willie is especially notable for being the rst
Disney cartoon with synchronized sound, including character sounds and a musical score. Disney understood This sequence shows Mickey Mouse controlling at the bridge of
from early on that synchronized sound was the future the steamboat.
of lm. It was the rst cartoon to feature a fully postproduced soundtrack which distinguished it from earlier sound cartoons such as Inkwell Studios Song CarTunes (19241927) and Van Beuren Studios' Dinner
Time (1928). Steamboat Willie became the most popular cartoon of its day.[4]
Music for Steamboat Willie was arranged by Wilfred
Jackson and Bert Lewis, and included the songs Steamboat Bill, a composition popularized by baritone Arthur
Collins during the 1910s, and "Turkey in the Straw" ,
a composition popularized within minstrelsy during the
19th century. The title of the lm is a parody of the
Buster Keaton lm Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928),[5] itself a
reference to the song by Collins. Walt Disney performed
all of the voices in the lm, although there is little intelligible dialogue.[6]
Pete (left) confronts Mickey (right) on the bridge of the steamboat.

While the lm has received some criticism, it has also received wide critical acclaim, not only for introducing one
of the worlds most popular cartoon characters, but for
its technical innovation. In 1994 members of the animation eld voted Steamboat Willie 13th in the book The 50
Greatest Cartoons, which listed the greatest cartoons of all
time. In 1998 the lm was selected for preservation in the
United States National Film Registry for being deemed
culturally, historically, or aesthetically signicant.[3]

bridge. Mickey blows a raspberry at Pete, and then Pete

attempts to kick him but Mickey rushes away in time and
Pete kicks himself in the rear accidentally. Mickey rushes
down the stairs, slips on a bar of soap on the boats deck
and lands in a bucket of water. A parrot laughs at him,
and Mickey throws the bucket at it.
Pete, who has been watching the whole thing, pilots the
steamboat himself. He bites o some chewing tobacco
and spits into the wind. The spit ies backward and rings
the boats bell. Amused by this Pete spits again, but it hits
himself in the face, making him fuss.


Mickey Mouse pilots a river steamboat, suggesting that

he himself is the captain. He cheerfully whistles Steamboat Bill and sounds the boats three whistles. Soon
the real captain, Pete, appears and orders Mickey o the

The steamboat makes a stop at Podunk Landing to pick

up a cargo of various livestock. Just as they set o again,
Minnie appears, running to catch the boat before it leaves.
Mickey does not see her in time, but she runs after the

boat along the shore and Mickey takes her on board using
the cargo crane.


3 Production

Landing on deck, Minnie accidentally drops a guitar and

some sheet music for the song "Turkey in the Straw"
which are eaten by a goat. The two mice use the goats
body as a phonograph which they play by turning its
tail like a crank. Mickey uses various objects on the
boat as percussion accompaniment and plays the animals like musical instruments. This ends with them The production of Steamboat Willie took place between
using a Clarabelle Cow's teeth to play the song as a July and September 1928 with an estimated budget of
$4,986.[3] There was initially some doubt among the anxylophone.[7][8][9]
imators that a sound cartoon would appear believable
Finally Captain Pete is unamused and puts Mickey to
enough, so before a soundtrack was produced, Disney
work peeling potatoes. In the potato bin, another pararranged for a screening of the lm to a test audience
rot appears in the port hole and laughs at him again. The
with live sound to accompany it.[11] This screening took
mouse throws a peeled potato at him, knocking him into
place on July 29 with Steamboat Willie only partly nthe river below. The lm ends with Mickey laughing.
ished. The audience sat in a room adjoining Walts oce.
Roy placed the movie projector outdoors and the lm was
projected through a window so that the sound of the projector would not interfere with the live sound. Ub Iwerks
set up a bedsheet behind the movie screen behind which
2 Background
he placed a microphone connected to speakers where the
audience would sit. The live sound was produced from
According to Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney was inspired behind the bedsheet. Wilfred Jackson played the music
to create a sound cartoon after watching The Jazz Singer on a mouth organ, Ub Iwerks banged on pots and pans
(1927).[3] Disney had intended for Mickey Mouse to be for the percussion segment, and Johnny Cannon provided
the new star character to replace Oswald the Lucky Rab- sound eects with various devices, including slide whisbit after he lost the rights to the character to Charles tles and spittoons for bells. Walt himself provided what
Mintz. However, the rst two Mickey Mouse lms pro- little dialogue there was to the lm, mostly grunts, laughs,
duced, silent versions of Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' and squawks. After several practices, they were ready for
Gaucho, had failed to impress audiences and gain a the audience, which consisted of Disney employees and
distributor. Disney believed that adding sound to a car- their wives.
toon would greatly increase its appeal.

The response of the audience was extremely positive, and

it gave Walt the condence to move forward and complete
the lm. He said later in recalling this rst viewing, The
eect on our little audience was nothing less than electric. They responded almost instinctively to this union of
sound and motion. I thought they were kidding me. So
they put me in the audience and ran the action again. It
was terrible, but it was wonderful! And it was something
new!" Iwerks said, I've never been so thrilled in my life.
Nothing since has ever equaled it.[12]

Steamboat Willie was not the rst cartoon with synchronized sound. Starting in May 1924 and continuing through September 1926, Dave and Max Fleischers
Inkwell Studios produced 19 sound cartoons, part of the
Song Car-Tunes series, using the Phonolm sound-onlm process. However, the Song Car-Tunes failed to keep
the sound fully synchronized, while Steamboat Willie was
produced using a click track to keep his musicians on the
beat.[10] As little as one month before Steamboat Willie
was released, Paul Terry released Dinner Time which also Walt traveled to New York City to hire a company to proused a soundtrack, but Dinner Time was not a nancial duce the sound system. He eventually settled on Pat Powsuccess.
ers's Cinephone system, created by Powers using an upIn June 1927, producer Pat Powers made an unsuccess- dated version of Lee De Forest's Phonolm system withful takeover bid for Lee DeForest's Phonolm Corpora- out giving De Forest any credit, a decision he would later
tion. In the aftermath, Powers hired a former DeForest regret.
technician, William Garrity, to produce a cloned version
of the Phonolm system, which Powers dubbed Powers
Cinephone. By then, DeForest was in too weak a nancial position to mount a legal challenge against Powers
for patent infringement. Powers convinced Disney to use
Cinephone for Steamboat Willie; their business relationship lasted until 1930, when Powers and Disney had a
falling-out over money and Powers hired away Disneys
lead animator, Ub Iwerks.

The music in the nal soundtrack was performed by the

Green Brothers Novelty Band and was conducted by Carl
Edouarde. The brothers Joe and Lew Green from the
band also assisted in timing the music to the lm. The
rst attempt to synchronize the recording with the lm,
done on September 15, 1928, was a disaster.[13] Disney
had to sell his Moon roadster in order to nance a second recording. This was a success with the addition of a
lmed bouncing ball to keep the tempo.[14]

The Broadway Theatre in New York, seen in 2007, where Steamboat Willie was rst shown in 1928. The venue was known as
Universals Colony Theatre at the time.

Release and reception

Image used by many criticizing Disney and the 1998 Copyright

Term Extension Act

Steamboat Willie premiered at Universals Colony Theater in New York City on November 18, 1928.[15] The
lm was distributed by Celebrity Productions and its initial run lasted two weeks. Disney was paid $500 a week
which was considered a large amount at the time.[14] It
played ahead of the independent feature lm Gang War.
Steamboat Willie was an immediate hit while Gang War
is all but forgotten today.[4]

tered public domain in four dierent years: rst in 1956,

renewed to 1984, then to 2003 by the Copyright Act of
1976, and nally to the current public domain date of
2023 by the Copyright Term Extension Act (also known
pejoratively as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act)[16]
of 1998. The U.S. copyright on Steamboat Willie will be
in eect through 2023 unless there is another extension
The success of Steamboat Willie not only led to inter- of the law.
national fame for Walt Disney, but for Mickey as well. It has been claimed[17] that these extensions were a reOn November 21, Variety magazine published a review sponse by Congress to extensive lobbying by The Walt
which read in part Not the rst animated cartoon to be Disney Company.
synchronized with sound eects, but the rst to attract
favorable attention. [Steamboat Willie] represents a high In the 1990s, former Disney researcher Gregory S. Brown
order of cartoon ingenuity, cleverly combined with sound determined that the lm was likely in U.S. public doeects. The union brought laughs galore. Giggles came main already[18]due to errors in the original copyright
In particular, the original lms copyso fast at the Colony [Theater] they were stumbling over formulation.
two additional names between Disney
each other.
and the copyright statement. Thus, under the rules of
The response led to the two previous Mickey lms being the Copyright Act of 1909, all copyright claims would
reproduced as sound cartoons and given wide theatrical be null.[18] Arizona State University professor Dennis
Karjala suggested that one of his law school students
look into Browns claim as a class project. Lauren Vanpelt took up the challenge and produced a paper agreeing with Browns claim. She posted her project on the
5 Copyright status
Internet in 1999.[19] Disney later threatened to sue a
student who wrote a paper
The lm has been the center of a variety of controver- Georgetown University law [20]
alleging that publishing
sies regarding copyright. The copyright of the lm has
been extended by an act of the United States Congress.
However, recent evidence suggests that the lm may be
in the public domain owing to technicalities related to the
original copyright notice.

6 In other media

The lm 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 U.S. several times. Each time,
copyright protection has been extended. It could have en-

Steamboat Willie themed levels are featured in the video

games Mickey Mania (1994), Kingdom Hearts II (2005),
and Epic Mickey (2010). Furthermore, in Epic Mickey 2:
The Power of Two (2012), a Steamboat Willie outt

can be obtained for Mickey.


7 Honors

The fourth season episode of The Simpsons, "Itchy &

Scratchy: The Movie" features a short but nearly frame- Steamboat Willie was inducted to the National Film Regfor-frame parody of the opening scene of Steamboat istry in 1998.
In the 1998 lm Saving Private Ryan, set in 1944, a German POW tries to win the sympathy of his American captors by mentioning Steamboat Willie, even mimicking the
sound of the boat whistle from the lm. The unnamed
character appears in the credits as Steamboat Willie.
In the 2000 Mickey Mouse cartoon April Fools Day,
Mickey and Mortimer get sent to the Presidents oce
to claim a million dollars. But Mortimer pretends to be
Mickey and he is shown acting in Steamboat Willie.
In the Goofy cartoon How to Be a Waiter (1999), Goofy
is shown an example of a movie, and Steamboat Willie
is shown. But in that short, Willie is a shortened version
titled Steamboat Goofy.
The opening scene was parodied towards the end of
Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Genie, having been
swallowed by the giant turtle which carried the Vanishing
Isle upon its back, came back out of the turtles mouth
in the steamboat from this lm and was even in Mickeys
form, whistling Turkey in the Straw.
In a 2008 movie of the TV series Futurama called The
Beast with a Billion Backs the opening is a parody of
Steamboat Willie.
The beginning of series 2 of the TV series Alexei Sayles
Stu (1989) shows a black and white animation entitled
Steamboat Fatty, a parody of Steamboat Willie.

8 Release history
1928 July First test screening
1928 November Original theatrical release
1941 November Theatrical color release
1972 The Mouse Factory, episode #33: Tugboats
1984 "Cartoon Classics: Limited Gold Editions:
Mickey" (VHS)
1990s Mickeys Mouse Tracks, episode #45 (TV)
1997 Ink & Paint Club, episode #2 Mickey Landmarks (TV)
1998 The Spirit of Mickey (VHS)
2001 The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story (VHS)
2002 "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in
Black and White" (DVD)
2005 Vintage Mickey (DVD)

In the Pokmon: Diamond and Pearl anime, one of the

episodes Steamboat Willies!", is a play on the title.

2007 "Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" (DVD)[14]

Since the release of Meet the Robinsons (2007), the

scene of Mickey at the wheel of the steamboat whistling
Steamboat Bill has been used for Walt Disney Animation Studios' production logo. A modication was used
for Tangled (2010) to mark that lm as the 50th in their
Classics line, the text saying Walt Disney Animation Studios: 50th Animated Motion Picture with the Mickey
scene in the 0. An 8-bit version of the logo was used for
Wreck-It Ralph (2012), and in Frozen (2013), Mickeys
whistling was muted to allow the lms opening song,
Vuelie, to play out over the logo, breaking tradition Disney Logo.

2009 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Blu-ray)

This cartoon was featured in Disneys Magical Mirror

Starring Mickey Mouse.
The Australian Perth Mint releases a 1 kg Gold coin in
honour of Steamboat Willie. The AU$5000 coin can sell
for AU$69,700 as an ocial Disney licensed product.[22]
The upcoming second season of Transformers: Robots
in Disguise, this episode would be the two part episode
Steamboat Willows.

2009 YouTube (Video on YouTube)

Ongoing Main Street Cinema at Disneyland and
Walt Disney World

9 References
[1] Bonus material commentary by Leonard Maltin, Walt
Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White
[2] Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse in Black and
White (1932) at; the product description of
this Disney-produced DVD set describes Steamboat Willie
as Mickeys debut
[3] Steamboat Willie at the Internet Movie Database
[4] Steamboat Willie (1929) at Screen Savour
[5] Main Street Cinema website, published by Disney, mentions the connection between the lms.

[6] The only spoken words are when Pete mutters Get down
there!" and several times the parrot says Help! Man overboard!" and Hope you don't feel hurt, big boy!" - see here
[7] The Musical Comedy Films of Grigorii Aleksandrov.
[8] New Scientist.
[9] The New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs.
[10] Finch, Christopher (1995). The Art of Walt Disney from
Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom. New York: Harry N.
Abrahms, Inc., Publishers. p. 23. ISBN 0-8109-2702-0.
[11] Fanning, Jim (1994). Walt Disney. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 9780791023310.
[12] The Test Screening of Steamboat Willie
[14] Steamboat Willie at The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts
[15] Broadway Theater Broadway | The Shubert Organization
1691 Broadway, between 52nd and 53rd streets, now The
Broadway Theater.
[16] Lawrence Lessig, Copyrights First Amendment, 48 UCLA
L. Rev. 1057, 1065 (2001)
[17] Lessig, Free Culture, p. 220
[18] Menn, Joseph (2008-08-22). Disneys rights to young
Mickey Mouse may be wrong. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-02-08.
[19] Vanpelt, Lauren (Spring 1999). Mickey Mouse -- A
Truly Public Character. Retrieved 2008-08-22.
[20] Hedenkamp, Douglas A. Free Mickey Mouse: Copyright
Notice, Derivative Works, and the Copyright Act of 1909
(Spring, 2003)". Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law
Journal (2).
[21] Masnick, Mike (August 25, 2008). Turns Out Disney
Might Not Own The Copyright On Early Mickey Mouse
Cartoons. Retrieved 2015-11-19.
[22] Mint, Perth (2014-11-27). DISNEY - STEAMBOAT
Mint. Retrieved 2014-11-27.


External links

Steamboat Willie on YouTube (ocial posting by

Walt Disney Animation Studios)
Steamboat Willie at The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts
Steamboat Willie at the Internet Movie Database
Steamboat Willie at the Big Cartoon DataBase
The Test Screening of Steamboat Willie




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