We’ve all heard the never-ending argument over which is better: Young Elvis or Fat Elvis. I’m in the Young Elvis camp myself, but it’s a discussion that will never end with a clear winner.
I propose to start the same discussion here, but with Walt Disney substituted for The King of Rock and Roll. Let’s start with an establishing shot:
So when I say ‘younger Walt’ I’m not going back quite this far! However, much has been said about Walt’s childhood with most of it becoming almost apocryphal. We do know that much of what he went through, dealing with a harsh father, working at a very young age, and his years in Marceline, all combined to set Walt Disney on a road of ambition, failure, and ultimately, triumph.
But when was Walt at his best? Was it during his struggling years with Laugh-O-Grams and the Disney Brothers Studios? Or was it later when he was everyone’s Uncle Walt, and the undisputed King of Disneyland?
Let’s look at both periods of his life.
It’s during his earlier years in the entertainment industry that we see Walt at his most aggressive. With not much experience or resources, he pioneered many new techniques in animation, just because he didn’t know enough to know that it couldn’t be done!
So Walt pushed from the Alice Comedies to a talking Mickey Mouse to the first full-color animated short (Flowers and Trees) and on up to the ground-breaking full-length animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He then built a studio that endures today and an empire that is followed and loved by millions!
All of this was in the past for a man who was only in his mid-30’s. The genius of Walt Disney hadn’t peaked yet, and many more successes were in store. But it would be an older Walt that would bring them about.
With so many successes in the past, most men might start to slow down, or ‘rest on their laurels’, as it were. But not an older and more experienced Walt! With many beloved characters in his animation stable and much more imagination yet to be exploited, he branched out into television (The Mickey Mouse Club, Davy Crockett, Zorro, Wonderful World of Color) and then into live-action feature films.
By this time he had become Uncle Walt to an entire generation of children and one of the most awarded creative talents in history. But Walt wanted to have something to play with that would never be finished and that would continue to challenge both himself and his team, and so Disneyland was born.
Unfortunately, Walt passed away before Walt Disney World and all of the other worldwide theme parks were built, but Walt is definitely alive and well in each and every one of them! We can only speculate what Epcot would be today if Walt had lived to bring his last child into the world himself!
Now millions of guests visit Disney parks each year and Disney films regularly rake in grosses in the high millions, and even billions, of box office receipts. Walt’s spirit of creativity is front and center decades after his person has left us.
So when was Walt at his best? This is understandably a hard choice to make. What we know as The Walt Disney Company today would not exist if not for the failures and successes of younger Walt’s earlier companies, and the lessons he learned from them. But The Walt Disney Company of today would also not exist if not for the guidance of the older and wiser Walt.
Most of us remember Walt from the Wonderful World of Color television programs. I first started seeing these in the mid-70’s, long after Walt had passed away. I didn’t know this as I watched my favorite Uncle tell me about the latest world of wonder I was about to visit. So it’s hard for someone of my generation not to pick the older Walt based on this nostalgia alone.
But so much has been published about the younger Walt (thanks to organizations like D23) that we also know a lot about him and his contributions to our favorite entertainment company. We see film clips of an energetic and fun-loving man who personified the spirit of Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up.
Yes, I say again, this is a hard choice to make. Please weigh in with your opinion in the comments section below, and just maybe, we can come to a definitive conclusion. Yes, and maybe Elvis is still alive and living in a small town near you!