The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

by PJ Hoogendijk

The Disney logo is one of the most celebrated brand logos in the world, with a heritage as rich and intricate as its design. The emblem that we know today is entirely different from the one that was created in its initial days. This blog is all about the Disney logo and its journey over the years.

Whether you’re a 90’s fellow, a millennial or somebody who’s into the world of dreams, fantasies, and comics, it’s also impossible to have missed the aura of Walt Disney. Weaving magic since 1923, the Walt Disney Pictures Company is the undisputed champion of the global entertainment industry. Founded by the two brothers, Walt and Roy Oliver Disney, the company was initially a small animation studio that gradually grew to be the largest media house with its huge broadcast networks and theme parks.

Amongst other things fun and fascinating, the brand is famous for its striking visual identity and a unique brand position. From TV shows and movies to merchandise and entertainment parks, Disney has had a hand in almost every field, and it all began with a cartoon mouse. Below, we’ll take a look at the birth of the legendary Disney logo, and its role in the company’s unbeatable success.

Back to the Basics – How it all began for Disney              

The Disney Corporation is the leading entertainment conglomerate, making over $60 billion annually through movies, publications, Touchstone Pictures, and theme parks around the globe. Nevertheless, the company had a rocky beginning and was affected by young Walt’s failure to trademark his work. Walt Disney, the company’s founder, who is now hailed as one of the most successful artists, film producers, and entrepreneurs of all time, wasn’t always so.

The first business venture of Walt Disney, Laugh-O-Gram Studios, was bankrupt in 1923. Disney took a second attempt at Hollywood with just $20 in hand. He, along with his brother, started producing two animated short films, Alice and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. During this time, he also created a series of cartoons starring the latter.

Although these short movies were a big hit with the audience, Disney forgot to copyright his illustrations.  Consequently, as his contract with the studio expired in February 1928, he also lost his rights to the characters. Disney took a lesson from this incident and was quite cautious about copyrighting everything he created thereafter.

However, he never gave up and after much struggle, started his own studio in Hollywood.  He wanted to relive the success he enjoyed with Oswald and created a mischievous little cartoon mouse called SteamBoat Willie. The first film starring Mickey was released in 1929, which was a big hit and motivated Walt to launch his own production house, Walt Disney productions, in 1929. This was just the beginning and several other Mickey Mouse movies were released later.

From thousands of films and TV shows to merchandising to running two of the world’s biggest theme parks in Disneyland and Disneyworld, there was no looking back for Disney. Their success grew by leaps and bounds, and in 2016, Disney bagged a whopping $9.39 billion, a steady revenue escalation for the seventh consecutive year.

The Birth of the Disney Logo

Evolution of the Disney Logo

Being an artist himself, Disney drew the initial versions of the company’s logo. In the early days, he started working as a designer in an advertising firm, and eventually became a cartoonist, which gave him a brilliant artistic future. Although the Disney logo features on the entrances to their celebrated theme parks and is an important part of their branding, it did not have any particular sign or emblem for the first 48 years.

The audience saw “Walt Disney Pictures Presents” or “Walt Disney Presents” on the big screen. At times, they were accompanied by the Mickey Mouse figure, which was encircled and portrayed in a different color in the animated version. In 1937, “Walt Disney Pictures” was used as a logo. While it’s still applicable in some cases, the designers have made some changes to it.

The present Walt Disney Company logo design was introduced by the company in 2011. It is an abbreviated version of the previous designs, where there’s only one wordmark “Disney”. It is also adorned by decorative towers, windows, balconies, flags, and a star that leaves an arc in the skyline.

Disney Logo from 1929 – 1937

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

The very first official logo was a clear picture of what the company was into. At its center, you could spot Mickey Mouse as it was drawn back then. The name “Mickey Mouse” was split into two and placed on either side of the mascot. Some of the other elements of the logo were the company name ‘Walt Disney Productions’, its location, etc.

Disney Logo from 1937 – 1948

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

This logo design featured the name of the founder, Walt Disney, in a creative script. It is one of the personal signatures of the founder and artist himself. An excellent combination of upper and lower case letters, the inscription was stylized and enlarged to match the level of branding.

The twisted and stylized “W” and “D,” as well as the lowercase “i” and “y,” are visually suggestive of the tail and ears of Mickey Mouse – the main cartoon character of the logo.  Although the wordmark “Walt Disney” looked like a handwritten note, it did not feature an italic slope. Perhaps the only problematic element is the logo is the “t” in the “Walt”, which could be easily interpreted as “y.”

Disney Logo from 1948 – 1979

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

Ten years later, the logotype was modified a little to give it a cleaner, more realistic look. Unfortunately, although it looked like an autograph, it was hardly legible.

Disney Logo from 1972 – 1983

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

This time, the designers chose to go with the original Disney logo style. While the logotype was modified to make the wordmark legible, the word “Productions” was added in a basic sans serif font.

Disney Logo from 1983 – 1985

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

This time, the wordmark “Walt Disney” remained untouched, whereas the word “Productions” was swapped for “Pictures.” Fontwise, the designers chose a serif type (similar to the classic universal) and made the letters larger. However, the top inscription remained intact- it still used the Waltograph font.

Disney Logo from 1985 – 2006

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

The much celebrated Cinderella’s castle was first seen in the 1985 logo. Positioned above the wordmark “Walt Disney”, the castle was used as a fairytale icon. The palace featured multiple horizontal stripes and was enclosed by a solid arch. Each tower held a triangular flag at its top. The word “Pictures” was still written in serif font and grew in size compared to the previous version.

Disney Logo from 2006 – 2011

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

In 2006, the designers came up with a revised version of the emblem – a clear and refined depiction of magic castles. Here, the stripes vanished, the gates opened, and more realistic details came in, such as a shooting star.  The towers, glowing rooms, and the star in the full-color versions look very appealing and depict the most fabulous fairytale desires.

The text “Walt Disney Pictures” grew smaller in size compared to the castle. The word “Productions” got smaller featuring a new uppercase font, and the lettering “Walt Disney” became slightly thinner.

Disney Logo from 2011 – Present

The Miraculous Journey of the Walt Disney Logo and its adventures Over the Years

The present version isn’t much different from the previous one, save for the wordmark. This time, an abbreviated version is used in place of the full one – the word “Disney ” replaced the “Walt Disney Pictures”. Adorned with windows, towers, flags and balconies, the emblem is full of intricate details.

The shooting star of the Disney logo leaves a long arch in the skyline. Some clouds and fireworks are also added to express the magical realism of the brand. The castle stands for love, romance, fairy tales, and everything magical. However, with the launch of Toy Story, several changes ushered in the cartoon arena. Designers started accompanying different cartoons with their version of the logo, so the picture looks in sync with the theme of the movie.

For instance, it looks a lot like a city of lights in Tron and like Cliffside Castle in Maleficent. The outstanding animation of the castle and its surrounding details show the incredible advances Disney has made in graphics, detailing, animation, audience appeal, and branding techniques.

Endnote,

The Walt Disney logo holds a rich and magical history. Since the company has released an exciting range of mythical and fairy-tale movies and cartoons, the logo rightly depicts the excitement of the fairy-tale realm. Walt Disney has always aimed at the effectiveness of the logo by constantly updating it with the changing times and developing animation technology. The company’s branding team has exhibited an outstanding capacity to adapt in the face of change without the basic concept.

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