Executive Summary

Walt Disney was one of the most influential public figures of the 20th century. His “uniquely American” vision as a creator and a businessman lives on both virtually, through his animated and live-action films, television shows, music, and other media productions; and physically, in his Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks and their counterparts around the globe (Wasko, Phillips, Meehan, 35). Disney’s work tapped into the pulse of mid-20th century America, using fantasy and imagination to speak to the nation’s most promising dreams and its deepest anxieties. While his accomplishments are remarkable and varied, what made Walt Disney an icon was his ability not only to reflect, but to truly create American culture and influence Americans’ views of their nation’s storied past and bright future.

Our reason for doing the CYOU project on Disney was based on more than just his popularity in mass media and his contemporary status as a cultural icon. We hope to show how Disney parallels many of the thematic arcs we have studied in Viewing America, from Cold War tensions and race relations to the space race and the rise (and fall) of the “Establishment.” By looking at Disney’s productions primarily from World War II until his death in 1966, we are able to reflect on how Americans experienced some of the major events influencing their lives.

Follow us as we journey into the Wonderful World of Disney, where we’ll paint a picture of Disney as an innovator and public figure, analyze his films, follow the construction of his parks, and look at his legacy as a cultural icon.

-The Disney Team

Text by Cille Crowley, Ava Burke, Allison Santo.

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Wasko, Janet, Mark Phillips, Eileen Meehan, Dazzled by Disney? The Global Disney Audiences Project (London: Continuum International Publishing, 2001).

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