Walt Disney drawing early laugh-o-grams

Walt’s First Fairy Tales

By the time Walt Disney released Cinderella in 1950, the imaginative impresario was well known as the past master of the animated fairy tale. But few realized just how far back into the past—dating back to the Roaring Twenties in Kansas City, Missouri—Walt first used the relatively new medium of animation to retell the old tales.

This “once upon a time” began in 1921

. . . when the fledgling animation producer was employed at Kansas City Film Ad. “But I wanted to experiment with making theatrical cartoons,” Walt later recalled, “so I started experimenting at night and I worked on a little idea that I had that I wanted to sell to the Newman theaters. I called the things Newman Laugh-O-grams.”

Walt Disney's Newman Laugh-O-grams

The 19-year-old singlehandedly created a pilot film demonstrating his concept of short bits of animation that could be incorporated into exhibitor Frank Newman’s series of weekly newsreels. Mr. Newman was sold on the idea and contracted Walt to create a weekly one-minute film. The test film, containing one of the only known pieces of animation Walt completed himself, can be seen below. Encouraged, Walt established the Laugh-O-gram Films company in 1922 to animate modernized fairy tales with a Jazz Age flair. One of the last of these Laugh-O-gram fairy tales—made before the enterprise went bankrupt and Walt headed for Hollywood in 1923—was Cinderella.