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Honoring Walt Disney

Courtesy Everett Collection / John G. Zimmerman Archive

Honoring Walt Disney

Ninety years ago today, two brothers founded a company that would become world famous, beloved by all ages, and record smashing. The brothers were Walt and Roy Disney, and the company, of course, bore their last name. It began as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. Today, as the Walt Disney Company, it's a giant in the entertainment world and beyond. Disney's offerings have delighted generations. More than that, they revolutionized the film world.

In the early days of Disney, nobody was doing what Disney did –– and Walt received the accolades to prove it. To this day, he holds the record for most Academy Awards, with an amazing 26 Oscars. Many of them are competitive awards for Disney films. But four of Disney's Oscars were special, honorary awards, and it's these awards that truly show how Walt and Roy and the company they began have affected the world of animation. Here's a look at those four honorary Oscars.

1932: Mickey Mouse. Disney received his first honorary Oscar the same year he won his first competitive Oscar for the short Flowers and Trees. The honorary award was for a much better known name –– it celebrated Disney's creation of Mickey Mouse, the iconic character who launched the company's fame, wowed audiences with sound, and laid the foundation for decades of animation. Walt Disney himself knew that without Mickey Mouse, there'd be no Disney. As he later reflected, "I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing –– that it was all started by a mouse."

1939: Snow White. Seven years later, Disney was honored for his groundbreaking movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The first feature-length cel animated film, it set the stage for every Disney animated film to follow, as well as those from competing studios. That's a lot of great movies! The Academy Award presented to Walt Disney was as unique as the movie it honored –– it featured a full-sized Oscar statuette accompanied by seven miniature Oscars.

1942: Fantasia. Disney's innovation had only just begun when he released Snow White. Fantasia took animated films to a new level with its use of music. A collection of eight shorts set to classical pieces, Fantasia had to sound as special as it looked. In order to make it feel like a symphony orchestra was playing in each theater that screened the film, Disney had his company's engineers create a system for stereophonic surround sound that was like nothing audiences had experienced before. The system influenced sound processes that are still used today, and earned Disney his third honorary Oscar.

1942: Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. Though there were many competitive Oscars still in store for Walt Disney after 1942, as well as a posthumous award several years after his death, it was perhaps the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award that best summed up his lifetime achievements. The exclusive award is only given when there is a recipient whose body of work is so notable that it deserves this honor. Disney won the fourth Thalberg award ever given, a tribute to a career and a legacy that were already impressive and would become, in the decades that followed, legendary.