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Disney nearly went bankrupt after making this iconic animated movie

The House of Mouse very nearly came to a close early in its life when Walt Disney bet it all on one fateful animated movie for the studio.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr Banks

Nowadays, Disney is one of the biggest corporations on Earth, but that wasn’t always the case. The studio has endured a long, fascinating history, and at one point, a particular Disney movie almost brought the whole company to a halt.


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length family movie from Disney, put Walt Disney in considerable debt over the course of production. Essentially, by making the jump to a full 80 minute story, as opposed to the shorts Disney was making previously, without compromising on quality of animation, considerable strain was put on resources, leading to an uneasy relationship with lenders.

“Roy and I were spending a lot more than the bank said we could borrow,” Walt told his daughter Diane, as transcribed in the Sunday Evening Post in 1956, “and we needed even more. So Roy said, ‘I’m afraid you’re going to have to show the bankers what you’ve done on the picture so far, Walt.’ I hated to show it. It’s dangerous to show anybody anything unfinished. They can’t visualize it the way you know it’ll look when it’s complete. But Roy [O. Disney] set a date for me to meet Joseph Rosenberg, a vice-president at the Bank of America, and run off for him the parts of Snow White I had on film.”

Diane recalls Walt remortgaging the family home in order to feed his vision. Disney was putting into practice methods of doing animation that would be trendsetting and influential to the industry for decades, and innovation requires money and risk. Thankfully, the fantasy movie was given a thumbs up from the bank.

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“Rosenberg said, ‘Goodbye. That thing is going to make a hatful of money’,” Diane remembered. The bank behind him, Walt trucked on like he had done, and Snow White and the seven Dwarfs became the highest-grossing movie of 1937. Since it paid off, Disney began moving further and further into filmmaking, now handling Marvel movies and Star Wars movies in addition to Pixar movies and in-house production.

But for a brief period, it was all a dream that seemed like it could shatter at any moment. Have a look at our guide to the best musicals for more great sing-alongs.