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Steamboat Willie (Walt Disney, 1927)
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Mickey is serving aboard Steamboat Willie under Captain Peg-Leg Pete (a longtime Disney villain). He is first seen piloting the steamboat while whistling, suggesting he himself is the captain. Pete then arrives to take the helm and throws him off the bridge. They soon have to stop for cargo. Almost as soon as they set off again, the as-of-then unnamed Minnie arrives, too late to board. Mickey manages to pick her up from the river shore. Minnie accidentally drops her sheet music for the popular folk song "Turkey in the Straw," which is eaten by a goat. Mickey and Minnie use its tail to turn it into a phonograph, which plays the tune. Mickey uses various other animals as musical instruments, disturbing Captain Pete, who puts him back to work. Mickey is reduced to peeling potatoes for the rest of the trip. A parrot attempts to make fun of him, but Mickey strikes him with a potato, knocking him into the river. The short ends with Mickey laughing at the bird struggling in the water.
Steamboat Willie (1928) is an animated cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse released on November 18, 1928. It was the third Mickey Mouse cartoon—after Plane Crazy (May 1928) and The Gallopin' Gaucho (August 1928)—to be made and the first with sound. Disney used Pat Powers' Cinephone system, created by Powers using Lee De Forest's Phonofilm system without giving De Forest any credit. Steamboat Willie premiered at New York's 79th Street Theatre, and played ahead of the independent film Gang War. Steamboat Willie was an immediate hit while Gang War is all but forgotten today.
The cartoon was written and directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. The title is a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr. Music for Steamboat Willie was put together by Wilfred Jackson, one of Disney's animators -- not, as sometimes reported, by Carl Stalling -- and comprises popular melodies including "Steamboat Bill" and "Turkey in the Straw".
It is noted in the history books as the first animated short feature film with a completely post-produced soundtrack of music, dialogue, and sound effects, although other cartoons with synchronized soundtracks had been exhibited before, notably by Max Fleischer's series Song Car-Tunes made in DeForest Phonofilm starting in May 1924 -- and including My Old Kentucky Home (1926) -- and Paul Terry's Dinner Time (released 1 September 1928).
The film has been the center of some attention regarding the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act passed in the United States. Steamboat Willie has been close to entering the public domain in the United States several times. Each time, copyright protection in the United States has been extended. Many people have claimed that these extensions were a response by the U.S. Congress to extensive lobbying by Disney; others claim that the copyright extensions that Congress has passed in recent decades have followed extensions in international copyright conventions to which the United States is a signatory. (See U.S. copyright law, Universal Copyright Convention, and Berne Convention.) The U.S. copyright on Steamboat Willie will be in effect until at least 2023 unless there is another change of the law. However, it is already in the public domain in Australia, Canada and Russia, the last due to a non-retroactive enactment of the Berne Convention.
The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1994, it was voted #13 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.
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