True, the humor hasn’t aged well. What the film represents for me is Mr. Disney’s spirit of adventure as an artist and businessman. He and his brother, Roy, staked everything on it—“mortgaged to the hilt,” Walt would remember years later.
They hoped Steamboat Willie would separate Mickey Mouse, and their studio, from a crowded field of competitors’ animated characters. About two months before the film came out, Disney exhorted Roy in a letter not to fret over “a few little dollars,” adding, “We can lick them all with Quality.” They did, and laid the foundations of an entertainment empire.
I saw much the same spirit of adventure in the early years of the future Pixar Animation Studios team in the mid-to-late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The members of the small group dedicated themselves to the idea of computer-animated feature films at a time when that idea was considerably more distant on the horizon than synchronized-sound animation had been in 1928. Walt, I think, would have understood.