The Disney Silver Age refers to an era of the Disney Animated Canon that lasted from 1950 to 1967. These were the last films that Walt Disney oversaw when he was still alive. It is predicted that the era started when Disney returned to full-length animated features, beginning with the film Cinderella in 1950, and ending in 1967 with The Jungle Book, which was one of the last films Walt Disney worked on while he was still alive.
In 1948, Disney returned to the production of full-length features with Cinderella. At a cost of nearly $3,000,000, the future of the studio depended upon the success of this film. Upon its release in 1950, Cinderella proved to be a box office success, with the profits from the film's release allowing Disney to carry on producing animated features throughout the 1950s.
In 1951, Alice in Wonderland met with a lukewarm response at the box office and was a sharp critical disappointment in its initial release (though would gain a huge critical and commercial "cult" following just a few decades later). Two years later, Peter Pan was a modest success when it was first released in 1953. In 1955, Lady and the Tramp was released to higher box office success than any other Disney feature from the studio since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, earning an estimated $7.5 million in rentals at the North American box office in 1955. Lady was significant as Disney's first widescreen animated feature, produced in the CinemaScope process, and was the first Disney animated feature to be released by Disney's own distribution company, Buena Vista Distribution.
By the mid-1950s, with Walt Disney's attention primarily set on new endeavor such as live-action films, television, and the Disneyland theme park, production of the animated films was left primarily in the hands of the "Nine Old Men" trust of head animators and directors. This led to several delays in approvals during the production of Disney's Sleeping Beauty, which was finally released in 1959. At $6 million, it was Disney's most expensive film to date, produced in a heavily stylized art style devised by artist Eyvind Earle and presented in large-format Super Technirama 70 with six-track stereophonic sound However, the film's large production costs and under-performance at the box office resulted in the studio posting its first annual loss in a decade for fiscal year 1960, leading to massive layoffs throughout the studio (though, like Alice, Sleeping Beauty would eventually gain millions in subsequent re-releases).
By the end of the decade, the Disney short subjects were no longer being produced on a regular basis, with many of the shorts divisions' personnel either leaving the company or begin reassigned to work on Disney television programs such as The Mickey Mouse Club and Disneyland.
Despite the 1959 layoffs and competition for Walt Disney's attention from the company's grown live-action film, TV, and theme park departments, production continued on feature animation productions at a reduced level. In 1961, the studio released One Hundred and One Dalmatians, an animated feature which popularized the use of xerography during the process of inking and painting traditional animation cels. The film was a success, being the tenth highest grossing film of 1961 with rentals of $6.4 million.
Walt Disney died in December 1966, ten months before the studio's next film, The Jungle Book, was completed and released. The film was a success, finishing 1967 as the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year.
After his death, the studio dove into the Disney Bronze Age (aka "Disney Dark Age"), the Walt Disney Animation Studios era that lasted from 1970 to 1988.