What made "Steamboat Willie" such a revelation to movie-goers in 1928 was that the cartoon was entirely synchronized with the music and sound effects. While we take that entirely for granted today, this was a giant advance in the technology of the day. Walt Disney's tour de force came less than a year after the release of "The Jazz Singer," the first full-length "talkie."
The technological advances of The Jazz Singer and Steamboat Willie helped put a nail in the coffin of the Silent Movie Era. In the case of Steamboat Willie, this is ironic because it was paying homage to the classic Buster Keaton silent film "Steamboat Bill, Jr." Within a decade silent movies were as dead as wax cylinders.
It cost Walt Disney $4,986 to produce Steamboat Willie.