To moirafinnie: Thank you, it's nice to be here! Yes, the Alice Comedies are a delight. As far as the hardships in producing them: yes, Walt and Roy Disney started with basically nothing and achieved their success strictly through the quality of their films, and it didn't happen overnight. So during those early years, yes, it was pretty much a hand-to-mouth operation. You asked about the pressures; actually most of the pressures came from the Disneys' distributor, Winkler Pictures. The company had been started by Margaret Winkler, and she was the one who contracted for the Disney films; but all too soon her husband, Charles Mintz, took over, and he was constantly putting pressure on Walt about one thing or another -- not only about business details like release schedules, but even trying to dictate the content of the films (yes, that sounds comical in hindsight). As for the Fleischer studio: it's true that Disney and Fleischer were both in business at the same time and were technically competitors, but I don't get the sense of a strong rivalry between them. Although their careers overlapped, actually Max Fleischer started making films several years before Walt Disney, hit his stride earlier, and was more or less established before Walt came along. (Plus, they were geographically separated, with Disney on the West Coast and Fleischer on the East.) So the sense of it was that Fleischer established himself, made his mark, and then Walt came along with new ideas and, eventually, made a new and completely different kind of animated films. (I should add that I mean no disrespect to Fleischer; I really like the Fleischer films as long as they were doing their own kind of material: Out of the Inkwell, Screen Songs, Betty Boop, Popeye. I think they only fell down when they started trying to imitate Disney -- as almost everyone else was doing in the 1930s!)
As for the lasting value of the Alice Comedies, I just think it's fascinating to see what Walt could do without the resources of a major studio behind him. He was endlessly resourceful, and in the Alices, with no budget and only a few artists working with him, he constantly comes up with clever, charming ideas that make the films delightful and entertaining. Of course the Alices also show the traces of what Walt would do in his later, more famous films, but instead of talking about them as forerunners, I like to stress that they're wonderful little films in their own right.