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March 06, 2019
Pinocchio, Snow White, Peter Pan and so many more-- Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men created the foundational works of Disney’s animation studios.
Despite being in their 30s and 40s, Walt Disney gave his nine best animators this famous title that has still stuck to this day. But Disney was not the first to coin the term, he was actually gently mocking Franklin D. Roosevelt, who called his Supreme Court Justice’s his Nine Old Men, referring to them perhaps being too out of touch for their jobs. But who are THESE nine old men that created some of our favorite characters back in the day?
Let’s take a look!
Joined Disney Team: 1927
Most notable characters worked on: Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio, Snow White’s dwarfs, Peter Pan, Sorcerer Mickey, Cinderella.
Perhaps the most famous of the nine men, Clark was not only the first recruited by Disney, but he also animated the man, the myth, the legend: Mickey Mouse. He landed the gig with Disney by simply asking for a job with the company one day when he was waiting tables at a restaurant that Disney would frequent. Disney then asked to see some of his drawings and the rest is history. Ask and you shall receive!
Joined Disney Team: 1935
Most notable characters worked on: Snow White, Bambi, Tinker Bell, Maleficent, Cruella de Vil.
With no formal experience in animation, Davis was looking for a job as a newspaper cartoonist when he saw that Disney Studios was hiring. Despite his lack of direct experience, Disney was impressed with Davis’ animal sketches and hired him just in time to work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But an animator is not the only title that was on Davis’ Disney resume-- he also held a top position in Walt Disney’s Imagineering Department where he designed many animatronic characters for various rides in Disneyland. Some of these rides include Pirates of the Caribbean, The Jungle Cruise and The Haunted Mansion.
Most notable characters worked on: Thumper from Bambi. Smee from Peter Pan, the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty.
Sharing Disney’s love (or perhaps obsession) for trains, it’s no wonder that Johnston became apart of this team. Oh, and his talent, of course. He joined the animation team in 1935 (the same year as Davis), and went in guns blazing with new projects. One of his earliest and most successful projects was a Silly Symphonies short called “The Tortoise and the Hare.” He helped on this short within his very first year working for Disney Studios, and lo and behold, it won an Oscar for Best Short Subject.
Joined Disney Team: 1934
Most notable characters worked on: Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, most of the characters in The Jungle Book and Robin Hood, the hounds and fox in Mary Poppins, Madame Medusa from The Rescuers.
A high school graduate, Kahl originally worked as a cartoonist for the Oakland Post-Enquirer and the San Francisco Bulletin. His career eventually found its way to the Disney Animation Studio, after he had seen Disney’s “Three Little Pigs” short in theatres and decided that he wanted to be apart of the creation process. He began his Disney career as an assistant animator for several shorts including “The Ugly Duckling.”
Most notable characters worked on: Jiminy Cricket, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter.
Much like Kahl, Kimball was also determined to join the Disney Animation team after watching the famous short “The Three Little Pigs” in theatres. He landed the gig in 1934, and continued to work for Disney Studios for about four decades before retiring. The “funny guy” of the bunch, Kimball was known for his sense of humor, as well as his musical talents-- but more on that in a moment.
Most notable characters worked on: Cinderella’s stepmother, Captain Hook, King Louie from The Jungle Book, the dancing penguins in Mary Poppins.
At the age of nine, Frank Thomas asked his father how he could make money from drawing pictures. It seems as though nine was his lucky number, since he went on to become one of Disney’s Nine Old Men. When he first got hired onto the team, Thomas worked on a short called “Mickey’s Elephant. But his talents went from the animation studio to the music studio when he joined forces with one of his fellow Old Men, Ward Kimball, in a Dixieland jazz band called The Firehouse Five Plus Two.
Joined Disney Team: 1933
Most notable characters worked on: Lady, Tramp, Roquefort and Scat Cat from The Aristocats, Pegasus and Centaurs from Fantasia, Kanga and Roo from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Originally pursuing Journalism, Larson found himself gravitating interest in the magazine sketches, rather than the actual writing. Then, a year after doing freelance work, he decided to send in some of his sketches to Disney. Larson’s career with Disney expanded beyond the sketch pad, as he worked as one of the directors for several films including Sleeping Beauty. With one of the longest Disney legacy’s at the time, Larson retired in 1986 with 52 years of Disney work under his belt.
Most notable characters worked on: Dumbo, Willie the Giant, Jasper and Horace from 101 Dalmatians, the hippos and the alligator from Fantasia, King Leonidas and the soccer players from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
The quietest of the nine men, there isn’t a whole lot to say about Lounsbery. He graduated from an arti institute in Denver, Colorado and quickly headed to Los Angeles to seek work in animation design. When Lounsbery joined in the Disney animator’s team in 1935, his specialty was working on Pluto shorts. He directed The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, alongside one of his fellow Old Men, Wolfgang Reitherman.
Most notable characters worked on: The crocodile in Peter Pan, the dinosaurs in Fantasia, the Headless Horseman, the whale chase scene in Pinocchio.
Reitherman started his workforce career working with all things planes in the Air Force. While serving during WWII, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and flew missions in India, China, Africa and the South Pacific. But after discovering his love for water colors, Reitherman switched gears and began studying at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. After his career began at Disney, he eventually was promoted to Chief Director of Animation, where he is given credit for eight major films.
While none of these men are alive today, it’s clear that each one of them left their mark on the Disney animation franchize. Walt Disney is certainly the face of Disney, however, these nine men helped draw the many other faces of Disney animation.
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