Disney Animation Anecdotes

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

As some of you know, I am considered an animation historian. I started writing articles and columns just about animation in 1977 for a variety of fanzines, magazines, books and newspapers.

Some of my work on the topic has appeared in foreign publications in Japan, United Kingdom, France and Italy. I co-wrote several books about animation with my former writing partner John Cawley. I taught animation classes at the Disney Institute in Florida as well as instructing classes on acting and animation history for Disney Feature Animation: Florida.

I have always been fascinated with animation, especially animation history and especially oddball animation history. My most popular column, Animation Anecdotes, ran monthly in Animation magazine for many years.

In fact, for the last ten years, I have done a weekly Animation Anecdotes column every Friday for Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research site. I even wrote a book compiling some of my early columns entitled Animation Anecdotes and it is available on Amazon and has an entire section devoted just to Disney.

An anecdote is usually about a hundred words or so and focuses on an unusual story or quote that might have been overlooked or forgotten by other research. The purpose is to educate, entertain and sometimes amuse.

For my MousePlanet column, I always like to try to have some variety: one week about the parks, the next about some historical aspect, the following on Walt Disney and, of course, occasionally about Disney animation. I thought it might be fun this week to draw on my over forty years of Animation Anecdotes columns to share some of my favorite little-known Disney animation stories.

I hope you enjoy them. If you do, please let me know and I will do another column with some more in the future.

Self-portrait doodles by Ward Kimball.

And Another Thing

In the March 22, 1952 issue of the Saturday Evening Post magazine, there was the story of how Walt Disney was confronted at a dinner party in Palm Springs by a woman with an "overpowering knowledge of American wildlife". With no introduction, she approached Walt and proceeded in great detail to tell him what was wrong in the movie Bambi (1942).

Her main point was that wildlife would not act they way that Walt had depicted them.

"Why in Bambi," she asserted, "the buck steps into the clearing ahead of the doe and fawn to be sure there are no hunters there. Actually, bucks hang back and have even been seen kicking the does out of the brush ahead of them. And the picture wasn't true to life in so many other respects, either."

"How right you are," Walt agreed, "And do you know something else wrong with it? Deers don't talk."

Disney Rubber

Disney sound effects expert Jim MacDonald always found unusual solutions to difficult problems. For one cartoon short that had bees, MacDonald made the sound of the bees by blowing through a rubber tube and rubbing on an attached taut rubber membrane stretched across an old wooden spool.

"This condom, which I had my young assistant buy for me at a drugstore, is the only thing exactly the right thickness and resonance that worked. I'm sure the manufacturer never thought it would make the sound of bees for a Walt Disney cartoon," stated MacDonald.

Two Geniuses Too Many

In 1943, actor-director-writer Orson Welles had obtained the rights to the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, and approached Walt Disney with a proposal of turning it into a feature that would combine live-action and animation.

Walt was apparently not pleased with the fact that his staff paid more attention to Welles than to him when they started discussing the story. Reportedly, Walt complained to Jack Leighter (a managing partner of Mercury Theater of the Air with Welles), "Jack, there is not room on this lot for two geniuses!" Legendary artist Mel Shaw had done some preliminary work on a storyboard.

Study Effects

Cy Young was a Chinese-American (born in Hawaii) special effects artist at the Disney Studio from the early 1930s through 1941. Like other experts in their field who worked at Disney, Young would give occasional lectures on his area of expertise to Disney artists.

At the end of one such lecture about cartoon effects, he admonished his audience of male artists, "Always study effects, even when you go to the bathroom (to do your business at the urinal). STUDY EFFECTS!"

The next day, rather than being hard at work at the drawing board, animator Ward Kimball was gazing out the window of his room as the rain came down. He heard the door open behind him and slowly turned to see that it was Walt Disney. Never at a loss, Ward just smiled and said, "Just studying effects, Walt, just studying effects!"

Just the Facts, Mr. Disney

The late actor-writer-producer-director Jack Webb is perhaps best remembered as the tough, no-nonsense cop Joe Friday on the TV series Dragnet.

Amazingly, in his youth, he wanted to be a cartoonist. "I was convinced that Walt Disney was combing the country for a fellow like me," said Webb. "I made up a portfolio, took it to the Disney Studios and sat back to wait for the big offer." All of this took place in the mid-1930s and that big offer never came so Webb found other work.

Later, Webb became a friend of Walt and even shot some Dragnet episodes on the Disney back lot until the noise of Walt building things for Disneyland drove the production company to other locations.

By the way, Roy E. Disney's first professional film work was as an assistant film editor on Dragnet in 1951. Stage 2 at the Disney Studio in Burbank was built and financed as a joint agreement between Walt Disney and Webb, who used the stage for the filming of the first Dragnet television series from 1949 to 1954. The 1953 Rosalind Russell feature Never Wave at a WAC was also shot on that stage and used the Disney Studio facilities.

Another Ward Kimball self-portrait doodle, on the final script for Mars and Beyond.

Avoiding Ray Disney

One day at the Disney Studio, Disney Legend Ward Kimball was talking with another Disney animator, Murray McClennan (who did some of the animation on the unicorns in Fantasia and some scenes of Figaro the cat in Pinocchio), when he looked out the window and saw Walt's older brother, Ray, approaching the animation building.

Ray sold insurance and he had had Ward in his sights as a client for some time. Ray was the inspiration for "Honest John" Worthington Foulfellow, the fox character, in Disney's animated feature, Pinocchio (1940).

Ward didn't have time to get to his own room or to escape so he pleaded with McClennan to try to get rid of Ray. There was a good sized armoire in the room and Ward was small enough that he slipped inside without any trouble. Ward was known for his practical jokes and McClennan had been a victim so he decided to have some fun.

He explained to Ray that Ward wasn't around but invited Ray to wait for him to return. McClennan even ordered coffee from the commissary to be brought to his room for the two of them.

Instead of being angry, Ward was actually delighted that he was so well hidden from Ray and that he had to contain himself from making any noise. Finally, even Ray's patience was at an end and he left; within minutes, Ward came tumbling out of the armoire rolling in laughter.

Want To Know A Secret?

Disney's animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs inspired a hit single almost three decades after its original release. In the film, just before Snow White sings "I'm Wishing", she says, "Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?" Well, those two lines inspired Beatle John Lennon to write one of the Beatles' first hit singles in 1963. "Do You Want To Know A Secret?" Lennon's mother would sing the Snow White songs to him when he was a child.

Toon Justice

For audiences who were disturbed by the death of the happy shoe by Dip in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), the actual shooting script was even more graphic.

In the third draft of the screenplay, it is an actual cartoon animal, a gopher, who bumps into Judge Doom, soiling his cloak. The meek little gopher pulls out a clothes brush and tries to clean off the Judge who proclaims, "You've defiled a symbol of justice!"

Before he puts the gopher into the Dip, the frantic animal pleads, "Hey, don't I have any rights?" Doom's response is "Yes, you do—to a swift and speedy trial."

One of the weasels retrieves a briefcase from the sedan, puts it on the hood and snaps it open. Twelve toon kangaroos pop up, arranged in a jury box for a Kangaroo Court. They deliver the verdict instantly.

Twelve little kangaroos pop out of their mother's pouches holding small cards each with a letter spelling "Y-O-U-A-R-E-G-U-I-L-T-Y". The gopher is put in the Dip to dissolve as Eddie and the police watch helplessly.

Tim Curry auditioned for the part of Judge Doom but he didn't get it because his performance scared Steven Spielberg and Michael Eisner.

Would Tim Curry have been too scary as Judge Doom?

What Might Have Been

Today, comedian Charles Fleischer is known as the voice of Roger Rabbit, but when the Disney Company first optioned the project, it was to be directed by talented Darrell Van Citters who had hired Paul Reubens, better known today as "Pee Wee Herman" to supply the voice of Roger.

"Paul had both an excitability and naïve quality to his voice that we felt was essential to the character's personality," stated Citters. "Despite his firmly established role as Pee-Wee Herman, Paul is an excellent vocal actor and gave us exceptional readings."

Reubens did end up supplying a voice for a Disney character, Captain RX-24 ("Rex") in the original version of the popular Star Tours attraction at the Disney theme parks.

Two Thumbs Up

In the Disney animated feature Aladdin (1992), when Aladdin pushes through the crowd to see Prince Achmed, he stands between caricatures of producers-directors Ron Clements and John Musker.

During the song "One Jump," these caricatures are watching a muscle man striking poses. Originally the characters were supposed to be caricatures of film critics Siskel and Ebert, but it was felt they would need to get permission to do that so Clements and Musker were substituted.

The Disney Monsters

Most animation fans know that in the classic science-fiction movie Forbidden Planet (1956), there is a very effective monster that is outlined by crackling electricity. This "Monster from the Id" was drawn and animated by Joshua Meador, on loan to MGM from the Walt Disney Studios.

Another Disney animator, Millicent Patrick, was responsible for the actual "Creature from the Black Lagoon".

In a 1954 article in the magazine Mechanix Illustrated, it states "after working for a while for Walt Disney as the first girl animator in history, she was hired to create monsters for Bud Westmore at Universal-International. The Gill Man is her masterpiece…"

She was also responsible for the mutants in This Island Earth (1955), the Xenomorph from It Came From Outer Space (1953) and The Mole People (1956).

And, although not exactly the standard monsters, some of the bird effects in Hitchcock's famous film were the work of Disney genius Ub Iwerks, who was nominated for an Oscar for this work.

Forbidden Planet's Monster From the Id was the work of Disney animator Joshua Meador.

The Disappearing Jabberwocky

When the Disney Studio was making the animated feature Alice in Wonderland (1951), there was a planned segment about the dreaded Jabberwocky. Voice legend Stan Freberg was called in to do the voice.

"I was directed by Walt himself and Ben Sharpsteen," Freberg remembered. "There was some animation done, but Walt was concerned that the segment would be too scary for kids and it was pulled from the final film. I've never seen it but somewhere in the Disney Archives it still exists."

Original 1951 pressbooks for the film credited Freberg's voice as the Jabberwocky. In 1992, Disney released a small book with concept art done by Tom Oreb of the planned sequence. The official "cast sheet" for Alice in Wonderland notes Freberg as the Jabberwocky voice, and adds Stan Freberg and Daws Butler as "augmented voices in Jabberwock sequence."

What's In A Name?

At one time in the early 1990s, the Disney Company was developing an animated feature entitled Silly Hillbillies From Mars. One day, a Disney storyman saw the title of a Disney short, The Martins and The Coys. However, he misread the title as The Martians and The Cows. When the error was pointed out, it spurred the idea of feuding hillbillies from outer space.

Disney Spin

The Disney spin machine went into hyperdrive when at an early screening of the animated feature, Aladdin (1992), it was suggested that the evil Jafar was modeled after former First Lady Nancy Reagan. "I wanted him to have a face like a mask," responded supervising animator Andreas Deja. "I made him very, very skinny like a fashion drawing."

That Disney Humor

Walt Disney was well known for having fun at his employees' expense. Donald Duck director Jack Hannah wanted to go into live action directing (even eventually writing a comedy screenplay about the misadventures of some Army recruits who had to secretly move a barracks building across the camp that Ron Miller liked so much he almost "greenlit" the film with Hannah as director).

However, Walt was more than content to leave Jack doing shorts and some work for the television series. One day, Hannah was wandering around the Disney backlot looking at the set for a new live action feature. Suddenly, Walt walked by and Hannah asked who was directing the film. "Oh," replied Walt. "A new guy named Yensid." Jack smiled and thought nothing about it and went back to his office.

Later, he heard from a friend that Walt had gone to a story meeting and regaled the storymen by telling them that he had told Hannah that Yensid (Disney spelled backwards) was the director and Jack had responded, "Yeah, he's a good man." Apparently it was a gag Walt used on others as well.

Smart Kids

A survey of American children during the Great Depression uncovered that many kids thought Mickey was a dog or a cat, even though his last name was "Mouse".

A 1935 Time magazine article stated: "Anyway, a current survey shows that children don't think of Mickey as a mouse. A good many of them were asked whether Mickey Mouse is a dog or a cat. Almost half of the tots answered brightly, 'A cat.'"

Some kids in the 1930s thought that Mickey Mouse is a cat

Food of the Future

One time in the early days of the Disney Studio, Walt joined his employees at lunch and pulled out a bottle of pills and swallowed a few. "This is the food of the future. Each pill is a meal in itself," boasted Walt. Then he sat down and proceeded to order a regular lunch like the rest of the animators.

Watermelon Test

Back in the early days of the Disney Studio, Walt was observing during lunch how each of the animators ate their watermelon differently. One man ate it carefully by starting at one end and working his way to the other. Another started in the middle and ate haphazardly. One ate with a knife and fork, and so on. Finally, Walt remarked, "You guys all eat your watermelon in different ways. This reveals your characters…but I don't know how."

Do You Remember?

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley proclaimed November 21, 1981 as "Disney Animation Day" in recognition of "past and future accomplishments of the Disney animators".

Mickey Mouse Fan

In Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister's diary entry for December 22, 1937, Joseph Goebbels wrote "I am giving the Fuhrer… 18 Mickey Mouse films (as a Christmas gift). He is very excited about it. He is very happy about these treasures which will hopefully bring him much fun and relaxation."

The reason for this gift was that it is documented that during July 1937 in Hitler's private screening room, the Fuhrer watched five Mickey Mouse cartoons and laughed loudly.

Yes, this is the same Adolf Hitler that tried unsuccessfully to ban Mickey Mouse in Germany in 1937 because he noticed young Germans (and even some of his own staff) wearing Mickey Mouse pins and emblems. He tried again with greater success in 1941 to ban Mickey.

Wet and Wild

When Disney was making the classic animated feature Pinocchio"(1940), the studio had to solve the problem of how to make Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket sound as if they were underwater when they talked during their search for Gepetto.

Dick Jones who voiced Pinocchio nearly drowned when he tried to read his lines lying on his back while a director poured water in his mouth. After several similar experiments, they determined they could put a filter on the microphone to muffle the sound so it sounded like talking underwater.

Is Luxo the father or mother of Luxo Jr.?

Father or Mother?

"The thing I wanted to do in 'Luxo, Jr.' was make the characters and story the most important thing, not the fact that it was done in computer graphics," animator and director John Lasseter told writer Harry McCracken in 1990.

"After the film show, Jim Blinn – who's one of the pioneers in this (computer animation) field – came running up to me and said, 'John, I have to ask you a question.' And I thought, 'I don't know anything about these algorithms. I know he's going to ask me about the shadow algorithms or something like that'.

"And he asked me, 'John, was the parent lamp a mother or a father?'

"Here's one of the real brains in computer graphics was concerned more about whether the parent lamp was a mother or a father. That question keeps coming up. I always envisioned it as a father, but it's based greatly on my mother.

"To me, if it was a mother lamp, she would never let the baby jump on that ball. But the dad is like, 'Go ahead, jump on it, fall off and break your bulb. You'll learn a lesson'."