Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Happy Birthday Walt!


On this day, December 5th in 1901, Walt Disney was born. Though he may not have invented film animation, Walt Disney, more than anyone else, took it from being a mere novelty to an artform of the highest level, as well as a major American popular entertainment medium. I'm not going to attempt any history here on either the man or his legacy, as you'll find much more authoritative assessments by the likes of Mike Barrier, Leonard Maltin and John Canemaker, but I do want to offer up this one thought. Walt Disney has been called a "genius" by many and I am not going to dispute that in the least. However, I've always felt that much of that genius was due to Walt's basic common sense and good judgment. I am certain that the main thing that directed Walt was his own personal taste in art and entertainment. He likely believed that anything he enjoyed and found appealing would likewise be enjoyed by many other people the world over. I doubt that he spent much time trying to second guess the viewing public or by conducting demographic studies, as so many of today's studio brass do. As such, all of the films that were produced by his studio during his lifetime seem to convey much of what Walt personally believed in. I don't think we see that kind of personal sensibility at work very often in today's films.

On a personal note, I must credit Walt Disney and his filmed animation legacy with being the catalyst that started me on the straight and narrow path to my own career as a cartoonist. Though I have many artistic influences, it is the Disney classic animated features that remain my first love. Though the stories are always well crafted, for me it is the sense of characterization that I associate with the classics that I most respond to on an emotional level. There is still nothing more magical to me than a cartoon drawing that seemingly comes alive up on the silver screen. This thrill has never waned in a lifetime of viewing the work of Walt's talented animation staff. My favourites include "Pinocchio", "Fantasia", and of course the film I recently wrote about, "The Jungle Book", which was the last film to bear Walt's personal stamp.

Here's a clip from the Disneyland 10th Anniversary show, where Walt plays tour guide to Julie, his latest Disneyland ambassador. What I love about this show is how playful Walt is as he shows off his latest attractions concepts. You can see that Walt is so happy showing off the handiwork of his WED Imagineers including, in this clip, Mary Blair. As one of the lucky kids who grew up with these shows, this is how I like to best remember Uncle Walt:

16 comments:

Kitty said...

As someone who collects Disney films, I'm not going to take issue with a single word of this post.

Lovely to see you back posting.

Take care :-) x

Bitter Animator said...

Lovely caricature and I think you're spot-on about Disney being a man who just knew what he liked and that's really what counts.

Blammo said...

A great post!
A nice sentiment!
A beautiful drawing!

Jason;)

Randolph Lizarda said...

this is nice Pete!=)

Ken Mitchroney said...

Happy Birthday Walt! And another great sketch Pete. One of the thing i really did respect about Walt, was the risk taking. He always took all money he had and poured it into the next project.
Any misstep in Judgement could have wiped him out over and over again. You never see that with the executives that took over Disney after he died. The other thing i liked about the man, was the fact that put his office on the Burbank lot, facing the Ink and Paint department.
It's easer to watch the ink and paint girls from there. Smart man ,that Walt Disney.

Mitch Leeuwe said...

Happy birthday Walt!

Great post and thanks for sharing the video.

Carlo Lo Raso said...

Well said Pete. Well said indeed!
It's rather ironic that I'm watching Mary Poppins as I'm posting this!

All the best.

Bill Field said...

Somewhere, miles beneath the magic kingdom, in a very cold room, a cake with 101 candles sits, waiting to be served...
Nice job Pete! He really looks like an animation magnate in your incredible portrait. I always am amazed at how his nephew looks so much like him, and still get a chill when I see recent shots of Roy, no matter the context. Great work as alaways, Pete!

Weirdo said...

Awesome caricature of Walt. He is an inspiration to cartoonists to try new things. Thanks for posting this. I can't wait to get the Platinum Edition of "101 Dalmatians".

amir avni said...

Jungle book has my favorite characters, The pace of the story is completely up to them. There is little screen time spent on merely connecting one important sequence to another, and the events feel spontaneous- especially the ending.
The spirit of the 60s!

Pinocchio is a Masterpiece, I love the animation and art direction, especially the scene we saw in class: Stromboli's theater.
It's fascinating to see him next to the dolls with strings, He appears to move on his own, while the movement of the other dolls looks controlled, it feels real.
I think it's because Pinocchio spends time to think before he acts, his eyes are moving, and his balance is more centered, while the other dolls' balance sways a lot.

Clinton said...

Happy belated birthday, Walt Disney! Bambi was my favorite Disney film of all time!

Floyd Norman said...

How is it that the toughest animation story editor of all time - - was actually the easiest man I've ever worked with in my entire career?

What a lucky kid I was to have actually had the chance to work with the "Old Maestro." Truly the best years of my life.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Floyd,

What's interesting to me is that, even though some of those who worked with Walt all those years may have had creative differences with him along the way and even were somewhat critical of the man, it seems like they all respected Walt, acknowledging his uncanny knack for entertainment, and ultimately believed in his artistic vision strongly enough to dedicate their lives to it. It must have been wonderful to have been able to work at Disney while Walt was still at the helm, as you did, Floyd. I'm so jealous! :)

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Good old Uncle Walt.

Brian Sibley said...

Is it really THIS long since I visited your blog which goes from strength to strength!

I love the Walt drawing - let's have some more of the man with his characters, perhaps, or in front of that castle or anywhere, anything...!! ;-)

Your tribute is, as others have already remarked, on the button!

Ellis said...

I was searching the net to see if anyone had done a drawing of Walt as a cartoon character and I found your blog. I love this caricature and the post, great job, I think you've captured him very well. I spent some time looking around the site and you've done great work. Good job.