Disney toasted 90 years of animation on Dec. 10 with a cocktail reception in the appropriately named Legends Plaza on the Disney lot in Burbank — appropriate because of the many Disney legends in attendance, including 100-year-old artist Milton Quon, who worked on “Fantasia” and “Dumbo,” 103-year-old Ruthie Thompson, who was an inker at the studio for 40 years, and 78-year-old Burny Mattinson, who recently celebrated his 60th year of working at the studio.
Disney topper Bob Iger wanted to open the festivities with a joke about the extremely chilly weather. “I was dying to start with a joke which was to say: ‘Welcome to the Disney lot where its nice to be “Frozen” here on the spot,’ but the heaters kind of did away with that.” Iger went on to extol the importance of animation to the Disney Studio. “Animation really has been the heart and the soul of this company.”
Creative chief John Lasseter stressed the importance of carrying on Walt Disney’s legacy. “There is something special and unique about the kind of special entertainment that Walt Disney created that no one has ever been able to reproduce — that warmth he puts in your heart … the humor, the beauty. It’s why I chose this life’s work and why all the artists here at Disney chose it. At one point, Walt Disney touched our lives.”
Disney legend Richard Sherman, who with his brother Robert composed many of Disney’s most beloved tunes, remembers loving Mickey Mouse cartoons that played before features at his neighborhood theater. “It’s like a dream that I’m working at Disney Studios.”
“Frozen” co-helmer and scribe Jennifer Lee remembers her first brush with Disney Animation. “It was ‘Cinderella,’” she recalled. “First I had the book with the read-along record. My mother says I was 2 when I got it.” She saw the film when it was rereleased in the theaters in the 1980s. “I was about 8. It will always be my favorite because it was the first one.”
“Dumbo” was the first Disney film experience for longtime Disney animator Eric Goldberg, who headed up animation for the nostalgic 3D short “Get a Horse!” that plays before the studio’s current toon titan “Frozen.” “I saw ‘Dumbo’ in a high school gym. It was after it had been released in theaters and the school was showing it. I couldn’t have been more than 4.”
“Sleeping Beauty” was a life-changer for “Frozen” art director Michael Giaimo. “I was 6 years old and it was the first release of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in 1959. It absolutely changed my life. Of course at 5 years old you can’t absorb a lot of the storytelling, but visually its one of the most beautiful films ever made. The visuals of that film have stayed with me my whole career.”
Other Disney legends feted at the event were Tony Anselmo (voice of Donald Duck), Kathryn Beaumont (voice of Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” and Wendy in “Peter Pan”), Alice Davis (Disney artist and wife of one of Walt’s Nine Old Men, Marc Davis), Goofy voice actor Bill Farmer, animator Floyd Norman (“Sleeping Beauty,” “The Jungle Book”), the voice of Minnie Mouse Russi Taylor and Disney archivist Dave Smith.
Joining the celebration that followed a screening of “Frozen” were that pic’s jolly snowman Josh Gad, helmer Chris Buck, Disney execs Ed Catmull, Alan Horn, Ricky Strauss, Andrew Millstein, Alan Bergman and David Sameth.