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Flashback Friday: Disney’s Nine Old Men

By Official Disney Store Blogger, Apr 06, 2012 2:50 PM

If there is a defining achievement of The Walt Disney Company that stands out, it would have to be the classic animated films that have endured in the hearts of people for decades. The iconic characters that have come to life from these tales of triumph and imagination appear across the globe in theme parks, homes, stores, books, and so much more. We all know Walt Disney was the master mind behind the whole operation, but who else was there to help see Walt’s dreams made into a reality?

Introducing Disney’s Nine Old Men, the core Disney animators at The Walt Disney Company who worked alongside Walt to create some of the most famous animated features still revered today, from Cinderella to Dumbo.

Disney's Nine Old Men
But where did the title “Nine Old Men” originate from?

Why, from Mr. Disney himself, of course! Walt jokingly addressed this group of animators as such as a reference to Robert S. Allen and Drew Pearson’s 1937 book about the nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, entitled “The Nine Old Men.” It is also said that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the same nickname for the nine justices, from which Walt picked it up for his right-hand men.

Scroll down to see a picture of each of the Nine Old Men and their associated Disney animation work.

Les Clark – the first of the group to join Disney (1927), Les became the second animator to draw Mickey Mouse, the first being the original animator, Ub Iwerks. Mickey Mouse was his specialty! He also worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Cinderella among numerous others. 

Les Clark
Marc Davis – beginning his career at Disney in 1935 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Marc would contribute heavily to not only animation, but to Disney Imagineering. You can see Marc’s work when you ride Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. Other animation feats include Flower from Bambi and Tinker Bell from Peter Pan

Marc Davis
Ollie Johnston – along with his lifelong friend, Frank Thomas, Ollie joined the Disney team in 1935.The duo was commonly referred to as “Frank and Ollie” as they were inseparable as colleagues and friends. After retiring from Disney in 1978, the two would continue on to co-author a numbers of books on the art of animation. Noteable characters he animated include Pinocchio from Pinocchio, Mr. Smee from Peter Pan, and the Evil Stepsisters from Cinderella

Ollie Johnston
Milt Kahl – just call him the Disney villain expert! Milt created some of Disney’s most memorable villains, including Sher Khan in The Jungle Book and Madame Medusa from The Rescuers. But he also helped create some of Disney's most loveable characters as well, including both Lady and Tramp from Lady and the Tramp and the bouncy Tigger.

Milt Kahl
Ward Kimball
– after joining Disney in 1934, Ward would find his niche specializing in wacky and exaggerated characters, such as the incredibly mysterious and mischievous Cheshire Cat, the crazy Mad Hatter, and ever-confusing Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Alice in Wonderland.

Ward Kimball
Eric Larson – known for creating some of Disney’s favorite furry friends like Peg in Lady and the Tramp, Eric’s influence can be seen in a later generation of Disney classic films as he was responsible for recruiting and training many of the talented young animators who joined the Studio in the 70s and 80s. Eric also worked Pongo and Perdita from 101 Dalmatians

Eric Larson
John Lounsbery – becoming a part of the Disney crew in 1935, John was known for his loose, organic, and dynamic style of animation that beautifully brought to life the ballet-dancing alligator and hippo in Fantasia and the elephants of The Jungle Book.

John Lounsbery
Wolfgang Reitherman – lovingly known as “Woolie,” Wolfgang directed all the animated Disney films from Walt’s death in 1966 until his retirement in 1981, an incredible undertaking. Woolie directed such films as Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and The Jungle Book.

Wolfgang Reitherman
Frank Thomas – the other half to the “Frank and Ollie” duo, Frank animated some of Disney’s most iconic villains, including Lady Tremaine and Captain Hook. As a result, one of the many books he would co-author with Ollie was entitled, “Disney Villains.” Frank animated such famous scenes as Lady and the Tramp eating spaghetti and Pinocchio singing at the marionette theatre.

Frank Thomas
Truly a group of Disney legends! These Nine Old Men are said to have created the modern art of animation, all with a great level of humility and adherence to Walt’s vision to create beautiful, magical, and timeless animation for people everywhere. Thank you for bringing such wonder and imagination to the world, gentlemen!

Check back at The Buzz for answers to the trivia questions later today! Have a magical weekend!




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This is so interesting! I love the photo's and sketches of these Disney legends. What I would give to have watched these masters at work!

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