Friday, March 31, 2006

Disney In the Seventies & Eighties -- Pete Young

Pete Young was, at the start of the seventies, a young effects animation assistant trying to break into the Disney story department... (That's Pete on the left there, circa 1985, in Disney's Flower Street Building. Not the greatest picture, but what I've got.) Pete managed to get a 'try out' with the story department. He took a book the studio owned entitled The Small One, and worked nights drawing it up. The powers-that-be decided the board had possibilities and gave Pete a shot at developing it further -- mentored by Vance Gerry, one of the seasoned vets of the Disney story department. The Small One was greenlit for production, assigned to a director, and left Pete's and Vance's hands. Pete wasn't happy about the direction the story later took, but he was in the story department and finally off and running. Over the next several years, Pete worked on The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, and The Great Mouse Dtective (original and better title: Basil of Baker Street). On Fox, Pete boarded some of the most effective 'relationship' sequences: a sorrowful widow Tweed dropping her small pet fox off in the forest so the hunter wouldn't kill it, also the young hound dog Copper being introduced to the older hunting dog Chief near the start of the picture (This was put in late in the story cycle. Pete thought there needed to be more character development up front in F & H and he was right. But he was cunning about putting it in. As he once related to me: "You can never introduce a new story element into your boards before the director's ready for it. Otherwise, it's probably going to get rejected." He was right about that, too.) Pete, along with Ron Clements, pushed Basil of Baker Street as an animated project; Ron Miller greenlit it and Jeffrey Katzenberg okayed its continuation in production. At the first 'Gong Show' -- a big pitch meeting presided over by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner -- Pete brought up the idea of doing Oliver Twist in New York City with dogs and a cat. Eisner and Katzenberg immediately took to it, and gave it a nod for further development. (At the same meeting, Ron Clements pitched The Little Mermaid and Treasure Island set in space. Fairly productive pitch meeting, wasn't it?) In a half dozen years, Pete climbed from the bottom of Disney Feature Animation's story department to the top. But you won't read much about him, or see his name featured in Disney histories. He died suddenly in the Fall of 1985, at the age of 37. I think about him a lot.

7 comments:

Steven E. Gordon said...

Pete was a great guy and his tragic, early death effected a lot of us. he was definitely one of the good guys and should be remembered.
It's wonderful you brought his name up.

Floyd Norman said...

Pete was a very talented and a very nice young man. I remember giving him a ride home when we worked at Disney in the seventies. We talked about story, and how much better the Disney films could be.

I think he was slated to co-direct "Oliver" with George Scribner. Like Joe Ranft, he left us much too soon.

Steven E. Gordon said...

Actually Rick Rich was slated to co-direct Oliver with Scribner...it didn't quite work out that way for reasons that I won't get into here.
I think Pete was smart enough )or overly cautious enough) not to want to direct and was willing to utilize Scribner as his proxy.
I suspect if Pete had lived Oliver might not have been the embarrassing film it turned out to be...maybe. Pete understood how to work within a group and use everyone's input. He wasn't one of those that felt only his opinion mattered or was right.

Steve Hulett said...

Pete was my closest friend at Disney for most of the time I was there.

I found out he had died the day after I came back from a two-week vacation. Brian McEntee told me the news over the phone. I remember walking around in numbed shock, trying to get my head around the reality of his passing.

Steven E. Gordon said...

Those of us were there and not on vacation were shocked as well. We knew he had been sick, but it hadn't sounded life threatening. It was all a stupidly tragic accident.
My heart really went out to his family - especially to his two young daughters (I think that's right). He always spoke lovingly of them.

Jenny Young said...

It means so much to find this. Pete was my father and his work is what we have now to remember him by. I will show all I know he did to my baby daughter. I can remember trips to the disney studio and drawing up storyboard ideas for a pluto cartoon. He told me he named Jenny in Oliver after me and I remember George saying that at the movie screening as well. He is missed by his family and we love him. AMy, Jenny, and Christy Young

jenny young said...

I would like to add if anyone could email me stories or any memories of any kind no matter how small. Maybe those of you that worked with him could straighten out for us exactly what little things he did in movies that we might have mixed up from my mom to my grandma...my sisters and I don't know too much amy was 9 when he died, I was about to turn 7 and Christy about to turn 5. my email is y75jenn@aol.com

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