Saturday, April 08, 2006

Disney's "Nine Old Men" -- The Last Hurrah That Wasn't

(Woolie R., Milt K., Les C,. Marc D., Ward K., Eric L., Frant T. John L. and Ollie J.) Somewhere around a decade ago, Disney Features called me up at The Animation Guild and asked for a favor. The surviving "Nine Old Men" (Frank Thomas, Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball) were going to animate scenes for the upcoming "Fantasia" sequel. The studio thought it would be a wonderful thing if the animators who had worked on the original came back for a kind of valediction, and worked on the new one. But the company wanted a waiver from dues for the group, since they were only working on one scene each... After pondering the proposal for fifteen seconds, I said "fine," and wrote the Walt Disney Company a confirming letter that nobody would have to pay any new dues. I thought no more about the deal for several months, but then one day I had occasion to talk to Ward Kimball. I asked how the plan for him and his fellow animators to do work on the new "Fantasia" was going. "Oh that?" Ward said. "That thing was a disaster. They called us all in to look at storyboards for "Pomp and Circmustance." Awful piece of music, but Eisner wants it in the new picture. So we all come in to look at these boards, and it's storks delivering babies of all the old characters from the films we did like Snow White and the Prince, Cinderella and the Prince and some others. One stork after another, delivering babies. With their parents watching." "And the boards are terrible. We all just sit there -- Frank, Ollie, Marc and me -- while the director's telling them. And "Pomp and Circumstance" is playing. And Eisner's hovering around. Nobody says anything. And the presentation ends and all of us get up, making small talk, trying not to make eye contact with the studio people. Marc Davis is over at the side of the room at this buffet table, and I go over to him. I say, "Well Marc. What do you think?" He sees the smirk on my face and he says, "I think we need to get out of here." So we both leave. Without telling anybody anything." More months went by. One day I asked a Disney exec what was going on with the Nine Old Men animating on "Fantasia." He told me: "Oh, that didn't work out. They really weren't up to doing the animation." I replied what a shame that was.

5 comments:

Floyd Norman said...

One of the few advantages of being an "Old Guy" is you don't have to work on crap. I've had the pleasure of turning down more than a few jobs that didn't interest me.

I remember Ward Kimball telling me to only work on jobs that were fun. Lucky for me, that's what I do now.

chrisheadrick said...

That's a great story to hear.

I worked with a guy who did the boards for that sequence freelance.

It was quite a lot of work: after all, the storyline was that all the Disney princesses all had babies by the Disney heroes, and Donald Duck was set to deliver a stack of crowns to the babes, but all the Disney villains were conspiring to wreck the whole affair. So the poor guy had to board panel after panel with at least ten characters in each one. In his defense, his work looked nice, but he absolutely hated the story, and just did it for the money. He wasn't even a Disney artist at the time, I don't think, so Eisner obviously couldn't find someone in house who would touch it.

The Nine Old Men idea was probably a last ditch effort by Eisner to not suffer an embarrassing defeat of his idea. After all, who would cut out a sequence done by the Nine Old Men?

Great to know that they walked out on it.

Oh, and Floyd--I absolutely love your "Faster, Cheaper" book.

Kevin Koch said...

I just talked to Alice Davis, Marc's widow about it. She started off by saying, "Unfortunately, I was there. It was godawful." Apparently Eisner didn't tell them what they had been invited to, but it had been made clear for them to be on time. Then he arrived 45 minutes late.

She recalled that Snow White was going to have twins. And when Eisner started going on and on about how wonder "Pomp and Circumstance" is as music, she thought "My God, did he ever go to his own graduation?"

She also remembered that, though they were annoyed by the idiocy of it all, they stayed politely until the end. And as they walked out, she wondered aloud, "They're all having kids? I thought they were supposed to live happily ever after?!"

Anonymous said...

One of the best stories ever. I've heard all about that "original" concept of Eisner's; supposedly he got the thunderbolt while, yes, attending his kid's graduation. What an ass.

I've also heard(many, many times over)that he had an absolute THING for any "all the Disney Heroes and all the Disney Villains" ideas. He'd pitch it all the time, over & over. Thought it'd be a GENIUS use of the characters.
I don't care what this man's supposedly "superior" education was, he's always come off as stupid as dirt. If that story doesn't prove it, what could?

RussellC23 said...

If all of us refused to work on crap, there would hardly be any jobs. But on the upside there wouldn't be any crap!

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