Back in the Spring of '78, Ward Kimball talked to me at length about various Disney animators including my then-boss, Wolfgang Reitherman. When I worked at the Mouse House, one of the rumors was that Ward and Woolie hadn't gotten along too well. If that was the case, it certainly didn't come out in what Mr. Kimball had to say about Woolie ...
Below: Woollie Reitherman, by Larry Eikleberry.
Ward Kimball: Woolie was a good animator, but I think he suffered with a little inferiority complex. He didn't think he was a good artist, even though he was. Basically I think underneath, he compared himself to Fred (Moore) or some of the others, which made him work harder.
But yet, because of this extra drive Woolie had, it reminds me of Pete Rose, the drive Pete had playing baseball. The guy, who is probably older than the others, but he's a student, and wants to be better and consequently he is. Woolie's stuff in "The Rite of Spring" in Fantasia [the battle of the dinosaurs] has a great monumental weight to it, because Woolie in his own way just kept after it.
Woolie was tenacious. He didn't have the quick facility or facile way of working as Fred Moore had (for instance), or the flamboyant, spontaneous timing of Norm Ferguson. And he had to work harder, but he ended up with good stuff. He did good stuff on Jiminy Cricket, for instance. The cricket jumping along pointing to the words of the Blue Fairy's letter with his cane, that's Woolie.
And of course, "How to Ride a Horse" (Goofy short) is a funny picture, one of the funniest shorts. As a shortism blockbuster, I know people who saw "How to Ride a Horse" in the theatre when it was released by itself ten or fifteen times. They would go just to see that and they would laugh and laugh 'til they cried.
Woolie was the Goof man after features he worked on. He was older than the rest of us, so I guess that's why he was put in as the director. (As an animator) he was always stuck with the chase stuff because most people hated to do that, but Woolie got a big kick out of doing fast, action, wild-out stuff and he did it well.
Another guy who did this kind of stuff and did it well was Bill Roberts, an old guy that was animating at the studio when I got there, and finally retired in La Crescenta. Roberts did a lot of great stuff on "Mickey's Polo Team." It's hard to do a crowd of guys, caricatures of famous Hollywood actors, all riding horses as a group. Roberts had that tenacious, almost crude but effective way of pursuing wild action material.
Woolie told me in the 'seventies that he was a "straight ahead" type animator, and liked to plow right through, get the action, go back and refine it. He generally didn't animate from pose to pose to pose. Frank Thomas told me that Woolie would animate "just shapes. You'd look at his early animation tests and couldn't tell what they were. But Woolie knew where he was going. He'd look at the test, see things he liked, and go back and rework the animation until he got what he wanted."
Frank, the story goes, didn't like the chase stuff Woolie did with Captain Hook in Peter Pan -- thought it was too wild and broad. Frank had a lot of Hook's dialogue, so the story maybe fits. I think Wolfgang's treatment of Hook escaping the crocodile at skull rock is wonderful fun. But what do I know? I was just a story guy.