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Disney Animator Ollie Johnston Remembered

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Disney Animator Ollie Johnston Remembered


Disney Animator Ollie Johnston Remembered

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The last living member of Disney's so-called nine old men has passed away. The nine men were a celebrated group of animators. They created "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Fantasia" and other Disney classics. Ollie Johnston died this week at the age of 95.

Our critic, Bob Mondello, has this appreciation.

BOB MONDELLO: When Walt Disney called his core group of animators his nine old men, they weren't very old. Ollie Johnston was still in his 30s, for instance, but they did have a certain stature which is what Disney was suggesting.

His old-men joke was a reference to what President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been calling the nine judges of the Supreme Court. In matters of animation, Disney's nine old men were equally authoritative. And as Johnston remembered, they were determined to prove that animation was good for more that just slapstick.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. OLLIE JOHNSTON (Animator, Walt Disney): The first thing you try to do is communicate what your character is feeling, what they're thinking. If you're trying to make a point that would educate people while you still have to do it in the most entertaining way.

MONDELLO: That's Ollie Johnston in the documentary "Frank and Ollie," about his work with fellow animator Frank Thomas in such classics as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Fantasia," "Pinocchio," "Bambi," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Peter Pan," for which Johnston provided the character of Captain Hook's loyal first mate, Mr. Smee.

(Soundbite of animated movie "Peter Pan")

Mr. HANS CONRIED (Actor): (As Voice of Captain Hook) Come, Smee. We must leave immediately. Surround Peter's home…

Mr. BILL THOMPSON (Actor): (As Voice of Mr. Smee) But captain, we - we don't know where Peter Pan lives.

Mr. CONRIED: (As Voice of Captain Hook) Great Scot, you're right.

MONDELLO: And in "Robin Hood," King John, voiced by Peter Ustinov.

(Soundbite of animated movie "Robin Hood")

Mr. PETER USTINOV (Actor): (As King John) One more, one more, hiss out of you -hiss. And you are walking to Nottingham.

MONDELLO: Johnston would eventually lay out - in a book he co-authored with Thomas, "The Illusion of Life" - how to make a character emotionally expressive, fluid, real — in a word, life-like. "The Illusion of Life" became a sort of animator's bible, and Johnston created several other books with Thomas including "The Disney Villain," a specialty of theirs, and "Too Funny for Words."

After his retirement in 1978, Johnston stayed around to help the next generation of Disney artists. Now, the last of Disney's nine old men is gone but their work will be immortal for as long as there are children.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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