Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Frank and Ollie


Les Clark
Ollie Johnson
Frank Thomas
Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman
John Lounsbery
Eric Larson
Ward Kimball
Milt Kahl
Marc Davis
These are the legendary “Nine Old Men” of the Disney animation department, the ones who gave the films from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Rescuers that special Disney magic found nowhere else. I’d always thought Hamilton Luske and the wonderfully-named Ub Iwerks were part of that team, but apparently not. (Wikipedia has the story of his name, and it’s funny. The writer of the article says Ub was born Ubbe Ert Iwwerks, in the Netherlands, but he later “anglicized” his name. Hell, man, you call that anglicizing? “Bubba Edwards” would be anglicizing. All Ubbe did was abbreviate.) As of today only Ollie is alive, and he’s 95. But his life-long friend Frank Johnson was still very much kicking when this sweet little film was made. (He died in 2004.)

I’ve been a fan of animation all my life, but this film made me consider some aspects of it that hadn’t really occurred to me. Think about it. There can be no “happy accidents” in an animated film. Every line, every twitch of a mouth or rise of an eyebrow was thought out in some detail by the people who agonized over every pencil stroke. Often the only role models they have are themselves, studied in a mirror, so they need to be good actors. And any of the nine old men could tell each other’s work with only a glance.

An animated feature like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs 83 minutes, or almost 5000 seconds. That’s 120,000 frames, and each frame is a separate work of art. Think about that.

By the time this film was over, I’d learned a lot about the process of character animation. And I’d grown to like these guys quite a bit. Ollie is a train buff, and had at least two trains in his backyard that were large enough to ride on. One was almost as big as the ones at Disneyland. I hope the jolly old codger is still engineering!