The Lackey

We called him the “Lackey.” At least that’s what my lead animation assistant, Stan Green called him. Back in 1957 I scurried down the hallway of D-Wing in the Animation Building to pick up my new clean-up assignment. Like a few hundred other animation artists, I was working on Walt Disney’s latest animated feature motion picture, “Sleeping Beauty.” I’ve often mentioned that I worked on the Three Good Fairies, Flora, Fauna and Meriweather while on working on “Sleeping Beauty” back in the fifties. However, the fairies weren’t the only characters I sketched way back then. I spent a couple of weeks drawing this very funny guy while working for a Disney animation Legend. His name was Milt Kahl and the irascible directing animator was assigned multiple characters because of his skilled draftsmanship. Ironically, Kahl hated Prince Phillip most of all.

This week, Milt Kahl was animating the two kings, Hubert and Stephan in this light hearted sequence. If you remember the Disney characters, Stephan and Hubert were celebrating the joining of their two kingdoms now that their son and daughter had announced their engagement. The monarchs sang and toasted their good fortune as the Lackey continued to pour glass after glass of wine for the royal dads. The kings even sang a little toasting song they called, “Skumps!” Taking advantage of the opportunity, the Lackey decides to imbibe on the sly. Without being noticed, the servant enjoys several sips of wine until he is totally toasted. The servant ends up sprawled under the table with the mandolin on his head. The sequence ends with the snoring Lackey and a few sour notes on the mandolin. It’s a moment of light fun before the story becomes more intense.

Full disclosure requires I tell you we used rotoscopes on this animated material. Of course the live-action rotoscopes were use only for reference - not for tracing. If you’re wondering why the Lackey looks familiar it’s because Walt Disney used a well known character actor to play the role of the Lackey in our live-action reference. His name is probably familiar to movie buffs with a knowledge of thirties and forties motion pictues. The actor’s name is Franklin Pangborn, and Pangborn was a  wonderful comedic character actor who often played prissy hotel clerks in the old black & white comedies. If you’ve ever watched vintage Hollywood movies I know you’ve seen Franklin Pangborn.

Finally, having told you this Walt Disney Sleeping Beauty story, let’s all raise our glasses and give our toast with a rousing, “Scumps!”

He didn't have a name so we simply called him, the lackey. Veteran character actor, Franklin Pangborn provided our live-action movie reference.

He didn't have a name so we simply called him, the lackey. Veteran character actor, Franklin Pangborn provided our live-action movie reference.

Forgotten Comic Strip

Did you know there was almost a Roger Rabbit Comic Strip? That’s correct, boys and girls the wacky rabbit nearly made his debut in the daily newspapers. And, here before you is the proof the zany comic strip actually existed.

You see, back in the turbulent eighties there was a lot of stuff going on at the large entertainment company located in the San Fernando Valley. The company was undergoing massive changes and along with those changes was an agreement to partner with Hollywood icon, Steven Spielberg on a bold new project. As shooting continued in the UK, I continually received all manner of material from the filmmakers overseas. There were sketches and photographs. Script pages and revisions. In any case, it sure looked like we had stumbled on to something and the wacky movie Bob Zemeckis was directing was sure to be a hit. We had already launched a graphic novel and the project was already in work. We had secured the services of artists, Dan Speigle and Daan Jippes to create the comic. Why not a syndicated daily comic strip, we wondered? Before you could say the words, Mickey Mouse we were onto it.

Since the Disney/Spielberg motion picture would be a combination of live-action and animation we decided to emulate the concept in our daily comic strips. Members of our editorial and art staff would play the roles of the live-action characters by being photographed and stripped into the comic pages. Remember this was long before digital so all the compositing had to be done by hand. In any case, we thought the wacky idea worked really well and before we knew it we had completed a fair number of comic pages to present to our partner, King Features Syndicate. For reasons unknown, the strip idea received a thumbs down and the Roger Rabbit Comic Strip never saw the light of day.

If you recall, the motion picture “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” opened to good box office and solid reviews. As a matter of fact, there are some who consider this innovative motion picture the reason animated film making received a new lease on life. We did eventually finish the Roger Rabbit Graphic novel and it was published in several languages as well. In time, I would work on a number of Roger Rabbit motion picture sequel attempts but none ever caught on. Much like our Roger Rabbit Daily Comic Strip the ideas never went anywhere. So, here’s all that’s left of the once famous animated cartoon rabbit. Even though the film scored big with audiences back in the eighties, Roger never got a second chance at life and he’s now just a footnote in Disney history.

The Roger Rabbit Daily Comic Strip. No one has ever seen it, but guess who has all the original art?

The Roger Rabbit Daily Comic Strip. No one has ever seen it, but guess who has all the original art?

Jiminy Crickets!

“Jiminy Cricket” must have been a popular expression back in the thirties. Did you know that one of the Seven Dwarfs actually says, “jiminy cricket!” in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?” This was years before the Disney Studio completed “Pinocchio.

I found this hand inked and painted cel in a box in my garage. But before you get excited, let me explain that it’s not from Walt Disney’s classic animated film, “Pinocchio.” You see, we did a lot of crickets over the years. Much of the animation was for television. That’s a dead giveaway if you look closely at this cel. Even though the cel is beautifully hand inked and painted it’s no match for one of the original crickets from the Walt Disney feature film which had a more delicate ink line and a softer choice of colors. This is clearly art for a commercial or a segment of The Mickey Mouse Club. By the way, did you know that Cliff Edwards was still voicing the famous cricket as late as the fifties? Though getting on in years, the original voice of Jiminy was as energetic as ever. For some reason, Edwards like to hang around the Animation Building, and we would often see him in the hallways. Maybe the old guy just felt at home at the Disney Studio, and Walt didn’t seem to mind.

Speaking of “Pinocchio,” I was fortunate enough to spend time with another famous voice actor from the Walt Disney movie. Of course, I’m speaking of Pinocchio’s voice, Dick Jones. Sadly, Mr. Jones passed away recently, but I’ll never forget what he told us about working for Walt Disney and doing the voice of the little wooded boy. Decades later, Dick Jones remembers tearing up with each release of the Disney classic. He considered it such a wonderful thing to have been a part of this extraordinary motion picture that continued to bring joy to so many people. To the best of my knowledge, Dick Jones never voiced another cartoon character for the Disney Studio. However, the Disney Legend will always be remembered for “Pinocchio.”

Finally, this animation cel is in pretty good condition considering it was painted many years ago. Of course, by then we were using cel vinyl paint which was more long lasting and resilient than the old Disney water based paint. In any case, it’s pretty cool to see actual artwork you can hold in your hand. It’s a totally different experience from todays cartoon filmmaking where everything is virtual and never truly exists.

Jiminy Cricket makes an appearance in a Disney television commercial. Actually we did quite a few with the famous little guy back in the fifties, sixties and beyond.

Jiminy Cricket makes an appearance in a Disney television commercial. Actually we did quite a few with the famous little guy back in the fifties, sixties and beyond.