It was the early sixties at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank when I received my new assignment on the feature film, “The Sword in the Stone.” Who would I be assigned to, I wondered? The news came quickly and not without some apprehension. I would be working for the dreaded master animator of D-Wing, Milt Kahl. A daunting assignment, to be sure. However, in time I began to settle in and my new assignment was not as fearful as I had imagined. Even though I was a member of the clean-up team I rarely spent much time in Milt Kahl’s office. Actually, I decided to avoid the Master Animator and was more than happy to let our clean-up key, Stan Green go over the scenes with Kahl on his Moviola. What’s a Moviola, you ask? It was a portable projection machine used for viewing film. Every animation artist had this viewing device in his or her office. For the most part the sessions with the Disney Master went well. However, If things didn’t go as expected I preferred that Stan Green be there to take the heat. For some reason Milt loved to intimidate his assistants. It was considered a Milt Kahl tradition that began with his assistants, John Freeman and Iwao Takamoto. Clearly, Kahl was well known for his insistence on the best in every scene he animated. He demanded solid draftsmanship and hated those who took shortcuts. Milt Kahl had an unkind word for those Disney artists. He called them, “lazy bastards.” Lucky for all of us things seldom went wrong and the fearsome animator was usually satisfied.
We had been working on Walt Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” for a number of months before we finally got around to a remarkable character that would be a scene stealer. Her name was Madame Mim and like Merlin the Magician, she had the powers of a wizard. Young Wart would eventually meet mad Madame Mim in her forest cottage. While we had our fair share of fun sketching Merlin the Magician, Archemedes, Sir Ector and Kay, this new character was a delightful change of pace. Working from Bill Peet’s inspired story sketches, Milt Kahl embellished this zany female wizard in his own special way. The animated scenes were filled with zany fun and delightful bits of business. Usually avoiding Milt Kahl’s moviola sessions, I made an exception this time around. I actually watched the scenes on the Moviola with Stan and Milt as Kahl laughed his head off over his own animation. Was Milt Kahl entertaining the audience, I wondered? I couldn’t help but get the impression the master animator was really entertaining himself. Perhaps Milt was amused by his own special jokes and the personal stuff he added to his animation. After all, he had designed the grouchy wizard, Merlin after the big boss, Walt Disney. In a final bit of animated fun, the less than attractive Madame Mim transforms herself into a sexy babe. It was no accident that the “sexy Mim” bore a remarkable resemblance to a tall, leggy redhead who worked upstairs in the layout department. Of course, I loved working on the Mim sequence in “The Sword in the Stone.” If I had my way there would have been a lot more of Mad Madame Mim in the Disney movie.
Perhaps you got a chuckle out of Madame Mim’s zany antics as well. Mim turned out to be a very engaging character and it’s a shame “The Sword in the Stone” was somewhat of a disappointment for audiences back in the sixties. No matter. The Old Maestro, Walt Disney was never one to dwell on the past and he simply moved on to his next project. As expected, It was an engaging story by Rudyard Kipling and the movie would be adapted and developed by the same top Disney story-man. The movie would feature a little boy named Mowgli and a host of jungle animals. As expected, I would work on this Disney motion picture as well. Only this time around, I would work in a totally different capacity. The nineteen sixties would have many surprises in store for all of us and we’ll talk more about that next time around.