The nineteen sixties was a long time ago, yet it still contains many fond memories of a Disney long past. This story is one of them. After the completion of Walt Disney’s “The 101 Dalmatians” my A-wing workspace was relocated to D-Wing in the Animation Building. I was informed I would be working with my old pal, Stan Green on our next project. Of course, I knew instantly who Stan would be assisting on our next Disney movie. Stan worked for the “Terror of D-wing,” the amazing directing animator, Milt Kahl. Some might call it an honor to be selected to join Milt Kahl’s team. However, my first thoughts were of, fear and intimidation. Milt Kahl was a brilliant draftsman and a stellar animator. It was well known Kahl did not suffer fools and woe be to those who failed to please the master animator. However, kids like me followed orders back in the nineteen sixties. Roy Gieser and his moving crew soon appeared to move my desk and other belongings to fabled D-wing.
D-wing was the home of the Disney old guard. Many of the famed, “Nine Old Men” still occupied the wing. Ward and Woolie had spacious new quarters on the second floor but most of the old guys still made D-wing their home. Marc Davis would be with us for a time, but he would soon be moving to WED Enterpises over in Glendale. Frank and Ollie drove in together from La Canada and they arrived quietly each morning. However, the bombastic Milt Kahl arrived in grandiose style befitting his expansive persona. Each morning the outer hallway door would slam open and the master animator would stomp down the hallway to his office. Milt would settle into his office chair but not before hurling a few choice insults at his colleagues down the hall. It was his way of saying, “good morning,” I guess. Eric Larson occupied the corner office at the end of the wing. Smartly dressed in a suit and tie, the silver haired animator looked more like a banker than a Disney artist.
Before long, we were well into “The Sword in the Stone.” John Lounsbery animated a few of the first scenes on the film. It appeared we were going to animate this motion picture in a start to finish continuity. That is, the film was being made following the narrative and sequences moved into animation as storyman, Bill Peet turned them over to “music room.” Following Lounsbery, Milt Kahl tackled the early scenes establishing Sir Kay, Wart, the wizard Merlin and his owl colleague, Archemedes. Stan Green and I began to clean-up Milt’s scenes and I expected to be fired almost any day. However, my fears were unfounded because I never heard one complaint from the master animator. Milt Kahl was often fond of tearing into fellow Disney artists and telling them, “they couldn’t draw their ass.”
One of my most delightful assignments was cleaning up the wonderful character, Madam Mim. Actually, Mim was so much fun, I honestly wish there had been more of her in the movie. I seldom spent time with Milt going over his scenes on the Moviola, but the Mim scenes were an exception. Kahl actually seemed to get a kick out of viewing his own animation. He would run his animation over and over laughing his head off. You had to admit, it was very funny stuff. During a song sequence in Mim’s cottage, the female wizard turns herself into a tall, shapely young woman. Since I was cleaning up the scenes I couldn’t help but be aware the sexy character reminded me of a slender, leggy redhead who worked upstairs in the Animation Building. Milt never said he based his drawing on the young woman on the second floor, however after drawing her remarkable attributes day after day it became pretty obvious. At least to me, anyway.
Sadly, Walt Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” never enjoyed the box office success of other Disney films. It was one of those rare Disney films that went off without a hitch. The animated film moved smoothly through production without a hiccup and perhaps that’s the problem. Most successful films seem to move in and out of disaster throughout production. Perhaps our kiss of death was because we never experience any trauma during production and that’s why the finished movie appears to be so bland. The Sword in the Stone can hardly be called a poor motion picture because it’s filled with some pretty entertaining sequences. Somehow, it seems lacking that special Disney touch and that’s because Walt pretty much left Bill Peet alone to do whatever he wanted. That was a mistake that Walt Disney would not repeat when he tackled his next animated film. The Old Maestro would focus on this movie like a laser and guide the storytelling process from start to finish. It’s a film I worked on back in 1966 and its called, “The Jungle Book.”