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Creator / Ward Kimball

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Ward Kimball is one man who works for me that I'm willing to call a genius.
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Ward Walrath Kimball (March 4, 1914 – July 8, 2002) is best known as one of Disney's Nine Old Men of animators, as well as an Oscar-winning director, writer, painter, illustrator, jazz trombonist, railroad enthusiast and Imagineer.

Initially wanting to become a painter, Kimball joined Disney in 1934 as an inbetweener, eventually working his way up to a regular animator by 1936. After working on many Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse shorts, he graduated to working on feature-length efforts. Because two fully-animated sequences of his in Snow White were cut, Walt gave him the task of designing and animating Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio.

Jimmy became the first of many star characters Kimball animated and supervised, which include the crows in Dumbo, the title song in The Three Caballeros, Jaq, Gus and Lucifer in Cinderella, at least half of the characters in Alice in Wonderland, and many more.

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Eventually, Kimball became a director in his own right, earning the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for just his second film, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom. Despite the acclaim his films had gotten, Walt disliked their UPA-esque stylized animation and demoted Kimball back to animator until the mid-60’s, where he created more hilarious and experimental shorts, culminating in a second Animated Short Oscar for It's Tough to Be a Bird. He retired from Disney in 1973, but worked as an Imagineer for attractions at EPCOT in the 80’s.

Unlike most of his coworkers at the Mouse House, Kimball was just as prolific during his off-hours, working as a jazz trombonist for the Dixieland Jazz Band The Firehouse Five (Plus Two), an enthusiastic railroad engineer, historian and preservationist (with multiple fully-functioning railroads in his yard), a gag cartoonist, collector of early Americana, painter and TV host.

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By far the strangest of the Nine Old Men, Ward’s work is noted for it’s bounciness, sharp comic timing and detailed character acting that keeps inspiring animators to this very day. If you want to get a good glimpse of Ward’s diverse output, here's a reel of his Disney animation and then head over to the 365 Days of Ward Kimball, initially a promotional tool for Amid Amidi's biography of the man, but stuck in Development Hell. Despite Disney putting the kibosh on the initial release, Amidi's book will be released by 2019.


Noteworthy Films Ward Kimball Animated On Include:

Directorial Efforts & Other Projects by Ward Kimball include:

  • Adventures in Music Duology: Two films known for their catching music, edutainment vibe and stylized, UPA-inspired layout.
  • Asinine Alley - Gag cartoons for the Horseless Carriage Gazette, a magazine for pre-1916 car collectors, where Kimball experimented with collage, photography, multiple art shifts and humor.
  • The Firehouse Five (Plus Two) - Kimball’s Dixieland jazz band of fellow Disney animators where he played the trombone and de facto bandleader, releasing thirteen albums from 1949 to 1972.
  • A trilogy of hour-long TV specials Kimball wrote and directed about space exploration - Man in Space, Man on the Moon and Mars and Beyond. Combining live-action and animation, these shows were consulted by actual Space Age scientists (including Werner von Braun), sparked public interest in space travel and were endorsed by none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • He co-wrote the remake of Babes in Toyland note .
  • It’s Tough to be a Bird - A comical, Edutainment short about the study of birds which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short (this time, going home with Kimball)
  • Dad…Can I Borrow the Car? - A surrealistic, satirical live-action short that pokes fun at American car-culture.
  • Escalation - A satirical, independent short (emphasis on short) about President Johnson’s increasing involvement in the Vietnam War.
  • The animation sequences for Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
  • The Mouse Factory - a surreal series Ward directed the entire run of that combined celebrity guest stars with classic Disney clips.
  • Art Afterpieces - Two volumes of parodies of famous paintings.
  • Grizzly Flats Railroad - Ward’s personal railroad in his backyard that served as an early inspiration for Disneyland.

Tropes Associated with Ward Kimball include:

  • Author Appeal:
    • Experimenting with different styles.
    • Jazz music
    • A huge railroad enthusiast, collecting memorabilia and even entire working trains in his collection.
    • Americana from the 1800’s through the early 1900’s.
    • Hyper stylization and abstraction
    • Multiple gags and funny drawings going on at once.
  • Art Shift: Searching through his personal work, you can see how adept Kimball was at changing up his form, going from classical Disney-style designs to hyper-flat 50’s abstraction.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: His edutainment shorts do this especially.
  • Deranged Animation: As far as Disney goes, his work was really out there.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: Was responsible for some of Disney’s best, most notably the title song for The Three Caballeros.
  • Edutainment: Most of his directorial efforts are surprisingly educational, using stylized, experimental animation and satirical comedy to document subjects ranging from music theory to ornithology.
  • The Golden Age of Animation
  • Limited Animation: Despite being beloved for his fluid personality animation, Kimball was an innovator in using minimalistic movement in his directorial work, often for comic effect.
  • Medium Blending: His directorial efforts, combining animation of all kinds (hand-drawn, stop-motion, cut-out, pixilation), live-action and stock footage with avant-garde editing techniques.
  • Playing Against Type:
    • Despite being known for his bombastic, comedic animation, his work on Jiminy Cricket proves that he could handle subtle acting and technical craftsmanship just as well as his peers.
    • The few short scenes he animated on Mickey and the Beanstalk for Fun and Fancy Free are surprisingly restrained, the craziest he gets is when Mickey reacts to Donald taking the axe to try and kill the cow.
    • Escalation has a strange spot in his filmography, as it's his only film made outside the studio, as well as his most overtly political work.
  • Rail Enthusiast: That's putting it lightly. His enthusiasm was infectious; it was while operating one of Ward's trains that Walt decided to include a railroad in his plans for Disneyland. One of the locomotives of the Disneyland Railroad is named in his honour.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: Ward's style of comedy could be described as throwing as much as he can at the wall and seeing what sticks.
  • Renaissance Man: Oscar-winning animator, director of live-action and animation, gagman, screenwriter, illustrator, painter (ranging from realistic to abstract), jazz bandleader, trombone player, Imagineer, gag cartoonist, photographer, railroad historian/engineer, automotive historian, television host, collector of Americana and socialite, with friends like Louis Armstrong, Salvador Dalí and Robert Crumb.
  • Stock Footage: His later efforts incorporate such footage, primarily for ironic effect. The Mouse Factory is even structured around classic clips from Disney cartoons.
  • Visual Pun
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