March 4, 1914 – Birth of Disney Legend Ward Kimball, One of the Nine Old Men
“I checked out a scene of Ward Kimball’s animation on Cinderella, and it had some of his rough notes on the scene. He had done the mice in the scene, and Cinderella was also in the scene, but the note to his assistants was, ‘The stooge enters here,’ and the stooge was Cinderella. I think [Kimball] had a certain attitude toward the straighter characters…he lived for the comedy and the counterpoint to the [straight character.]” – Animation Director John Musker.
Ward Walrath Kimball, known as one of Disney’s famed Nine Old Men, was born on March 4, 1914, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He attended the Santa Barbara School of Art in California, with an ambition of becoming a magazine illustrator. But after catching a screening of Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs, Kimball quickly put together a portfolio and headed straight to Disney Studios, which he joined in 1934.
Kimball’s animation style, with his focus on comedy, and the emotion he was able to infuse in his drawings was quickly noticed in the studio, One of the most well-known characters he developed was Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, which was a bit of a gift from Walt after one of Kimball’s scenes was cut from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Kimball remarked on this: “I spent eight months on it. It was all cleaned up and ready to be inked and painted. Walt sensed it stalled the plot at that point. So he called me to his office and said, ‘Ward, I hate to say this, but I’m going to have to take out this soup sequence.’ Of course, I was crestfallen, but right away he came in and said, ‘But I’ve got a little character in our next picture and we’re going to call him Jiminy Cricket. I’d like to have you be the animation supervisor on this.’ My first impression of him was, ‘This ugly insect.’ I said, ‘How can that guy carry the picture?’ My only answer to this is I’ve got to make him look funny. Walt didn’t really want a clown-looking cricket. As he put it, ‘Make him cute, Kimball.’”
Kimball (R) in a scene from The Reluctant Dragon, showing Robert Benchley how animated characters move
Along with many of the Nine Old Men that created the rules of modern animation, he continued to learn throughout his entire career. “An artist always goes back to the source,” he said wisely. “If he’s drawing animals, he looks at the giraffes and the lions; he caricatures them, but he starts out drawing realistically. Like on Bambi, the guys used to go down at the zoo and see how the animals acted.”
Kimball also animated Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Alice in Wonderland, and Lucifer in Cinderella, as well as the Academy Award-winning shorts Tootle, Whistle, Plunk and Boom – the first Cinemascope cartoon – and It’s Tough to Be a Bird. Kimball branched out of animation for the Disneyland show, producing and directing three episodes about space: Man in Space (which discusses the history of rockets), Man and the Moon (about man’s fascination with the moon), and Mars and Beyond (narrated by Paul Frees and discusses the possibility of life on other planets). Kimball also expanded into the story division, and helped write the script for the live-action film, Babes in Toyland.
Kimball brought his unique sense of humor to every aspect of his life, including performing with the famous Firehouse Five Plus Two
Kimball had many interests beyond animation. A railroad buff, his enthusiasm for his hobby spurred Walt to set up a backyard railroad of his own. Kimball was also a fantastic trombone player, and played in the famous group, “Firehouse Five Plus Two,” most notably with Frank Thomas, another member of the Nine Old Men. He was awarded as a Disney Legend at the ceremony in 1989, and his plaque honors his sense of humor by adding an extra finger to the hand holding the wand. Ward Kimball passed away on July 8, 2002, in Los Angeles, California.