Friday, October 21, 2011

Woolie Reitherman

I only knew Woolie Reitherman a little bit during the early eighties, when he was still at Disney. I remember him working with Mel Shaw on ideas for a couple of animated features. One was called "The little Broomstick", based on a book by Mary Stewart.  I thought the story was utterly charming, and Mel's pastel sketches for the film were incredible.
The other project was "Musicana", a sort of follow up to "Fantasia". It used some classical music for its story segments, but there was also World music from all over the globe. I had the chance to see a slide presentation of Mel's artwork which was synchronized to music. It was sensational. Unfortunately both projects were dropped after Disney changed management.

The first time I met Woolie I thought I was looking at John Wayne.
He told me that he saw my application portfolio and that he liked the work in it.
When I asked him to sign my copy of  "The Illusion of Life" he wrote:
To Andreas - Carry on! Take  animation a step farther - Woolie
Those are mighty big words, I thought. But that should be the goal, shouldn't it?

Woolie said he was born in Munich, and I thought it was cool to have that German background in common. He also invited me to come to his house for dinner sometime, whenever I wanted.
Unfortunately I never had the nerve or courage to ask him....darn it !!

Woolie died in a car accident on May 22, 1985.

His career at Disney is legendary. His first feature assignment was he Magic Mirror for "Snow White". He did super dramatic animation like Monstro in "Pinocchio", and the dinosaur battle in "Fantasia". But he could equally well handle funny and sweet characters like Timothy Mouse in "Dumbo".  After animating a whole bunch of great Goofy shorts Woolie started to specialize in exciting action sequences.
During an Academy tribute to his work in the early eighties, his chase with Ichabod and the Headless Horseman was screened. Afterwards he turned to the audience and said
"You know, this stuff is holding up pretty good after all these years".
And it still does, might I add!

I want you to take a look at one of his earlier efforts, Gus Goose in "Donald's Cousin Gus" from 1939. I just love this character.
The animation has great comedy, awesome timing and fantastic WEIGHT.
It is fun to study, whether you are doing 2D or CG animation. Weight is always a big issue, as you know.

Woolie also did the dog fight in "Lady & Tramp" and the dragon fight in "Sleeping Beauty".
After that he turned to directing. He co directed "101 Dalmatians" and was the single director on all animated features up until "The Rescuers".
So how can I not love Woolie Reitherman....the guy directed "Jungle Book"!!!


  1. Mr.Deja, i had the chance to meet you back when The Rescuers Down Under party at the Ritz hotel in Los Angeles,thanks to Ruben Procopio.I was a young employee of Jane&Dale Baer at that time.He animated The Prince and the Pauper,and i remember cleaning up a scene of yours of Prince Mickey jumping towards the window. I really like your blog,and i think you should have an internet show about your art and all about Disney,just like Daryl Hall does ,for example. I missed your visit to México,but i hope i´ll have another chance to go see you soon. Much blessings and thanks for having this superwonderful blog!!!- Alejandro Reyes

  2. Woolie animated Boris the wolfhound? I knew it!

  3. Yipee! Me and Zartok knew it all along. I love his drawings on Timothy Mouse he did, which is very juicy. Thanks Andreas, I've been awaiting this post for quite a while.

  4. I did not know that Woolie animated Gus,one of my all time favorites. After so much stiff animation these days on TV and on the internet, I saw the Donald cousin Gus and I was blown away by the looseness of the animation in it and I thought about why we don't see it anymore.
    Thanks for letting us know that Wollie did that, Andreas. I now respect and admire him even more

  5. Very neat stuff! In that cartoon I would have never thought to push the waddle that far! It's amazing how well it works even when being so exaggerated. Is this one of the cases Richard Williams describes where you can always bring it back in if you push it too far, but no one ever does?

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  7. Donald's Cousin has always been one of my favourite Donald cartoons.
    As always with good animation, I can't help continuing to notice new nuances about it. I love how in this one eating a hot dog literally turns Gus into a dog with the acting coming completely from his stomach. Since his personality is so controlled by his gut anyway, I think that's a brilliant visual idea expresssed through brilliant animation.

  8. Wonderful post. You are keeping these great artists alive for us today.

  9. Andreas!!! Happy Animator's International Day!!

  10. The photo at the top put a smile on my face. It's great to see Milt Kahl and Woolie Reitherman getting along, considering how Milt once talked about how he couldn't stand Woolie.