Saturday, May 5, 2012

Madame Bonfamille

Here is another character Milt Kahl didn't particularly enjoy animating, but as usual he pulled it off beautifully. There was criticism at the time as to why Madame Bonfamille in "The Aristocats" looked so realistic. This lady was eccentric enough to will her fortune to her house cats, so why not design her as a nutty old woman?
Milt's response was that the story guys thought of her as a beautiful, dignified elderly lady, as did Ken Anderson. So he refined what they gave him, not changing the character's concept.
In an interview Milt said that it doesn't hurt to do your straight, realistic job once in a while, knowing that you will have other characters in the picture who are eccentric and more entertaining.
And of course Milt did pride himself for being able to do assignments like this one that called for careful realistic handling.
"Realism is not the problem, it's the way (other) people do realism that's a problem!" he said.

To me the contrast between her and the lawyer and butler works quite well. 

A development sketch by Ken Anderson

American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson might have been an influence on Milt when he drew Madame Bonfamille. You find the same careful accuracy in the remarkable draughtsmanship of both artists.

This is a photo of Grace Godino posing as Madame Bonfamille. To my knowledge no film footage was ever taken. Grace was an inker at Disney, she also had a little acting experience as a stand-in for Rita Hayworth.

The following rough animation drawings are from the scene in which Madame greets her old friend, lawyer Georges Hautecourt. He is about to compliment her on her soft hands after having just kissed the cat's tail.
These drawings AMAZE me…elegance, grace and perfection.
The motion of her left hand reaching forward is beautiful.


  1. What amazes me is that you call them "roughs".....they're anything but rough! Beautiful draftsmanship.

  2. Absolutely stunning. I find myself staring at Milt's drawings, almost trying to see his thought process and methodology.

    In the coloured frame, I wonder if Duchess' tail was used, not only for humour, but for the colour value. The bold white seems to connect Georges' eyes and hair, all the way up to Madame's. Then her left arm draws the eye through to the hand and thumb back to Georges' eye. I may just be over analysing but it's hard not to with a master's work.

    Either way, thank you for continuously posting amazing content.

  3. Oh and the Ken Anderson interpretation is stunning as well...

  4. Hey Andreas I was trying to figure out who in your unit did the bulk of the scenes of Gaston, Jafar, and Scar besides you and who did a lot of the standout scenes in your book besides yourself. I know Ron Husband and Nik Ranieri did a lot of Jafar.

    1. If you look up the book "The Disney Villain", it lists the crews of
      villain characters including the ones I animated.
      On Lion King I had help from Doug Frankel, Jean Morel, Mark Koetsier and Alex Williams.

      They all did a beautiful job and contributed to the characters.

  5. As you likely have too, I once heard an audio recording of Milt speaking to the up-and-coming crew circa 1977 where he was less forgiving of this character, hotly questioning the purpose of conceiving such a realistic type for a cartoon. Maybe it was still too recent for him to reflect on it as you quote him here. Of course as you point out, he never let even his archest misgivings about an assignment stand in the way of performing it to perfection...

    It's a coincidence because she was too young at the time, but Ken's drawing of Mme. B looks a lot like Angela Lansbury to me...

    1. That's exactly what I thought when posting Ken's sketch, she looks like Angela Lansbury.
      In a little while I'll do a post on Anita from 101Ds.
      Milt's final design looks like Julie Andrews, who was pretty much unknown at that time.

    2. Re: Anita, I agree! I always thought Roger looks a lot like the then-unknown Dick Van Dyke, another co-incidence!

  6. Incredible. Milt was practically flawless as an animator!

    Ken Anderson I admire more and more every day and with every drawing of his I see. I've heard others refer to Ken as the '10th Old Man at Disney. I believe it!

  7. Ha ha -- the first thing I thought as I scrolled down to the reference photo was,"Rita Hayworth?!" No surprise, then, to learn that she stood in for Hayworth!

    These look wonderful. I'm torn over whether Madame should have been so realistic and attractive. I do like the departure from formula (rather than defaulting to a standard old biddy), and her good looks make it easier to believe/imagine her rich past as a society belle. On the other hand, she looks so good that it's hard to believe she won't outlive Duchess!

    Can't wait to see the post on Anita!

  8. I never thought abuot it, as a matter of fact Mme B looks like Angela Lansbury, Bedknob and Broomsticks was released in 1971 too so maybe that's not a coincidence. Moreover I've seen photos of "Anyone Can Wistle"'s 1965 stage production and Angela resembles Mme. B in her night gown during the thunderstorm sequence. Speaking of Madame I'm curious about one thing: she shares a lot of things with Lady Tremaine. They're both french old women, they wear the very same color and has a similar hairdo, they're both iper realistic character, they both love cats. Is it risky to assume Mitl's trying to create a good version of Frank Thomas' wicked lady here? I always asked myself why "She Never Felt Alone" never reached the screen. It's such a charming, simple and elegant song. The perfect conterpart to "Everybody Wants to Be A Cat" and Eva Gabor gave a wonderful interpretation of the song.

  9. Wow! So elegant :D So very beautifully elegant!

  10. Humm ... if I am not mistaken, Eva Gabor's singing was done by Robie Lester.

    On my very first visit to Disneyland in 1971, I got to buy 3 cels from that very scene (I believe they sold for $ 2.50 each! I know, I know ...)

    Years later I exchanged 2 of them with Jacques Muller (For a cel of Lady herself!) with whom you worked on Roger Rabbit, Andreas!

    Small world, isn't it?

    1. Yes it is indeed! But I do not remember those cels.

    2. Yes it is indeed! But I do not remember those cels.