Ward Kimball was one of Walt’s Nine Old Men, the group of heralded young animators who worked on the studio’s earliest animated shorts and feature-length movies. Disney fans know the legend that Walt never directed compliments toward anyone, but Kimball is the only employee he ever publically called a genius. With that knowledge in hand, I was eagerly looking forward to this book.
Supported by annotations from Kimball’s own personal journals and hundreds of interviews of his and others who worked with him, this was a fascinating book about an ambitious, restless artist. With a slim amount of formal art education and youthful aspirations of working as a commercial artist for advertising agencies in New York City, Ward reluctantly accepted a job at The Walt Disney Company to learn animation, originally believing the trade to be a step down from advertising. He ended up proving to be an expedient animator, working faster than most, and worked on all of the original Disney classics, including designing Jiminy Cricket. He would later co-direct “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for Walt Disney. He later earned one with his own name on it for “It’s Tough to Be a Bird”.
He founded the Firehouse Five Plus Two Dixieland jazz band which performed at clubs around LA and Disneyland, produced three installments about space exploration for the Disneyland TV show that drew fascination and interest from the viewing public up to President Eisenhower, and even enjoyed a friendly relationship with the boss, unique among the Company staff, building up the Mousetro’s interest in model trains, before ultimately feeling boxed in by the studio’s family friendly art house style.
In some ways, he reminds me of Chuck Jones, who claims to have told Walt Disney that ultimately the only job he wanted at his studio was Walt’s. Ward wasn’t that discourteous of Walt’s position or the benefits of creative opportunities he received from his employer, but later in his career, the eccentric Kimball clearly wanted to create his own artistic identity apart from the name Disney. So the later years, close to Walt’s passing in 1966 and thereafter until his retirement in 1973 were frustrating for him. He also faced criticism and resentment from other animators, including some of his Nine Old Men peers.
I wouldn’t call this a warts-and-all biography, but it doesn’t shy away from the animator’s stubbornness and misjudgments when he fails to recognize how best to spread his creative wings and pursue his ambitions with strategic tact and even some humility while at the studio. I enjoyed this book a lot. The only disappointment I had about the book is that it includes no photos of Kimball at all beyond what’s on the cover.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!