2013 Wolfgang Reitherman

With an unusual knack for action sequences, Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman animated such memorable sequences as the dramatic dinosaur battle in Fantasia, the climatic whale-chase scene in Pinocchio, the ride of the Headless Horseman in Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and the fire-breathing clash between Prince Phillip and Maleficent (in dragon form) in Sleeping Beauty.

Born in Munich, Germany, on June 26, 1909, Woolie came to the United States as an infant and was raised in Sierra Madre, California. Fascinated with airplanes and flying, he attended Pasadena Junior College with the intent of becoming an aircraft engineer and, later, took a job at Douglas Aircraft. In 1931, however, Woolie changed his career flight path when he decided to become an artist and enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles to study watercolor. While there, he met an instructor who taught classes at the Walt Disney Studio and, in 1933, Woolie joined the Disney animation department.


Woolie once said about animation, "It was a romance from the start. The minute you know you can make a drawing move, the static drawing loses its appeal: movement is life. Animation represents the greatest breakthrough in 20th century art."


During World War II, Woolie left the Studio to enlist with the U.S. Army Air Forces. He became an ace pilot, serving in Africa, India, China, and the South Pacific, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war, he returned to the Studio.


Over the years, Woolie -- one of Walt's fabled Nine Old Men -- contributed to more than 30 Disney shorts. The include such classics as "Water Babies," "Mickey's Fire Brigade," "Two-Gun Mickey," "The Band Concert," "Music Land," "Hawaiian Holiday," "Ben and Me," and "Donald in Mathemagic Land." He also contributed his animation skill to such classic animated features as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, and more. He appeared on screen as himself in the 1941 behind-the-scenes feature The Reluctant Dragon.


In 1963, Woolie became the first animator in history of the company to be given the directorial reins of an entire animated feature, with The Sword in the Stone. He subsequently directed The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), and Robin Hood (1973). He also directed the cartoon featurette Winne the Pooh and the Blustery Day, which won an Academy Award® in 1969.

 

After Walt Disney's untimely death in 1966, Woolie helped unify the Studio's stable of egos and talent. After nearly 50 years with the Studio, Woolie retired in 1981. Woolie Reitherman passed away on May 22, 1985, in Burbank, California.

 

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