You may not know Ollie Johnston’s name or face, but you’ve seen his acting — it’s been all but imprinted in your DNA since childhood. Johnston, who died Monday at 95, was the last of the “Nine Old Men,” the animators responsible for the classic Disney cartoon features made from the 1930s to the 1970s. They invented the model for how animated features should be made, and each of them took on specific characters in the movie and acted the roles through their drawings. Johnston, in particular, was revered among animators for his emotional directness, from the scene of Bambi’s mother’s death in Bambi to the plight of the kidnapped orphan Penny in The Rescuers. (That film’s Rufus, a wise old cat, was the closest Johnston came to self-portraiture.) The accomplishments of Johnston and his co-worker and lifelong pal Frank Thomas (who died in 2004) were celebrated in the 1995 documentary Frank and Ollie; the pair’s website remains a good entry point to their achievements. Even in the age of computer animation, Johnston’s work remains enormously influential; Brad Bird paid him homage by giving him voice roles in The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. You can read some good remembrances here and here — or just watch Baloo and Mowgli, strolling hand in hand through The Jungle Book, for the best tribute to Frank and Ollie’s friendship.
Posted April 16 2008 — 8:20 PM EDT
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