Walt was not perfect. This is such a remarkable understatement that Bill Peet is in the afterlife laughing until he falls over. One of the big problems is that he was very much an authoritarian, provided Walt was the authority. He genuinely seems to have expected all his employees to be grateful just to work for the studio, which both led to the strike in the ’40s and also led to his absolute sense of betrayal that anyone working for him would go on strike. And if you were one of the best-paid people in the studio whom Walt personally elevated above the other animators, and you joined the strike because “Walt likes me best” should not be what it took to make a living wage, that didn’t suggest good things about your future at the Walt Disney Studios.
Volodymyr Peter Tytla was born to Ukrainian immigrant parents in Yonkers. At age nine, he saw “Gertie the Dinosaur” and seems to have known that it’s what he wanted from life. By age sixteen, he’d dropped out of school and was lettering title cards for Paramount. He spent a few years working in the animation industry before slouching off to Europe, where he studied Real Art, which would influence his work for the rest of his life. However, he destroyed all of his work since he didn’t believe he could be as great an artist as those he studied.
In animation, though, he had few rivals. In his time at Disney, he was in charge of Stromboli from Pinocchio, Yen Sid and Chernabog from Fantasia, and Dumbo from, you know, Dumbo. Even if you don’t look at the shorts, and you should absolutely look at the shorts, it’s quite clear that Tytla was a significant force at Disney. It’s disappointing that, after he felt forced to leave because of the whole “joining the strike” thing, he was unable to ever return to Disney, the studio where he felt happiest. Even in the last days of his life, he got a “gee, we’re not really hiring.”
It’s hard to feel passionate about his post-Disney work. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen a Little Lulu cartoon—I tend to forget they exist. I’m not a huge Popeye fan. There is in general a reason most people, when talking about animation of the middle of the twentieth century, tend to focus on Disney and Warners and kind of ignore everything else that was happening in US animation at the time until it’s time to start talking about TV animation. Tytla did very little work for TV.
I’m not sure a Tytla who stayed at Disney would have shaped the industry or even just Disney. I’m not even convinced he would’ve been happier—he did, after all, have that schism with Walt, and I don’t know if Walt would’ve forgiven him. It is my understanding that Walt could hold a grudge. It’s still a shame that he was dismissed so throroughly in the ’60s, even if, in point of fact, he’d had a series of minor strokes and was blind in one eye. He was prominent enough in the studio’s history that I think he deserved better, and after all Walt was no longer around to hold a grudge.