My children know the work of Frank and Ollie. They’re probably at least the fifth generation of our family that does. I know their grandfather loved Lady and the Tramp; he had a cel of it. My ten-year-old, Zane, watching this with me, declared them epic animators. And they were, in every sense. Walt is the one everyone recognizes, but it’s Frank and Ollie’s work everyone knows. Their faces, too, are borrowed repeatedly, and there’s probably not an animator working in the industry who isn’t inspired by them, even if they don’t necessarily know the names. And most of them probably know the names.
Theodore Thomas, Frank’s son, created a documentary about his dad and that guy who lived next door and worked with him. They would be the last two of the Nine Old Men alive, though two others were at the time. Frank and Ollie both joined the studio in 1934. They worked on Snow White together, drawing dwarfs. Over the decades at Disney, they would create innumerable characters that live in even the most casual Disney-watcher’s memories. They start the documentary by telling the story of the man whose immediate response was, “You’re the guys who killed Bambi’s mom.”
And, okay, they did. They also sent Lady and the Tramp on their date. They had Baloo tell Mowgli he had to return to the man-village. They made the Good Fairies work on Briar Rose’s birthday. They sent Alice into Wonderland. They made Pinocchio explain himself to the Blue Fairy. Eventually, they provided voices for characters based on themselves in The Incredibles, and it’s hardly the only tribute to them I’ve seen in movies over the years.
In fact, they saved Disney animation. If The Jungle Book, the first animated feature released after Walt’s death, had not been a success, there was talk of shutting down the entire division. Apparently, they animated about half the movie between them. The pair worked on bringing humour and pathos to every movie they worked on, and with The Jungle Book, they knew what they were up against if it had not been a success. Fortunately for all, it was.
And through it all, the men remained friends. They were within two months of age of one another, had begun working for Disney for roughly the same length of time. They married at about the same time, bought houses next door to one another, even had children at almost the same time—Frank had more kids, but there was one time when their wives were both pregnant at once. Sure, they were both in the Firehouse Five Plus Two, but also even after they’d retired, they saw one another all the time. It’s a charming story worthy of two such talented men.