A Sweet Tribute To Disney’s Legendary Nine Old Men

On the evening of Sept. 4, 2023, I was on the checkout line inside The World of Disney Store in Disney Springs. To my chagrin, the sweatshirt I was about to purchase didn’t have a bar code tag on it.

This sweet tribute to Disney’s fabled Nine Old Men was seen hanging behind the cash registers at The World of Disney Store in Disney Springs. [Chuck Schmidt]
The cast member who was handling my transaction decided to take the sweatshirt to the area where I found it to find one with a bar code, leaving me standing alone at the register for at least five minutes.

Fortunately, I was able to occupy my time by looking at a bulletin board attached to the wall right behind the registers.

On it was a simple, poignant tribute to The Nine Old Men, Walt Disney’s most prolific and admired animators who were responsible for creating some of the most endearing characters ever to come out of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

For the record, Disney’s Nine Old Men were Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Frank Thomas, Eric Larson, Ollie Johnston, Woolie Reitherman, Les Clark, Ward Kimball and John Lounsbery.

Disney’s Nine Old Men pose for a group photo. [Courtesy of D23.com]
Their work spanned decades – decades, that coincidentally, resulted in some of the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ most beloved and popular films, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 to The Rescuers in 1977 and just about everything in between.

But their influence went beyond movies. Some, in fact, worked on concept art for Disney theme parks.

Retired Creative Director for Walt Disney Imagineering Kevin Rafferty began his own long and storied Disney career working with two of the Nine Old Men.

“When I started at WED [the forerunner of Imagineering], Ward Kimball and Marc Davis were there every day working on EPCOT stuff,” Rafferty remembers.

Disney Legend Marc Davis. [The Walt Disney Company]
Davis created many iconic and beloved Disney characters, including Cinderella, Alice, Tinker Bell, Maleficent and Cruella De Vil for the animation studios before transferring to Imagineering.

There, he worked on projects for Disneyland and the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, including Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress and the Haunted Mansion.

Kimball’s credits are equally prolific and impressive. For Cinderella, Kimball created the characters of Jaq, Gus and the rest of Cinderella’s mice friends, as well as Bruno the dog.

For EPCOT, “Marc started working on General Motors’ World of Motion ‘transportation pavilion’ before it got passed off to Ward,” according to Rafferty.

Disney Legend Ward Kimball. [The Walt Disney Company]
To our younger readers, the World of Motion show occupied the same building which now houses Test Track. World of Motion was a whimsical look at the history of transportation. It featured a catchy theme song, “Fun to Be Free,” and was narrated by former TV personality Gary Owens.

“Running through all the clever and hilarious scenes in my mind [in World of Motion], like the tire pumping scene, the motorcycle cop behind the billboard and the big city scene where the horse cart is disrupted, it’s easy to see both Ward’s and Marc’s influence and design.”

Rafferty’s job at the time was to dry mount and mat Ward and Marc’s concept sketches.

A chaotic scene from the World of Motion attraction at EPCOT. [The Walt Disney Company]
“Of course, they would always personally tell me all about them. I didn’t know at the time how privileged I was to be the first one to see their concept art and hear about each concept directly from them. I saw all of the concept sketches that actually became the scenes in World of Motion before ground was even broken. Can you imagine? Ah, the good ol’ days!”

Rafferty’s “good ol’ days” included his friendship with Disney Legend Jimmy MacDonald, who was a foley artist and sound effects wizard in addition to being the second voice of Mickey Mouse – after Walt Disney gave up the part.

“Being friends with Jimmy MacDonald and others who worked daily at the studio and were great friends with the Nine Old Men before they were the Nine Old Men, and hearing stories about them, it feels like I know them all to a certain degree,” Rafferty said.

“In fact, I have a Christmas card given to Jimmy and Bobbie MacDonald from Marc and Alice Davis in the early 1950s. All those guys were like family. Jimmy had a little cabin up in the local mountains in Big Bear and many of the Nine Old Men would go up for the weekend, especially Ward and the other members of the Firehouse Five Plus Two to practice and drink!”

Getting back to the tribute on the wall in the World of Disney, Rafferty said: “That’s a sweet little tribute to the brilliant, game-changing Nine Old Men. I love it!”

He then added a side note: “In 2019, I ran into Don Hahn [the producer of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King] at the airport and we chatted for a few minutes about how quickly the years passed by for us while having fun and doing what we loved to do.”

“This thought just came to me,” Hahn said to Rafferty with a grin. “We are the Nine Old Men now.”

I guess you might call that a “circle of life” moment.

Chuck Schmidt is an award-winning journalist and retired Disney cast member who has covered all things Disney since 1984 in both print and on-line. He has authored or co-authored seven books on Disney, including his On the Disney Beat and Disney’s Dream Weavers for Theme Park Press. He has written a regular blog for AllEars.Net, called Still Goofy About Disney, since 2015.

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Chuck Schmidt, bitten by the Disney bug at an early age, remembers watching The Mickey Mouse Club after school in the mid-1950s. During his 48-year career in the newspaper business, he channeled that love of Disney as the Sunday News and Travel editor for The Staten Island Advance. Chuck has written or co-authored seven books for Theme Park Press, including Disney's Dream Weavers, On the Disney Beat, An American in Disneyland Paris, Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History and The Beat Goes On. Chuck has shared his passion for all things Disney in his Still Goofy About Disney blog on AllEars.Net since 2015. He resides in Beachwood, N.J., with his wife Janet. They have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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