Remembering Ollie Johnston

Olliejohnston_lYou 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.

addCredit(“Ollie Johnston: Douglas Kirkland/Corbis “)

Comments (13 total) Add your comment
  • Winona

    I’m very saddened to hear this… I was watching The Jungle Book recently with my daughter and wondered if any of the Nine Old Men were still alive… :-( Ollie definitely did some amazing work, and thankfully we will be able to treasure it for generations. What irks me most is that I didn’t hear about it until today.

  • Laura

    So glad you’re recognizing his passing, as many entertainment news outlets are not. He was a great talent and he will be missed.

  • Anonymous

    Rest In Peace

  • diana

    I like the Pixar & newer Disney movies but I don’t think they will ever compare to classic Disney.

  • Murph

    Wow, what a life, and to have such a lengthy career doing something he obviously felt passionate about.

  • miche’le

    im so sad that he died
    he had a great life and helped make my life that much better
    may he rest in peice

  • Tenna

    Thank you guys so much for reporting on this. I heard in a few places that he had passed away but none of the places where I read about it went into good detail about how much he contributed to the animation industry except for this. Nothing can beat the classic Disney movies and Ollie will definitely be missed.

  • Meredith

    Thank you for this. I heard he had died, but I didn’t really know all the cool things he did. The Rescuers was one of my favorite movies growing up (it still is). Thanks, Ollie!

  • wg

    Thank you for covering the passing of this great man and great artist.

  • Chris

    It’s sad that in Ollie’s obit in the EW magazine, they put a picture of FRANK THOMAS instead of Ollie.

  • Robert Rowland

    The passing of Frank Thomas in 2004 and Ollie Johnson this past week saddens me. Two pairs of creative hands have been silenced. In 1983, I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas and Johnson following a workshop they gave at the Midwest Film Conference in Chicago. They were also plugging their book, “Disney Animation: An Illusion of Life” which I eventually purchased. I was blessed to get their autographs on the conference program; something that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It is my prayer that these two gentlemen and the other seven of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” will rest in peace. They have been a real blessing to many who love Disney animation, to be sure!

  • Brad Constantine

    It’s a shame that a great artist like Ollie Johnston will forever be remembered with a picture of Frank Thomas in your magazine. you guys only had 95 years to get that right.

  • Brad Constantine

    It’s a shame that a great artist like Ollie Johnston will forever be remembered with a picture of Frank Thomas in your guys only had 95 years to get that right.Doh!

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