Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remembering Jack Hannah

Prolific animation director who worked for the Walt Disney Company from 1933 to 1959. Key animator on the classic Silly Symphony The Old Mill. Principal director of Donald Duck shorts throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. Responsible for introducing such characters as Chip n’ Dale, Spike the Bee, Humphrey Bear and Ranger Woodlore. Director of fourteen episodes of the Disney anthology television show. Founder and director of the School of Character Animation at CalArts.

Quite a resume wouldn’t you say. Yet Jack Hannah, the man responsible for all those accomplishments, remains relatively unknown, despite contemporaries such as Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas and Ward Kimball becoming household names among even the most casual of Disney animation fans.

Jack brought wackiness and irreverence to his work, traits not normally associated with Disney animation. He was a spirit more akin to Chuck Jones and Tex Avery than to his fellow Disney Studio co-workers. His films certainly did not move at the leisurely pace common to the Pluto, Mickey and Goofy shorts. Gags came fast and furious, and were often laugh-out-loud funny.

Two of Jack’s most notable efforts were 1949’s Toy Tinkers and 1955’s No Hunting, both of which were nominated for Academy Awards.

Christmas-themed cartoons of the era were typically gentle, sentimental outings. Toy Tinkers takes that premise and essentially turns it completely upside down. Donald Duck’s warm and happy holiday literally turns into an all out war when Chip n’ Dale invade his festive household. Christmas trimmings become battlefield components. The results are over the top violent yet nonetheless hilarious.

No Hunting is equally funny, and takes satirical aim at the outdoor sporting life of the time period. It is very much in the vein of many of Tex Avery’s classic parodies produced at MGM. Jack’s portrayal of hunters as both battle-weary soldiers and crazed, shoot-at-anything commandos is truly inspired. The laughs are near non-stop, from the panicked farmer painting the word “cow” on his threatened bovine, to a cameo of Bambi and his mother that is nothing short of brilliant.

This was Jack at his peak, but sadly, it was in the waning days of cartoon short subjects. He would retire from the Walt Disney Studios in 1959. He worked for a while with Walter Lantz in the 1960s, and then served at CalArts for eight years from 1975 to 1983. He was awarded Disney Legends status in 1992. He passed away in 1994 at the age of 81.


Anonymous said...

Jack was a great man - I was blessed to work with him in 1975 at The Walt Disney Studio. He awarded me a full Disney Fellowship to study Character Animation at Cal Arts. He made an incredible contribution to the Art of Disney Animation.