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Obituaries

Ward Kimball, 88; Key Disney Animator

July 09, 2002|CHARLES SOLOMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After working on the spoiled cat, Lucifer, in "Cinderella," Kimball animated Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare and the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland" (1951). Although he found the finished film disappointing, Kimball said, "I didn't realize it at the time, but the Cheshire Cat is the maddest thing in the whole picture because he was underplayed. He didn't move much--he'd finish a word and accent it with a quick flipping back and forth of the tail, then he'd go into that grin. I didn't realize it was so mad." Kimball's increasingly stylized approach to animation didn't fit into the personality-driven features of the '50s, and Disney assigned him to direct two short films for release in 1953. "Adventures in Music: Melody" was the studio's first 3-D cartoon; "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," Disney's first CinemaScope short, won an Oscar for Best Cartoon. He directed a second Oscar-winner in 1969, the 22-minute "It's Tough To Be a Bird," which featured stylized visuals and irreverent humor.

He followed the shorts with three one-hour programs for the "Disneyland" TV series: "Man in Space" (1955), "Man and the Moon" (1955) and "Mars and Beyond" (1957). Kimball described these off-beat mixtures of animation, live action, fact, fiction and humor as "the creative high point of my career." He later worked on the live-action musical "Babes in Toyland" (1961), and produced and directed 43 episodes of the syndicated series "The Mouse Factory" (1972-73).

Kimball retired from the Disney Studio in 1973, but emerged for special assignments. In 1978, he served as the conductor on the "Birthday Special," a whistle-stop train tour from Union Station in Los Angeles to New York City in celebration of Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday. He also helped to design the 1982 "World of Motion" attraction for the Epcot Center in Florida.

These projects combined two of Kimball's great loves: animation and railroads. In 1938, he bought a full-sized 1881 steam locomotive, which he restored and installed with other cars and engines on a track in the backyard of his San Gabriel home: the Grizzly Flats Railroad. He amassed an extraordinary collection of model trains and helped to fire Walt Disney's interest in railroading. In 1992, he donated some of his rolling stock to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Riverside.

An irreverent, iconoclastic man, Kimball was an exceptional caricaturist: During the late '30s, he and his assistant Walt Kelly, the future creator of "Pogo," drew countless gag cartoons about each other. The same quirky spirit pervaded his animation, as Canemaker concluded in his recent book, "Walt Disney's Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation":

"Ward Kimball's contribution to Disney animation was unique; it represents an exciting alternative approach to character animation and narrative--open, fresh, and experimental. It reflects the man himself, who had within him the spirit of an independent filmmaker."

Kimball is survived by his wife of 66 years, Betty; three children, John Kimball, Kelly Kimball and Chloe Lord; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be private with plans for a remembrance to be announced later. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to any of the following: Berklee College of Music (Boston); Ward Kimball Memorial Fund (California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia, Calif.); the Cartoon Art Museum (San Francisco); or the Orange Empire Railroad Museum (Perris, Calif.)

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