Frank Thomas (animator)

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Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas in 1974
Born Franklin Rosborough Thomas
(1912-09-05)September 5, 1912
Fresno, California, U.S.
Died September 8, 2004(2004-09-08) (aged 92)
La Cañada Flintridge, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cerebral hemorrhage
Nationality American
Alma mater Stanford University
Occupation Animator
Known for One of Disney's Nine Old Men
Spouse(s) Jeanette A. Thomas
(m. 1946; d. 2004)
Children Ann, Gregg, Theodore and Douglas

Franklin Rosborough "Frank" Thomas (September 5, 1912 – September 8, 2004) was an American animator and pianist. He was one of Walt Disney's team of animators; known as the Nine Old Men.


Born in Santa Monica, California to Frank Thomas, a teacher,[1] and Ina Gregg.[2] He had two older brothers, Lawrence and Welburne.[3] He grew up in Fresno.[4] Frank Thomas attended Stanford University, where he was a member of Theta Delta Chi fraternity and worked on campus humor magazine The Stanford Chaparral with Ollie Johnston. After graduating from Stanford in 1933,[5] he attended Chouinard Art Institute, then joined The Walt Disney Company on September 24, 1934 as employee number 224. There he animated dozens of feature films and shorts, and also was a member of the Dixieland band Firehouse Five Plus Two, playing the piano.


Camouflage (1944) was a World War II training film

His work in animated cartoon shorts included "Brave Little Tailor", in which he animated scenes of Mickey Mouse and the king; Mickey and the bear in "The Pointer", and German dialogue scenes in the World War II propaganda short "Education for Death" (shortly before Thomas enlisted in the Air Force). During World War II he was assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit where he made training films.[6]

In feature films, among the characters and scenes Thomas animated were the dwarfs crying over Snow White's "dead" body, Pinocchio singing at the marionette theatre, Bambi and Thumper on the ice, Lady and the Tramp eating spaghetti, the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty, Merlin and Arthur as squirrels and the "wizard's duel" between Merlin and Madam Mim in The Sword in the Stone (in which he was paired with animator Milt Kahl to great effect), King Louie in The Jungle Book (the song number "I Wan'na Be Like You" featuring King Louie and Baloo the Bear re-teamed him with Kahl), the dancing penguins in Mary Poppins, and Winnie The Pooh and Piglet in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. Thomas was directing animator for several memorable villains, including the evil stepmother Lady Tremaine in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, and Captain James Hook in Peter Pan. He retired from Disney on January 31, 1978.

Thomas co-authored, with fellow Disney legend Ollie Johnston, the comprehensive book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, first published by Abbeville Press in 1981. Regarded as the definitive resource book on traditional hand-drawn character animation (particularly in the Disney style), the book has been republished numerous times, and is widely considered "the bible" among character animators. The book summarized the Disney approach to animation through the so-called 12 basic principles of animation.

Thomas and Johnston were also profiled in the 1995 documentary Frank and Ollie, which screened at the 20th Toronto International Film Festival, directed by Thomas's son Theodore Thomas. The film profiled their careers, private lives, and the personal friendship between the two men. In 2012, Theodore Thomas also directed another short documentary, "Growing up with Nine Old Men", included in the Diamond edition of Disney's Peter Pan DVD.

Thomas' last appearance in an animated film before his death was in The Incredibles (directed by Brad Bird), although he voiced a character, rather than animating one. Frank and his friend and colleague Ollie Johnston voiced and were caricatured as two old men saying "That's old school ..." "Yeah, no school like the old school." The pair had previously been heard, and caricatured, as the two train engineers in Bird's The Iron Giant. Frank Thomas died in La Cañada Flintridge, California on September 8, 2004. His widow, Jeanette A. Thomas died on September 29, 2012.[7]

The 2001 biography Walt Disney's Nine Old Men & The Art of Animation by John Canemaker (ISBN 0-7868-6496-6) chronicles Thomas' life.

On the Animation Podcast, Disney director John Musker discussed Frank Thomas, and mentioned that at one time, fellow animation great Chuck Jones had christened Thomas the "Laurence Olivier of animators."


Year Film Role character
December 21, 1937 (1937-12-21) (premiere)
February 1938 (1938-02) (United States)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Animator Dwarfs
February 7, 1940 (1940-02-07) Pinocchio Directing Animator Pinocchio
October 31, 1941 (1941-10-31) Dumbo
August 9, 1942 (1942-08-09) Bambi Bambi
August 24, 1942 (1942-08-24) (Rio de Janeiro)
February 6, 1943 (1943-02-06) (U.S.)
Saludos Amigos
December 21, 1944 (1944-12-21) (Mexico City)
February 3, 1945 (1945-02-03) (U.S.)
The Three Caballeros
May 27, 1948 (1948-05-27) Melody Time
October 5, 1949 (1949-10-05) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
February 15, 1950 (1950-02-15) (U.S. Premiere-Boston)
March 4, 1950 (1950-03-04) (U.S.)
Cinderella Lady Tremaine
July 26, 1951 (1951-07-26) (World premiere-London)
July 28, 1951 (1951-07-28) (U.S.)
Alice in Wonderland Queen of Hearts
February 5, 1953 (1953-02-05) Peter Pan Captain Hook
June 22, 1955 (1955-06-22) Lady and the Tramp Lady
January 29, 1959 (1959-01-29) Sleeping Beauty Flora
June 26, 1959 (1959-06-26) Donald in Mathmagic Land

Books (all with Johnston)[edit]

Frank Thomas (center) with best friend Ollie Johnston and their wives in 1985


  1. ^ 1920 United States Federal Census
  2. ^ U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
  3. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census
  4. ^ U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
  5. ^ The Stanford University Quad, 1932
  6. ^
  7. ^ Remembering Jeanette Thomas 1921-2012

External links[edit]