Wolfgang Reitherman

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Wolfgang Reitherman
Wolfgang Reitherman.jpg
Reitherman in 1940
Born(1909-06-26)June 26, 1909
DiedMay 22, 1985(1985-05-22) (aged 75)
Other namesWoolie Reitherman
Wooly Reitherman
Alma materPasadena Junior College
Chouinard Art Institute
OccupationDirector, producer, animator
Years active1933–1981
Known forOne of Disney's Nine Old Men
Janie Marie McMillan
(m. 1946)
ChildrenBruce Reitherman, Richard Reitherman, Robert Reitherman

Wolfgang Reitherman (June 26, 1909 – May 22, 1985), also known and sometimes credited as Woolie Reitherman, was a German-American animator, director and producer who was one of the Nine Old Men of core animators at Walt Disney Productions. Reitherman emerged as a key figure at Disney during the 1960s and 1970s, a transitionary period which saw the death of Walt Disney in 1966, with him serving as director and/or producer on eight consecutive Disney animated feature films from One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) through The Fox and the Hound (1981).


While studying at Chouinard Art Institute, Reitherman's paintings had attracted the attention of Philip L. Dike, a drawing and painting instructor. Impressed with his artwork, Dike showed them to Disney, in which Reitherman was invited to the studio. Reitherman initially wanted to work as a watercolorist, but Walt Disney suggested he should be an animator.[1][2] Reitherman was hired at Walt Disney Productions on May 21, 1933,[3][4] and his first project was working as an animator on the Silly Symphonies cartoon, Funny Little Bunnies. Reitherman continued to work on a number of Disney shorts, including The Band Concert, Music Land, and Elmer Elephant. He animated the Slave in the Magic Mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). His next assignments was animating Monstro in Pinocchio (1940), the climactic dinosaur fight in Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" sequence in Fantasia (1940), and several scenes of Timothy Q. Mouse in Dumbo (1941).[5]

By 1942, Reitherman had left the Disney studios to serve in World War II for the United States Army Air Forces, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross after serving in Africa, China, India, and the South Pacific. He was discharged in February 1946 having earned the rank of Major.[6] Reitherman rejoined the studio in April 1947, where he animated the Headless Horseman chase in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" section in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).[7]

Around this same time, he had claimed he was instrumental in helping Walt Disney commit to producing Cinderella (1950). Upon looking at rough storyboards, Reitherman recalled, "I just went in his office, which I rarely did, and I said, 'Gee, that looks great. We ought to do it.' It might have been a little nudge to say, 'Hey, let's get going again and let's do a feature'."[8] On Cinderella, he was the directing animator of the sequence in which Jaq and Gus laboriously push and pull the key up the stairs to Cinderella. On Alice in Wonderland (1951), he animated the scene in which the White Rabbit's home is destroyed by an enlarged Alice. On Peter Pan (1953), he animated the scene of Captain Hook attempting to escape the crocodile.[9] For Lady and the Tramp (1955), Reitherman animated the alley dog fight sequence and Tramp's fight with the rat in the nursery room.[10]

During the late 1950s, Reitherman served as the sequence director of Prince Phillip's climactic fight against Maleficent as a dragon in Sleeping Beauty (1959), and directed the "Twilight Bark" sequence for One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961).[11] Beginning with The Sword in the Stone (1963), he became the first sole director of a Disney animated feature,[12] which was in direct contrast to having several directors over an animated feature. Animator Ward Kimball had claimed it was because Reitherman's work compatibility and willingness to accept any project "with a smile" while animator Bob Carlson said Disney had trusted Reitherman's decision-making before he would embark on a film project.[12][13] He would continue to direct The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973), and The Rescuers (1977).[4] Additionally, he would direct several animated shorts such as Goliath II (1960) and the first two Winnie the Pooh shorts, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966) and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), which had won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

While directing The Jungle Book, Reitherman followed the procedure to keep production costs low, in which he recalled Disney advising him to "keep the costs down because [feature cartoons are] going to price themselves out of business. So with that piece of advice, and with the way he pointed to Jungle Book into entertainment and character development rather than complicated stories that needed a lot of production qualities, he set the course for ten years after his death."[14] During his tenure, he frequently used "recycled" or limited animation from prior works, presumably because it was a safer method for a quality product, though it was in fact more labor-intensive,[15] not because it was supposedly cheaper.[16][17] Reitherman's use of recycling animation proved to be controversial within the studio as animator Milt Kahl lamented its use stating "I detest the use of—it just breaks my heart to see animation from Snow White used in The Rescuers. It kills me, and it just embarrasses me to tears."[18] Note this is similar to, but not the same as, rotoscoping.

Following The Rescuers, he was initially slated to direct The Fox and the Hound (1981),[19] but following creative conflicts with co-director Art Stevens, he was taken off the project. Reitherman later moved on to several undeveloped animation projects such as Catfish Bend based on the book series by Ben Lucien Burman, and Musicana, a follow-up project to Fantasia in which he co-developed with artist Mel Shaw. In 1980, he developed an adaptation of the children's novel The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, but work was discontinued due to the studio's desire for ambitious films such as The Black Cauldron (1985).[20] In the following year, he retired.[21]

Personal life and death[edit]

Born in Munich, German Empire, Reitherman's family moved to America when he was a child. After attending Pasadena Junior College and briefly working as a draftsman for Douglas Aircraft, Reitherman returned to school at the Chouinard Art Institute, graduating in 1933.[22]

Following his discharge from the Air Force, he married Janie Marie McMillan in November 1946.[23] All three of Reitherman's sons—Bruce, Richard and Robert—provided voices for Disney characters, including Mowgli in The Jungle Book, Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, and Wart in The Sword in the Stone.

On May 22, 1985, Reitherman died in a single-car accident near his Burbank, California home, aged 75. Reitherman was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 1989.[24][25]


Year Title Credits Characters Notes
1934 Funny Little Bunnies (Short) Animator
The Wise Little Hen (Short) Animator
The Goddess of Spring (Short) Animator
Servants' Entrance (Short) Animator
Two-Gun Mickey (Short) Animator
1935 Water Babies (Short) Animator
The Band Concert (Short) Animator
Music Land (Short) Animator
Mickey's Service Station (Short) Animator
Cock o' the Walk (Short) Animator
Broken Toys (Short) Animator
Mickey's Fire Brigade (Short) Animator
1936 Elmer Elephant (Short) Animator
Moving Day (Short) Animator
1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Animator Slave in the Magic Mirror Credited as Woolie Reitherman
Clock Cleaners (Short) Animator
Hawaiian Holiday (Short) Animator
The Worm Turns (Short) Animator
1938 Donald's Nephews (Short) Animator
Polar Trappers (Short) Animator
1939 Donald's Cousin Gus (Short) Animator
Goofy and Wilbur (Short) Animator
1940 Pinocchio Animation Director Monstro Credited as Woolie Reitherman
Fantasia Animation Supervisor – Segment "Rite of Spring" Dinosaur Fight
Goofy's Glider (Short) Animator
1941 The Reluctant Dragon Animator
Dumbo Animation Director Timothy Q. Mouse (several of his scenes) Credited as Woolie Reitherman
The Art of Skiing (Short) Animator
1942 Saludos Amigos Animator El Gaucho Goofy Credited as Wooly Reitherman
How to Fish (Short) Animator
The Vanishing Private (Short) Animator
How to Swim (Short) Animator
1947 Fun and Fancy Free Directing Animator
1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Directing Animator Headless Horseman (chase)
Goofy Gymnastics (Short) Animator
Tennis Racquet (Short) Animator
1950 Cinderella Directing Animator Jaq and Gus (scene in which they push and pull the key up the stairs to Cinderella)
1951 Alice in Wonderland Directing Animator White Rabbit (scene in which the White Rabbit's home is destroyed by an enlarged Alice)
Cold War (Short) Animator
1952 Two Gun Goofy (Short) Animator
1953 Peter Pan Directing Animator Captain Hook and crocodile (scene of him trying to escape the crocodile)
Ben and Me (Short) Animator
1955 Lady and the Tramp Directing Animator Alley dogs (fight sequence) and Tramp and the rat (Tramp's fight with the rat sequence)
A World is Born (Short) Animator
1957 The Truth About Mother Goose (Documentary short) Director
1959 Sleeping Beauty Sequence Director
Donald in Mathmagic Land (Short) Sequence Director
1960 Goliath II (Short) Director
1961 One Hundred and One Dalmatians Director
Aquamania (Short) Director
1963 The Sword in the Stone Director
1966 Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Short) Director
1967 The Jungle Book Director
1968 Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (Short) Director
1970 The Aristocats Producer and Director
1973 Robin Hood Producer and Director
1974 Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (Short) Producer
1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Producer and Director
The Rescuers Producer and Director
1981 The Fox and the Hound Co-Producer
1985 The Walt Disney Comedy and Magic Revue (Video short) Director – Archive Footage


  1. ^ Canemaker, p. 33.
  2. ^ Champlin Jr, Charles (August 10, 1981). "The Disney Days of Reitherman". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 4 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  3. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 33.
  4. ^ a b Berge, John (2016). "De lystige skurkene I Sherwood-skogen". Donald Duck & Co. De komplette årgangene – 1974 del IV (in Norwegian). Oslo: Egmont Kids Media Nordic. p. 6. ISBN 978-82-429-5379-7.
  5. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 35–41.
  6. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 42.
  7. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 44.
  8. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 47.
  9. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 46−47.
  10. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 48.
  11. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 48−49.
  12. ^ a b Barrier 1999, p. 467.
  13. ^ Barrier 2008, p. 276.
  14. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 51.
  15. ^ MacQuarrie, Jim (June 2, 2015). "The Real Truth About Disney's "Recycled Animation"". Medium. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  16. ^ Visser, Nick (May 15, 2015). "Apparently Disney Used To Recycle Animation Scenes, And It's Blowing Our Minds". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  17. ^ Coggan, Devan (May 15, 2015). "See Just How Often Disney Recycled Animation". Time. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  18. ^ "Milt Kahl". MichaelBarrier.com (Interview). Interviewed by Michael Barrier and Milton Gray. March 30, 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
  19. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (July 27, 1978). "Disney Incubating New Artists". The New York Times. p. C13. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  20. ^ Hill, Jim (January 17, 2018). "Where Disney failed, Studio Ponoc succeeds with its debut animated feature, "Mary and the Witch's Flower"". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  21. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 53.
  22. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 32–33.
  23. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 43.
  24. ^ "Wolfgang Reitherman". D23. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  25. ^ Folkart, Burt (May 24, 1985). "Wolfgang Reitherman, 75: Disney Animator Dies in Car Crash". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved October 30, 2016.


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