The Real Truth About Disney’s “Recycled Animation” – Updated

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[Update:A few veterans of the animation industry have weighed in on this subject on Facebook and elsewhere. Their comments are added below.]

Recently, many news and entertainment sites have circulated this video showing how “Disney animators reused animation from old movies.” In every report, whether from The Huffington Post, Time, E! or dozens of smaller outlets, the story is invariably told that this was done to save time and money.

In accordance with modern journalism standards, nobody at any of these sites could be bothered to go to the effort of actually asking anyone who might know for sure. Each one repeats what the others said, without ever citing a source; apparently they are all guessing at what happened. Since nobody else was going to do it, I went ahead and asked somebody who was there.

My friend, Disney Legend Floyd Norman, actually worked on many of the films in question; he started at Disney as an in-betweener on Sleeping Beauty, became part of the story department with The Jungle Book (he created the sequence in which Kaa hypnotizes Mowgli), and worked on dozens of films for Disney, Pixar and many other studios. If anyone would know the truth, it would be Norman. So I asked him, “what’s the deal with all those recycled scenes?”

He nodded, laughed and said, “That was Woolie Reitherman.” A quick check of Wolfgang Reitherman’s IMDB page confirms that nearly every Disney film shown using recycled footage in these videos is one he directed, most notably the Jungle Book, Robin Hood, the Sword in the Stone, Winnie the Pooh, 101 Dalmatians and the AristoCats.

“It’s actually harder and takes longer to redraw an existing sequence,” Norman told me, “it’s a lot faster and easier to just do new animation, and it’s a lot more fun for the animators. But Woolie liked to play it safe and use stuff he knew would work. That’s all it was.”

Yes, Disney did recycle animation, but it wasn’t done to save money or time, and it wasn’t animators being lazy, and it wasn’t company policy. And now you know.

Update:
My friend Scott Shaw! (co-creator of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew and multi-Emmy-winning Director of the Muppet Babies, among many other credits) shared this post and asked Gary Trousdale, Co-Director of Beauty and the Beast, if he would comment on the re-use of the dance from Sleeping Beauty. Trousdale replied:

The scene from Beauty and the Beast that we re-used was done for time, but not money. (well…time IS money, but that’s another story). We were just days from our final deadline to deliver, and we had an entire dance sequence (the last scene of the movie, not the ballroom) to do. Everyone was booked and busy, and we knew damn well that Woolie had established this precedent, so we took the Sleeping Beauty dance, re-sized and re-positioned it, and gave the note ‘Note to Clean-up: clean up Aurora as Belle, clean up Prince Charming as Beast.’ (No, we did NOT name the beast in human form ‘Prince Adam.’ We were moving so fast by then, it occurred to us at the finish line that we had never given him a name, so Belle didn’t call him by name. It was a direct-to video-production that named him.)

A number of people have pointed out that the animation has not been recycled; it’s been re-drawn with new characters. Game designer Jeff Jonas, the son of legendary Disney animator Homer Jonas, had this to say:

My dad said: “Rotoscoping is not tracing… tracing is tracing”– Homer Jonas

“However what Homer said about Woolie Reitherman gives me the impression that he was a stickler for certain things done certain ways… so using what worked before makes sense in that context. My dad would always point out that some crazy business in a scene was all Woolie’s idea– like the goofy truck crash in 101 Dalmatians…. so he liked a particular signature.”

Tad Stones, Producer of Darkwing Duck, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Hellboy Animated, and many others, was also asked to confirm the story; he replied:

“I came in under Woolie. I thought it was a time and money thing but now that I think about it, I don’t know of older examples. So Floyd is most likely right. BTW, the Snow White to Maid Marian transformations were done by Don Bluth.”

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