Legendary Disney Animator Burny Mattinson Passes Away at Age 87

Disney Legend Burny Mattinson, who worked as an animator, director, producer, and story artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios during an unprecedented 70-year career, passed away Monday, February 27th at the age of 87.

Mattinson was the longest-serving cast member in the history of The Walt Disney Company and was due to receive his 70th anniversary service award (the first ever) on June 4th.

Among Mattinson’s achievements were a solo directing credit on the 1983 animated featurette Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which returned Mickey Mouse to the silver screen for the first time in 30 years, and a role as producer as well as co-director of the 1986 Disney feature The Great Mouse Detective.

Mattinson was still working full-time at Walt Disney Animation Studios as a story consultant and mentor at the time of his passing. Long before Strange World and Big Hero 6, he worked as an artist on such classics as Lady and the Tramp, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book and The Rescuers. He served as a key member of the story team on contemporary Disney classics including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan and Mulan. He served as the story supervisor on the 2011 theatrical feature Winnie the Pooh and contributed to the 2007 Goofy short How to Hook Up Your Home Theater.

Burnett Mattinson was born in San Francisco on May 13th, 1935. In his early years, his mother took him to see Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. “Ever since I saw that film, this was my dream—to work in this business,” Mattinson once recalled. “So, I worked every day, drawing.” Burny kept at his goal, and six months after graduating high school, and with no formal art training, he started work as an in-betweener on Lady and the Tramp. He was promoted to assistant animator under Disney Legend Marc Davis on Sleeping Beauty and continued in that capacity on One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

“Animation is 75 percent thinking and 25 percent drawing,” Mattinson once said. “Everything must be carefully thought out first. Our animators not only have to think like actors but also figure out how to get that performance across on paper and on the screen. Our characters pause to think and connive. You can see it in their eyes.” He added, “The important thing to remember about good animation is that less is more. Moving the characters too much is the sign of a real amateur. We put our efforts into more subtle, carefully thought out actions that communicate the point clearly and in an entertaining way.”

Mattinson was named a Disney Legend in 2008. He set the cast member longevity record on March 5th, 2018, when he passed the previous record—held by Disney artist, Imagineer, and Disney Legend John Hench—of 64 years, eight months, and 29 days (or 23,651 days).

When asked to reflect on his long Disney career at the half-century mark, Mattinson said, “I mean, 50 years is a long time, but I still feel like that 18-year-old kid that came here back in ’53, you know? I never feel like I’ve gotten old.”

In 2017, we got to see Burny, along with fellow animator Floyd Norman, discuss the making of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at the El Capitan Theatre:

What They’re Saying:

  • Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios, said: “Burny’s artistry, generosity, and love of Disney Animation and the generations of storytellers that have come through our doors, for seven decades, has made us better—better artists, better technologists, and better collaborators. All of us who have had the honor to know him and learn from him will ensure his legacy carries on.”
  • Academy Award-winning Disney director Don Hall said: “For almost 30 years, I’ve had the privilege to work alongside Burny Mattinson, from Winnie the Pooh to Big Hero 6 to, most recently, Strange World. I have marveled at his artistry, enjoyed his good humor, and sat enraptured by his stories of Disney history. At 18 years old, he followed his dream of working at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and for almost 70 years he lived that dream every day, inspiring all of us who had the good fortune to follow in his footsteps. I love him dearly.”

  • Legendary Disney animator Eric Goldberg, a close friend and colleague of Mattinson’s, said: “Burny was the Renaissance man of Disney Animation. He literally did everything that could be done at the studio—assistant animator, animator, story artist, producer, and director of many films that made an indelible mark on our collective appreciation of the Disney ethos. He was also, when he started, a traffic boy to Walt, giving Walt his weekly spending cash.”
  • Speaking of Mattinson’s art, Goldberg added: “Burny was low-key, charming, inventive, and superbly gifted as a draftsperson and a storyteller. His storyboards were beautifully acted and wonderfully atmospheric, which I first encountered when I joined the studio for Aladdin. The more I saw of his work, the more I became in awe of his breadth of talent. I value his cheerful friendship and lasting inspiration to me and so many other animation artists. He will be missed, but not forgotten.”
  • Disney CEO Bob Iger shared on Twitter: “Deeply saddened that Disney Legend Burny Mattinson—our longest serving employee—has passed away. Burny started as a messenger on the lot in 1953 & went on to become a true icon of Disney Animation. We are forever grateful for his contributions & seven decades of service.”