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Disney Legend Bill Justice, RIP

Bill Justice

Disney director and animator Bill Justice passed away today, just one day after his 97th birthday. Besides animating on many of the classic Disney features like Bambi, Fantasia, and Peter Pan, he directed numerous projects at the studio and helped popularize paper cut-out animation, which has experienced a major resurgence in recent years.

Here are the opening titles he directed with X. Atencio for the film The Misadventures of Merlin Jones:

Below is a press release from the Walt Disney Company with details about his 42-career in animation and Imagineering:

Disney Legend Bill Justice died early today of natural causes at a nursing home in Santa Monica, California. He was 97. Bill loved his work at The Walt Disney Company, whether it be programming Audio-Animatronics figures for the theme parks or animating Mickey Mouse. Once, when asked if he ever got bored drawing Mickey Mouse, Bill replied, “Have you seen me draw Mickey upside down?” He then did so – effortlessly.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, February 9, 1914, Bill grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. He attended the John Herron Art Institute (now affiliated with Indiana University in Indianapolis), where he studied to be a portrait artist.

After graduation in 1935, he headed west and joined The Walt Disney Studios as an animator in 1937. During his 28 years in the animation department, Bill served as an animator on such classics as Fantasia, Saludos Amigos, Victory Through Air Power, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Among the memorable characters he animated are the precocious Thumper for Bambi and those mischievous characters, Chip and Dale.

During the 1950s, Bill directed several experimental shorts, including Noah’s Ark, A Symposium On Popular Songs, and The Truth About Mother Goose, all of which were nominated for Academy Awards. Along with fellow Disney Legend Xavier (“X”) Atencio and artist T. Hee, Bill also used the painstaking technique of stop-motion animation in live-action Disney features, including The Parent Trap and Mary Poppins. In all, Bill contributed to 57 shorts and 19 features.

In the 1950s, Bill also directed the Mickey Mouse March heard and seen on Disney’s popular television series, Mickey Mouse Club. Recognizing Bill’s immense talent, Walt Disney tapped Bill to join Walt Disney Imagineering in 1965, where he programmed Audio-Animatronics figures for such Disneyland attractions as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Mission to Mars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree and America Sings. Bill once said, “One of the most enjoyable Disneyland projects was the Pirates of the Caribbean. Manipulating the figures in each vignette was a multiple challenge.”

Bill went on to help bring to life cast members in the Hall of Presidents attraction in Walt Disney World. He also masterminded the Mickey Mouse Revue featured at Walt Disney World and later, Tokyo Disneyland. Bill also had knack for designing parades. In 1959, he designed the floats and costumes for one of the first Disneyland Christmas Parades, and also produced sketches for the Main Street Electrical Parade.

After 42 years with the Walt Disney Company, Bill retired in February 1979. He wrote a book about his Disney years called Justice for Disney, and was often a guest at Disneyana Conventions. Bill is survived by his daughters, Melissa and Marissa Justice, both of Burbank.

Bill Justice

(Thanks, Didier Ghez)

  • Very sad to hear this. I met him briefly after he gave a talk at a museum somewhat near my home. He was wonderful to listen to and tossed paper plates that he’s drawn various characters on out into the audience. (Sadly, I was not lucky enough to catch one.) There’s no question that his work will live on, even if most people who enjoy it never know his name.

  • Andrew

    I’d never met Mr. Justice– unfortunately, the man was before my time– but I hope he spent his last years well. It feels like just yesterday, to use the cliche, that I sent out a card to him (thanks to Cartoon Brew’s urging, haha); his work will be remembered, surely.

  • Janet

    So sad to hear about Bill’s passing. He, along with Molly and Ray, started our Disney fan club here in San Francisco Bay Area over 20 years ago.

  • I was just thinking about him. Very sad news. :-(

  • purin

    And I was just recently looking into this artist!

    That’s sad. I feel like I missed out on something.

  • Justin Delbert

    Yet another major loss from the golden age of not just animation, but specifically the golden age of Disney animation. Sleep well Bill justice, you are now with Walt again

  • Richard

    Oh no! Another one gone! May this legend be missed!

  • I recently reached out to get in touch with Bill after transcribing one of his interviews for Walt’s People. He inspired me a lot. I was told I was too late, and he didn’t have much longer. Very sorry to hear this news, however expected it was. I only recently learned a lot about this wonderful artist. I recommend his biography, Justice For Disney, to all animation fans. It’s one of the better Disney artist bios out there. Rest in Peace, Bill.

  • i am very sad to hear this news.
    I was introduced to Mr.Justice in 1997 at an art show Phil Roman gave for him at the Phyllis Craig gallery at the old Film Roman building, and although Mr.Justice was elderly then, he had the best jokes, and the warmest, most friendly persona I had ever met , for him to be such a profoundly gifted artist.He was very down to earth, and shared a lot of great information with me on how he was able to license some of his Disney characters so he could sell and produce, limited edition pieces!…I thought that was a brilliant move!
    I purchased a couple of his pieces he was selling, and they are hanging in my house right now.
    Mr. Justice was a great person, and I know he will rest in peace.

  • jason

    Rest in peace Bill.

  • It’s so sad to hear this. He will be missed.

  • William

    RIP Bill. I’m so happy I wrote to him when it was suggested here not too long ago. “A Symposium on Popular Songs” is one of the best of all Disney projects.

  • jordan reichek

    Happy trails, Bill. One swell fella.

  • Hans W.

    We will all miss him…

  • Sad.

  • Anwar Sosa

    It is real sad that we are losing legends of the animation, I hope that every time that this happens more media put the spot in this News. In a very small way I will pay my sympathies for his work and life writing an article in a mexican newspaper. Goodbye Bill thank you for your work and passion.

  • Very, very sad to hear the news of this wonderful human being, who loved Disney and loved sharing stories of his experiences with Walt and Imagineering. I first met him in 1987 and I last saw him 7 years ago for his 90th birthday. I did an audio podcast show last year for his 96th birthday. Bill will truly be missed.

  • Yikes! Bill Justice died????

    I’m so sad to hear about this – I’m devastated to hear about this. Just a few weeks ago, I found his address in your site and I wrote a letter – and I was hoping for a reply and that’s why he probably hadn’t replied.

    I’m beyond sad to hear about this – the man will truly be missed: who do we have left in the Golden Age of Disney Animators? Don Lusk, Xavier Attenico, Mel Shaw, Blaine Gibson, Tyrus Wong, not a lot left now. :(

  • My condolences to the Justice family.

    I managed to view some of his work on the Disney Rarities DVD recently and wow.. what fun work

    Thanks for the great animation moments Bill.

    Rest in peace.

  • Brad Constantine

    My most sincere condolences to all the friends and family. My favorite was his animation on the noah’s ark short he with x-tencio in the 50’s…one of the greats!

  • A great loss for the animation community. Long before Tim Burton, he was the premier stop-motion animator breaking new ground at the Disney Studio, and I loved his work.

  • It’s very sad to see such a wonderful era of animation coming to a close. What a great loss to us all.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Associate Producer Ron Miller? I guess he’s the only one who would associate with the producer.

  • Grayson Ponti

    I’ve been worried about Justice’s health for a while and was sad to hear that he had been suffering. I considered writing him to say that I admired his work but I wasn’t sure he could be able to receive it. It’s incredibly sad for me that virtually all the old guys are dead now but at the same time it’s a relief that he’s not suffering anymore and is in a better place.

  • Maynard

    I have a fond childhood memory of watching “Noah’s Ark” in a packed theater of enthralled, happy people on its first release. That stop-motion effort packed an element of sheer surprise for its time that kept its audience attuned. Mr. Justice was fortunate to have a visionary boss in Walt Disney, who recognized and appreciated what he could bring to the screen.

  • Alex

    Those of us in the Disneyana Fan Club (formerly the NFFC) have lost a true friend. Bill gave so generously of his time and talent to the club for so many years and we will all miss him greatly. I for one feel privileged to have known Bill for close to 20 years. He had such a great sense of humor and I never got tired of hearing his Disney stories. Even within the last year when I visited him at the nursing home, he had my tearing up with laughter!
    On behalf of myself, my family and all my fellow Disneyana Fan Club friends, rest in peace Bill. We will never forget you…

  • Pez

    Are there any Disney clips or interviews to be posted to this thread to continue honoring his memory?

    Thoughts and Prayers go out to the family.

  • Damon

    Very sad to hear. RIP Mr. Justice. Still 97 is a great run in life.

  • Greg Ehrbar

    Every time we see the Toy Soldiers in a Disney Christmas parade, it’s a remembrance of Bill Justice, who not only directed the “Babes in Toyland” sequence that introduced them, but also participated in making the theme park counterparts identical to the way they looked in the movie. They’ve become icons of Disney during the holidays.