It is well known that, for a variety of reasons, legendary Disney director and animator Ward Kimball was demoted by Walt Disney from director back to animator in the early-1960s. In 1966, Kimball made his comeback into the director’s chair. Responsible for the shift was not only Walt’s softening stance towards Kimball but also the retirement of director Ham Luske, which opened a slot for Kimball’s return.
The subject of today’s post is Kimball’s first project upon his return to direction: the rarely seen episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color called “A Salute to Alaska,” which debuted on April 2, 1967. (A sidenote: this was the last episode of Wonderful World of Color that Walt Disney filmed an opening for before his death.) Kimball shares a co-direction credit with Luske on the show. According to Ward’s son, John Kimball, who worked on the animated segments, the animation in it is extremely limited, and some of the scenes are simply held cels that are slid across the screen. I’ve never seen it and am unable to comment on the animated segments that Kimball directed. If anybody has the animated segments from the special, feel free to post it onto YouTube.
Thanks to some recent digging around (more about this later), Kimball’s rough character models for the “Alaska” special have been discovered. These drawings offer a rare glimpse into Kimball’s personal design sensibilities and show a great designer at work. While Kimball is well known for his design-oriented films—Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom and Mars and Beyond—those were designed, respectively, by Tom Oreb and John Dunn. Kimball collaborated closely with both artists, and his imprint can be felt throughout, but the primary visual styling belongs to other artists, as is indicated by the very different looks of each project. The drawings in this post, albeit more than a decade after those films, allow us a look at pure Kimball design.