Ward Kimball (1914-2002) was a great animator, but the reason he’s my personal favorite of Disney’s Nine Old Men reaches far beyond his animation work. Peter Adamakos nails it when he writes in this REMEMBRANCE of Kimball, “In a way, it seemed there were Eight Old Men and then there was Ward Kimball.” Ward, like his Old Men counterparts, was a fine draftsman and animator, but it’s his singular sense of humor and subversive imagination that distinguishes him from the pack and for which I appreciate him most. These elements are evident not only in his animation, but throughout his career in the arts. I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend gave me a videotape copy of a Kimball film I’d never seen before, DAD, CAN I BORROW THE CAR?, a 47-minute live-action episode of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY from the early-Seventies. The special does not by any stretch of the imagination qualify as a masterpiece of 20th century American cinema, but it is enjoyable to watch and filled with delightfully silly and inventive bits as only Kimball could conjure.
DAD, CAN I BORROW THE CAR? takes a hackneyed concept: our fascination with cars from the time we’re born through our teen years, and uses it as an excuse for a variety of absurd montages and sequences: a breakneck-paced spoof of used car TV commercials, a musical segment that involves driving an open-top convertible through a car wash, and a sequence about the incredible frustrations of going to the DMV (the California Department of Motor Vehicles is thanked in the credits for their cooperation, although it’s hard to imagine they’d have agreed to participate in this had they been aware of Ward’s intentions). There are also bits and pieces of animation interspersed throughout – a bit of pixellation here, some cut-out there, and an abstract cel animated sequence that follows two speeding paint stripes around a car. There is nothing particularly ambitious animation-wise, probably due to the budgets, but the cartoon pieces are effective and work nicely within the context of the film. The animation is credited to Art Stevens, who was an animator at Disney since the early-Forties and one of Ward’s main animators beginning in the early-Fifties with MELODY and TOOT WHISTLE PLUNK & BOOM. I’m pleased to report that Stevens is among the few legendary Disney animators who is still with us today.
It’s hard to describe the appeal of this film. There are plenty of wry little touches throughout, like when the live-action kid requires his father’s signature on a driving form, a clawed monster hand comes into frame and marks the paper with an “X” or when a newborn baby is slapped at birth by a doctor, the accompanying sound effect is a car horn. Perhaps in the mundaneness of everyday routine, it’s simply inspiring to see a film by somebody whose outlook on life was so drastically different from the vast majority of the populace. Or maybe it’s the brief shot of Ward Kimball eating a toy car. Cartoonists eating cars is not something you see everday.