Joe Grant, one of the great Disney character designers, passed away several days ago of a heart attack while working at his drawing board. He was 96 and still worked for Disney four days a week. His two-part career marked what were for us the most interesting years of output by the Happiest Megacorporation on Earth — he was there from 1933 to 1949, as Disney was still getting its animation legs with shorts like "Who Killed Cock Robin?", which has surprising bite to it, and which, according to the excellent Encyclopedia of Disney Shorts, contained "some black and southern stereotypes" and "scenes of police brutality" which were disappeared, if you will (ah, Disney’s dark history), though later restored for the DVD edition of the film. Grant returned in 1989 to work on "Beauty and the Beast," and was there for Disney’s 90s period of excellence.
We don’t want to reduce someone’s death to a metaphor, but though Grant had been working on films that combined traditional cell animation with CG graphics, it’s hard not to see his death as marking the an end of an era. Disney is done with traditional animation, and, with Pixar merrily meeting with various new suitors for distribution, they’re apparently done with quality projects that, while primarily for kids, were still entertaining for those who had to accompany said kids to the cinema in order to, say, earn their allowance and finally be able buy those coveted hoop earrings.
Disney recently acquired the copyright another franchise once beloved to kids and adults: the Muppets. At the London Times, Caitlin Moran frets about what Disney will do to Jim Henson’s freewheeling, subversive creations:
The Muppets are essentially joyous and irreverent… Itâ€™s hard to see how they will fit, intact, into Disneyâ€™s cleaner-than-clean, carefuller-than-careful corporate world.
Indeed, as if to illustrate this point, when I contacted Disney its vice-president of corporate communications for Europe replied: "Disney has deemed irreverence as one of the five core equities of the Muppets (humorous, heartwarming, puppet-inspired and topical being the other four)."