At an early point in his career, probably no later than 1930, Walt Disney lost the ability to draw what he wanted his cartoon characters to look like or his animations to do. So he began to act his cartoons out. In story meetings with his growing staff of animators - some of whom he had trained in Los Angeles at his studio on Hyperion Avenue, others whom he'd poached from the great New York studios - Disney would get up, according to Neal Gabler's new biography,
enter his trance, and suddenly transform himself uninhibitedly into Mickey or Donald or an owl or an old hunting dog . . . 'He would imitate the expressions of the dog, and look from one side to the other, and raise first one brow and then the other' . . . 'You'd have the feeling of the whole thing,' Dick Huemer noted. 'You'd know exactly what he wanted.'
Mickey Mouse's gestures 'were copied from Walt's when he performed Mickey at story meetings'; until 1946 Disney also voiced him, in falsetto. In another new Life, Michael Barrier's The Animated Man, the studio head is seen by animators acting out 'how a Chinese turtle should dance', or doing 'any of the people in the pictures, valets, anything - he all of a sudden was a valet.'
LRB 7 June 2007 | PDF Download