Wolfgang Reitherman
Reitherman in 1940
Born(1909-06-26)June 26, 1909
DiedMay 22, 1985(1985-05-22) (aged 75)
Other namesWoolie Reitherman
Wooly Reitherman
Alma materPasadena Junior College
Chouinard Art Institute
Years active1933–1981
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios
Known forOne of Disney's Nine Old Men
Janie Marie McMillan
Children3, including Bruce Reitherman

Wolfgang Reitherman (June 26, 1909 – May 22, 1985), also known and sometimes credited as Woolie Reitherman, was a German–American animator, director and producer and one of the "Nine Old Men" of core animators at Walt Disney Productions. He emerged as a key figure at Disney during the 1960s and 1970s, a transitionary period which saw the death of Walt Disney in 1966, with him serving as director and/or producer on eight consecutive Disney animated feature films from One Hundred and One Dalmatians through The Fox and the Hound.


While Reitherman was studying at Chouinard Art Institute, his paintings had attracted the attention of Philip L. Dike, a drawing and painting instructor. Impressed with his artwork, Dike showed them to Disney, after which Reitherman was invited to the studio. He initially wanted to work as a watercolorist, but Walt Disney suggested he should be an animator.[1][2] Reitherman was hired at Walt Disney Productions on May 21, 1933,[1][3] and his first project was working as an animator on a Silly Symphonies cartoon, Funny Little Bunnies (1933). Reitherman continued to work on a number of Disney shorts, including The Band Concert (1935), Music Land (1935), and Elmer Elephant (1936).[4] He animated the Slave in the Magic Mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). His next assignments were animating Monstro in Pinocchio (1940), the climactic dinosaur fight in Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" segment of Fantasia (1940), and several scenes of Timothy Q. Mouse in Dumbo (1941).[5][4]

In 1942, Reitherman left the Disney studios to serve in World War II for the United States Army Air Forces, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross after serving in Africa, China, India, and the South Pacific. He was discharged in February 1946, having earned the rank of Major.[6] Reitherman rejoined the studio in April 1947, where he animated the Headless Horseman chase in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow section in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).[7]

Around this time, he claimed he was instrumental in helping Walt Disney commit to producing Cinderella (1950). Upon looking at rough storyboards, Reitherman recalled, "I just went in his office, which I rarely did, and I said, 'Gee, that looks great. We ought to do it.' It might have been a little nudge to say, 'Hey, let's get going again and let's do a feature'."[8] On Cinderella (1950), he was the directing animator of the sequence in which Jaq and Gus laboriously push and pull the key up the stairs to Cinderella. On Alice in Wonderland (1951), he animated the scene in which the White Rabbit's home is destroyed by an enlarged Alice. On Peter Pan (1953), he animated the scene of Captain Hook attempting to escape the crocodile.[9] For Lady and the Tramp (1955), Reitherman animated the alley dog fight sequence and Tramp's fight with the rat in the nursery room.[10]

During the late 1950s, Reitherman served as the sequence director of Prince Phillip's climactic fight against Maleficent as a dragon in Sleeping Beauty (1959). He next directed the "Twilight Bark" sequence for One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961).[11] Beginning with The Sword in the Stone (1963), he became the first sole director of a Disney animated feature,[12] which was in direct contrast to the usual practice of having several directors over an animated feature. Animator Ward Kimball claimed it was because Reitherman's work compatibility and willingness to accept any project "with a smile".[12] Animator Bob Carlson stated Disney trusted Reitherman's decision-making before he would embark on a film project.[13] He continued to direct such features as The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973), and The Rescuers (1977).[3] Additionally, he directed several animated shorts such as Goliath II (1960) and the first two Winnie the Pooh shorts, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966) and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

While directing The Jungle Book (1967), Reitherman followed the procedure to keep production costs low, in which he recalled Disney advising him to "keep the costs down because [feature cartoons are] going to price themselves out of business."[14] During his tenure, he allowed for "recycled" or limited animation from prior animated films to be used. Some presumed that this practice was done to save on time and production costs, though it was in fact more labor-intensive. Floyd Norman, an animator who had worked under Reitherman, explained that it was actually easier and less time-consuming for character animators to create original drawings.[15][16] Nevertheless, Reitherman's use of recycling animation proved to be controversial within the studio, as animator Milt Kahl despised the method: "I detest the use of—-it just breaks my heart to see animation from Snow White used in The Rescuers. It kills me, and it just embarrasses me to tears."[17] Despite the similarities in technique, this animation process is not the same as rotoscoping.

Following The Rescuers (1977), Reitherman was initially slated to direct The Fox and the Hound (1981),[18] but following creative conflicts with co-director Art Stevens, he was taken off the project in 1979. Reitherman later moved on to several undeveloped animation projects such as Catfish Bend, based on the book series by Ben Lucien Burman, and Musicana, a follow-up project to Fantasia (1940) which he co-developed with artist Mel Shaw.[19] In 1980, he developed an adaptation of the children's novel The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, but work was discontinued due to the studio's desire for ambitious films such as The Black Cauldron (1985).[20] In the following year, he retired.[21]

Personal life and death

Born in Munich, German Empire, Reitherman moved with his family to America when he was a child. After attending Pasadena Junior College and briefly working as a draftsman for Douglas Aircraft, Reitherman returned to school at the Chouinard Art Institute, graduating in 1933.[22]

Following his discharge from the Air Force, he married Janie Marie McMillan in November 1946.[23] All three of Reitherman's sons—Bruce, Richard and Robert—provided voices for Disney characters, including Mowgli in The Jungle Book, Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, and Wart in The Sword in the Stone.

Reitherman died in a single-car accident near his Burbank, California home on May 22, 1985. He was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 1989.[24][25]


Year Title Credits Characters Notes
1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Animator Credited and Known as Woolie Reitherman
1940 Pinocchio Animation Director Credited and Known as Woolie Reitherman
Fantasia Animation Supervisor - Segment "Rite of Spring"
1941 The Reluctant Dragon Animator
Dumbo Animation Director Credited and Known as Woolie Reitherman
1943 Saludos Amigos Animator Credited and Known as Wooly Reitherman
1947 Fun and Fancy Free Directing Animator
1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Directing Animator
Goofy Gymnastics (Short) Animator
Tennis Racquet (Short) Animator
1950 Cinderella Directing Animator
1951 Alice in Wonderland Directing Animator
1953 Peter Pan Directing Animator
Ben and Me (Short) Animator
1955 Lady and the Tramp Directing Animator
1957 The Truth About Mother Goose (Documentary short) Director
1959 Sleeping Beauty Sequence Director
Donald in Mathmagic Land (Short) Sequence Director
1960 Goliath II (Short) Director
1961 One Hundred and One Dalmatians Director
Aquamania (Short) Director
1963 The Sword in the Stone Director
1966 Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Short) Director
1967 The Jungle Book Director
1968 Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (Short) Director
1970 The Aristocats Director and Producer
1973 Robin Hood Director and Producer
1974 Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (Short) Producer
1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Director and Producer
The Rescuers Director and Producer
1981 The Fox and the Hound Co-Producer Final Screen Credit
1982 The Magical World of Disney (TV Series) Producer - 1 Episode
1984 DTV: Golden Oldies (Short) Director
1985 The Walt Disney Comedy and Magic Revue (Video short) Director - Archive Footage


  1. ^ a b Canemaker 2001, p. 33.
  2. ^ Champlin Jr., Charles (August 10, 1981). "The Disney Days of Reitherman". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 4 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  3. ^ a b Berge, John (2016). "De lystige skurkene I Sherwood-skogen". Donald Duck & Co. De komplette årgangene – 1974 del IV (in Norwegian). Oslo: Egmont Kids Media Nordic. p. 6. ISBN 978-82-429-5379-7.
  4. ^ a b Widmar, Aaron (February 23, 2022). "Who Were Walt Disney's Nine Old Men?". WDW Magazine. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  5. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 35–41.
  6. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 42.
  7. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 44.
  8. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 47.
  9. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 46−47.
  10. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 48.
  11. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 48−49.
  12. ^ a b Barrier 1999, p. 467.
  13. ^ Barrier 2008, p. 276.
  14. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 51.
  15. ^ MacQuarrie, Jim (June 2, 2015). "The Real Truth About Disney's "Recycled Animation"". Medium. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  16. ^ Coggan, Devan (May 14, 2015). "This video shows just how often Disney recycled animation". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  17. ^ "Milt Kahl". MichaelBarrier.com (Interview). Interviewed by Michael Barrier and Milton Gray. March 30, 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
  18. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (July 27, 1978). "Disney Incubating New Artists". The New York Times. p. C13. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  19. ^ Warga, Wayne (October 26, 1980). "Disney Films: Chasing the Changing Times". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, pp. 1, 36, 37 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  20. ^ Hill, Jim (January 17, 2018). "Where Disney failed, Studio Ponoc succeeds with its debut animated feature, "Mary and the Witch's Flower"". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  21. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 53.
  22. ^ Canemaker 2001, pp. 32–33.
  23. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 43.
  24. ^ "Wolfgang Reitherman". D23. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  25. ^ Folkart, Burt (May 24, 1985). "Wolfgang Reitherman, 75: Disney Animator Dies in Car Crash". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved October 30, 2016.