25. Hal King
In the 1950s the seats of the top animators had been pretty much filled and none of them had any interest in adding anymore. Walt was now too focused on making theme parks and being on television to remember that the animation board was supposed to rotate not stay the same. Neither was there any interest in young talent or veterans returning. The House of Mouse had been locked up and the top guys especially. This made it almost impossible for anyone to get out of the shadows of such giants as Frank Thomas, John Lounsbery, Ward Kimball, and Marc Davis. Their performances were blowing everyone away and most of the young guys were too scared even to talk to them. They were kings and no one paid much attention to most of the other artists in the studio. However, many believe that those guys in the shadows would have had just as good careers if they were given a chance to show everyone what they were made of. Of all those men in the shadows the one commonly considered the best of them is Hal King.
Hal King started out like many of his contemporaries as an inbetweener on shorts in the late 1930s. By this time the overwhelming box-office success of Snow White had paid off and several equally ambitious films were in the making. Innovations and new ideas were in work everyday. However the cartoon short was still in style back then and since most of the top guys and veteran animators were slaving away on Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi new guys were needed to either be an assistant on the features or an animator on the shorts. In the early 1940s King started working as a full-fledged animator on the Donald Duck series. Many of them were geared towards World War 2 and Hal’s first credit was on wartime cartoon Donald Gets Drafted, directed by Jack King. The story to a lot of these shorts was done by Carl Barks, the famous Donald Duck comic book artist who was renowned for his great psychological precision in his comics. The famous Jack Hannah hadn’t really gotten too much into directing the Duck shorts by this point so most of the shorts Hal worked on were directed by Jack King (no relation.) His first break into feature animation was on the Three Caballeros, a Latin American-influenced film made in 1944. After that he worked on some more shorts before animating on the postwar package features, such as Make Mine Music(The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met), Fun and Fancy Free (Mickey and the Beanstalk), Melody Time(Once Upon a Wintertime), and the Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (The Legend of Sleeping Hallow.) In that time period he also was one of the animators on the minor characters in Song of the South, a film sadly remembered and talked about more for its controversial live-action segments than brilliant, imaginative animation segments. When work started on Cinderella, Disney’s return to feature-length storytelling in animation, Hal King was brought up to feature-film talent status. He animated some of the mice, especially the girl mice in the song sequence, as well as scenes of the Duke including in the famous ending sequence where Cinderella puts on the glass slipper. On the next filmAlicein Wonderland King animated a significant amount of the scenes featuring the White Rabbit alongside Wolfgang Reitherman and even a few done by Fred Moore. After that he did arguably his best work when he animated a big chunk of John and Michael Darling in Peter Pan although Lounsbery did quite a bit of John as well. Modeled after Ham Luske’s son King’s animation of Michael is incredibly charming and has great sincerity. Things began to finally line up for Hal King. His work was improving with every feature, Ward Kimball was moving up into Disney television, Norman Ferguson was fired because he couldn’t adapt to Disney’s increasingly high standards of quality, and Marc Davis was skipping Lady and the Tramp so he could animate both Briar Rose and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. So on Lady King finally got the sacred title: directing animator. His name was now next to those of giants like Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, and Wolfgang Reitherman. For Lady and the Tramp Hal King animated such juicy scenes as Lady looking through the window, the scene where Jock and Lady talk about Trust’s secret lack of smell, Lady looking at the baby for the first time, Lady scolding Tramp after discovering his past ways with women, and Lady trying to telling the Darlings about the rat. All of these scenes were brilliantly animated and show the potential Hal had to be a dominant supervisor. Unfortunately Disney animation was reducing their animation staff so King’s services were needed at the character animation level for Sleeping Beauty, where he did scenes of the fairies, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, where he animate many scenes of the dogs. After these films layoffs were prevalent throughout the studio and even old timers were getting pink slips. King’s chances of being a directing animator again were made impossible when Wolfgang Reitherman became director of all the animated films and made it so the lineup was strictly Thomas, Johnston, Kahl, and Lounsbery. Also the new environment also allowed the four men to do more so their dominance over the films was made even more encompassing. Even Eric Larson, one of the top men, was reduced to only animating a few scenes as a character animator. Among the animation King did at this time was most of the wolves in the Jungle Book. After Robin Hood, however, he began to face health issues and was forced to leave the studio because of him (he was the first to leave because of health.) After his retirement Hal King didn’t have much contact with either students or the studio before passing away in the mid 1980s.
Hal King’s biggest asset as an animator you’d probably have to say is his clarity. If you study one of his scenes you’ll notice that his poses are very clear and strong to the point where they read in silhouette. A great example of this is the scene where the glass slipper has broken and the Duke begins to sob in fear of what will happen when the King finds out before realizing that Cinderella has the other slipper. The posture is so clear and really takes down any barrier between the inner and outer emotions of the character. I also love to freeze frame the scene where the Duke kisses the slipper. The actions and movements that Hal added to his animation really add a lot of authenticy to his animation and make the characters feel more believable. Another example of the clarity in King’s animation is the scene in Lady and the Tramp where Lady is furious at Tramp after she has heard from Peg about how many women he’s been with and how he treated them. You feel how hurt she is when she has found out that the man she loves is really a tramp with women and that the romance they had might have just been some game. This is really powerfully executed by Hal King. I also got to comment his use of squash-and-stretch is pretty phenomenal. This is a really important technique because it really adds life to your scene, especially when it involves dialogue. Moving a move up and down without muscle, solidity, purpose, or force may get you through Saturday Morning but it doesn’t fly in a Disney film. The mechanics completely takes away the believability in the character therefore making us not feel for them the way needed to communicate the intent and qualities of the story. Last Hal King’s animation is really special because of his great understanding of the character’s personality. His scenes of Michael in Peter Pan really show this at work. It’s clear that Hal really understood this character and what makes him feel a certain way as well as how he would act in different situations.
The impact Hal King has had on Disney animation is much greater than you may think. A lot of the stuff he worked in has been given credit almost exclusively to other animators. For example most people will give all the credit of the mice animation to Cinderella to Ward Kimball and all the credit of the Duke animation to Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas. Also almost no one gives even a nod to the fact that King animated several of the key sequences of Lady in Lady and the Tramp. Having an animator that could come off the bench and animate at the same skill level and quality as a directing animator was very valuable to the studio especially in the 50s when Hal King peaked as an animator. Later when there wasn’t that quantity and quality to the bench you really feel the difference between the animation done by the top animators and that done by the less-known animators. Personally I feel that’s part of why many of the top guys, with the notable exceptions of Ward Kimball and Eric Larson who preferred the days when Walt had more influence on the features, thought their best work was on the mediocre pictures. For example read the Illusion of Life (my favorite book of all time and close to perfect in most areas) gives in many cases much more commentary on the Reitherman era features than on the superior earlier films such as Dumbo, Cinderella, and Lady and the Tramp. I love the book but I would have rather Frank Thomas have talked more about the Stepmother and Captain Hook than the squirrels in Sword in the Stone and same with I would have rather Ollie Johnston focused on the 50s movies rather than Robin Hood. Also if you listen to or read an interview with Milt Kahl you’ll notice Medusa gets most of the talk even though he was furious about management and Woolie’s directing during that time period. Also Hal King served as a great mentor to some of the first trainees, including great animator Dale Baer and visual effects great Ted Kierscey.
The inspiration and influence I feel from Hal King is actually pretty substantial. I’m really inspired by his use of squash and stretch as well as clarity in poses. I also love the unselfishness and hard work he put into his animation. Most importantly I’ve been influenced by his understanding of character and expert ability to articulate that in a scene. I really love studying King’s work and being wowed by his rarely-talked-about genius character skills. Thank you Hal King for the great work and effort you put into your animation as well as your contributions to the art of Disney animation.
Three Caballeros(1944)- Animator
Melody Time(1946)- Animator on the Whale Wh0 Wanted to Sing at the Met
Song of the South(1946)- Animator on Minor Characters
Fun and Fancy Free(1947)- Animator on Mickey and the Beanstalk
Melody Time(1948)- Animator
Ichabod and Mr. Toad(1949)- Animator on Sleeping Hallow
Cinderella(1950)- Animator on Mice and Duke
Alice in Wonderland(1951)- Animator on White Rabbit
Peter Pan(1953)- Animator on John and Michael
Lady and the Tramp(1955)- Supervising Animator on Lady
Sleeping Beauty(1959)- Animator on Fairies
Dalmatians(1961)- Animator on Pongo, Petrida, and Puppies
Sword in the Stone(1963)- Animator
Jungle Book(1967)- Animator on Wolves
Robin Hood(1973)- Animator