When Theodore Thomas, son of Disney animator Frank Thomas, set out to make a documentary about the lives and viewpoints of two of that studio’s legendary Nine Old Men, few executives would give him the time of day.
With the exception of Roy Disney, the Mouse House was totally unaware of “Frank and Ollie,” the feature-length biopic about Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, two lifelong friends who played a pivotal role in the creation of “Pinocchio” and “The Jungle Book,” among other titles.
During the early stages of the pic’s seven-year odyssey to the big screen, Thomas fils was denied the use of footage from films his pop had drawn. And when he submitted a rough cut of the documentary to the Sundance Film Festival, he had to use dirty duplicates of scenes shot off videotape instead of archival footage. But once the doc got accepted to the prestigious festival and other distributors started to express interest in “Frank and Ollie,” Disney execs became aware of the project, and they became very cooperative.
The studio agreed to distribute the pic, and offered to throw a party for the film in Park City. They also opened the vaults and allowed Thomas to use unseen vintage artwork. Last week, he received an order for 10 prints, and marketing execs were debating when to put the pic into theatrical release.
Clearly, when one wishes upon a megalithic, international corporation, dreams do come true.
“We ended up being the sand in Disney’s oyster,” says Thomas in an optimistic tone worthy of Jiminy Cricket. “We had a project that nobody knew about or wanted. Then we got into Sundance, and Disney gave us the keys to the kingdom.”