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Toon legend Joe Grant going strong at 90

Legendary Disney animator Joe Grant celebrates his 90th birthday today, kicking off the seventh decade of a career that is still going strong.

After helping create some of the studio’s most celebrated films, including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Dumbo,” “Fantasia” and “Lady and the Tramp,” the animator went on a 40-year hiatus from Disney, only to return in 1989, where he has since enjoyed an appropriately fairytale-like comeback. Today the dynamo is still hard at work, adding his special brand of magic to contemporary animated blockbusters like “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “Hercules” and the upcoming “Mulan.”

Perhaps Grant was born with ink flowing through his veins — his father was a successful newspaper art editor who passed him the pen at an early age. Essentially growing up in art departments, Grant was able to bypass formal training. His first big break came from the Los Angeles Record, where the youngster was hired to do caricatures of celebrities. Those drawings caught the eye of Walt Disney himself and led to a job caricaturing stars for the Disney short “Mickey’s Gala Premiere,” a spoof of the Academy Awards.

Hired full-time at the studio shortly after, Grant went on to design the queen/witch character for the studio’s first full-length animated feature, “Snow White,” co-write the script for “Dumbo” and provide story direction on “Fantasia.”

While working on “Alice in Wonderland,” Grant decided it was time to pursue other interests. He left Disney and started several businesses, including a ceramics studio and a greeting card company.

Fast forward 40 years. Grant was semi-retired when he received a call from his old studio asking if he’d like to consult on a project. At 81, Grant returned to work with a new generation of animators on the work-in-progress “Beauty and the Beast.”

At 90, the lauded animator hardly has a chance to rest. The city of Burbank has declared today Joe Grant Day. Later this month, his work will be celebrated at the animation festival in Annecy, France. His caricatures, including some from his days at the Record, are in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institute.

So how will this icon celebrate his 90th anniversary on the planet? Basking in the spotlight at a flashy birthday bash? Not likely. A quiet dinner with friends and family will do, lit only by the glow of ninety candles.

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