Marc Davis, who as one of Disney’s greatest animators designed and gave life to such memorable screen characters as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Bambi and Tinker Bell, died Wednesday at Glendale Memorial Hospital following a stroke. He was 86.
Davis, a celebrated member of Walt Disney’s trusted inner circle known as the “nine old men,” enjoyed a 43-year career with the House of Mouse. He earned the reputation as Disney’s “ladies’ man” because of his complex drawings of female character creations that included Alice, Briar Rose, Maleficient and Cruella De Vil.
He was key in the creative planning for the original Disneyland, developing story and character concepts for such attractions as “It’s a Small World,” “The Enchanted Tiki Room,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Jungle Cruise,” “Carousel of Progress” and “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”
“We have lost one of the great giants in our industry. Marc was a true Renaissance man and an amazing talent who helped define the art of animation and raise it to incredible new heights,” said Roy Disney, vice chairman of the Walt Disney Company, in a statement.
Davis joined Disney Studios in 1935 as an apprentice animator, and was promoted to assistant animator for the 1937 production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” although he did not create any characters for that movie.
His first animations depicted lovable animals. In 1942, he created the fawn “Bambi” for the animated feature of the same name, and he created both Bre’r Fox and Bre’r Bear for the 1946 feature “Song of the South.” Moving on to concern his pen with people, he was responsible for “Cinderella” in the 1950 film of the same name.
In 1951, Davis followed with “Alice in Wonderland,” for which he drew the main character. Two years later, he drew Tinker Bell in “Peter Pan.”
In 1961, Davis created the deliciously wicked Cruella De Vil, who kidnapped the Dalmatians in “101 Dalmatians.”
Davis was born in Bakersfield, and after high school attended the Kansas City Art Institute. He went on to the California Institute for Fine Arts in San Francisco and the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles before joining Walt Disney.
He retired in 1978, but returned to Disney as a consultant on numerous projects including “World of Motion” for the Epcot Center in Florida and attractions in Japan for Tokyo Disneyland.
Davis was also an artist in his own right. His paintings are on display at the Larry Smith Fine Arts Gallery in Los Angeles. In addition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has conducted an annual “Marc Davis Lecture on Animation” since 1994.
Davis is survived by his wife of 44 years, Alice.