Pioneering animator Ward Kimball, who helped modernize Mickey Mouse’s look in 1938 and created the character Jiminy Cricket for the Disney classic “Pinocchio,” died Monday of natural causes in Arcadia. He was 88.
During a Disney career that stretched from 1934 until his retirement in 1973, Kimball — a member of Walt Disney’s fabled trusted cadre of artists known as “The Nine Old Men” — animated or served as directing animator on such feature classics as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” “Cinderella” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
Two animated shorts he created for Disney — “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” (1953) and “It’s Tough to Be a Bird” (1969) — won Academy Awards.
In the late 1950s, he also wrote and directed three landmark shows about space exploration for the “Disneyland” television series — “Man in Space,” “Man and the Moon” and “Mars and Beyond” — that were widely credited with sparking public interest in America’s space program.
But perhaps Kimball’s most distinguished achievement was his development of Jiminy Cricket, the affable, top-hatted sidekick and conscience of the living puppet who longed to be a real boy in Disney’s 1940 adaptation of “Pinocchio.”
Kimball also was credited with animating the famed crow sequence in “Dumbo” and playing a key role in developing a more sophisticated cartoon design for Disney’s signature character, Mickey Mouse, in 1938.
“He was a brilliant animator and filmmaker with a distinctive style and humor all his own,” said Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of the Disney company.
Film critic Leonard Maltin said of Kimball, “Ward had a pixieish spirit that was irresistible.”
In addition to his animation career, Kimball was an accomplished trombonist and founding member of the popular jazz group the Firehouse Five Plus Two. He also led some of his fellow Disney employees in a Dixieland band that recorded albums, played concerts and appeared on TV and in films.
As an antique toy collector and model train enthusiast, Kimball and his wife built a full-sized steam locomotive railroad that the couple ran on their ranch in Southern California.