Joe Grant

Disney artist and writer

Disney artist and writer Joe Grant May 6 in Glendale, Calif. He was 96.

Grant designed the Queen/Witch character in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” served as co-story director on “Fantasia,” co-wrote “Dumbo,” and conceived “Lady and the Tramp.”

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, May 14 at 9:00 a.m. at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn, Glendale.

He suffered a heart attack while working at his drawing board at his home studio. He continued to work four days a week at Walt Disney Feature Animation, and had been at work the day before he died. Earlier this year, Grant attended the Academy Awards, where the short film he had conceived, “Lorenzo” (directed by Mike Gabriel), was an animated short nominee.

Born in New York, Grant moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 2 years old. After learning to draw from his father’s newspaper business colleagues, he was hired by a L.A. newspaper to create cartoons and caricatures, which caught the eye of Walt Disney.

Grant’s Disney career spanned more than seven decades, starting in 1933, when Disney asked him to caricature celebrities of the day for the animated short, “Mickey’s Gala Premiere.” Among his first duties as a fulltime animator was to design the Queen/Witch character for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” He was then was charged with creating the studio’s character model department, a think tank for future animated projects.

He played a major role on the next two projects — “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” — and worked closely with Disney, Leopold Stokowski, and his creative partner Dick Huemer, on ‘Fantasia” to select the music and direct story development.

Grant was also one of the studio’s top writers and gagmen, teaming with Huemer to write “Dumbo.” In 1939, Grant and his wife, Jenny, came up with a story about a spaniel named Lady, which later became the genesis of “Lady and the Tramp.” During the war years, Grant and Huemer contributed story, gags and designs for patriotic-themed shorts including the Academy Award-winning “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”

When the character model department disbanded in 1949, Grant left the studio to pursue his own artistic ventures. He started several businesses including a ceramics studio and a greeting card company.

Then, after a 40 year absence, he was lured back to Disney in 1989 to work on “Beauty and the Beast.” He contributed character designs, story ideas and sketches, and gags for films including “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas,” “The Lion King” and “Mulan.” For “Fantasia/2000,” Grant conceived the flamingo yo-yo ballet for the “Carnival of the Animals” sequence. For the Pixar film, “Monsters, Inc.,” Grant came up with the film’s title.

David Stainton, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, said, “We were so incredibly fortunate to have had Joe at the studio sharing his creativity and enthusiasm, and inspiring young talent for such a long time. We’re going to miss his famous one-liners, philosophical remarks, constructive comments, and his brilliant talent for stories, characters, and structure.”

Pixar’s Pete Docter observed, “The man left stacks of wonderful sketches wherever he went. He was always experimenting with new techniques and media. His drawings were not only incredibly well drawn (even at age 96) but they were just great ideas.”

Grant was named an official Disney Legend in 1992, received an ASIFA Annie Award and received a lifetime achievement award from the L.A. Film Critics Assn. More than 70 of his caricatures are included in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institute.

At the time of his death, he was developing several feature-length and short animation projects in collaboration with his friend and Disney colleague Burny Mattinson.

Grant is survived by two daughters, a grandson, a granddaughter and a great grandson.

Donations may be made to the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, 361 South Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105.

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