Burny Mattinson, Animator and Disney’s Longest-Serving Employee, Dies at 87

Burny Mattinson, Animator and Disney’s Longest-Serving Employee, Dies at 87
Feb 2023

His 70-year run with the company included work on 'Lady and the Tramp,' 'The Jungle Book,' 'The Lion King,' 'Strange World' and 'The Great Mouse Detective.'

Burny Mattinson, who worked as an animator, director, producer and story artist during a 70-year career as the longest-serving "castmember" in the history of The Walt Disney Co., has died. He was 87.

Mattinson died after a short illness on Monday at a Canoga Park assisted living facility in Los Angeles, the studio announced. He was due to receive his 70th anniversary service award -- the studio's first ever -- on June 4.

Mattinson was working full time at Walt Disney Animation Studios as a story consultant and mentor at the time of his death.

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"Burny's artistry, generosity and love of Disney Animation and the generations of storytellers that have come through our doors, for seven decades, has made us better -- better artists, better technologists and better collaborators," Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer Jennifer Lee said in a statement. "All of us who have had the honor to know him and learn from him will ensure his legacy carries on."

Among Mattinson's achievements were a solo directing credit on the featurette Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) -- which returned Mickey Mouse to the big screen for the first time in 30 years and earned him an Oscar nomination -- and roles as producer and co-director on the feature The Great Mouse Detective (1986).

He also worked as an artist on such classics as Lady and the Tramp (1955), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Jungle Book (1967), The Rescuers (1977), Big Hero 6 (2014) and Strange World (2022); served as a key member of the story team on Aladdin (1992), Beauty and the Beast (1993), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Tarzan (1997) and Mulan (1998); was a story supervisor on Winnie the Pooh (2011); and contributed to the 2007 Goofy short How to Hook Up Your Home Theater.

The first of two children, Burnett Mattinson was born in San Francisco on May 13, 1935. Before he was 6, he saw Disney's Pinocchio, and ever since, "this was my dream -- to work in this business," he recalled. "So, I worked every day, drawing."

His father, a drummer with Horace Heidt's Big Band, moved the family to Los Angeles in 1945. By the time he was 12, he was drawing Disney-style cartoons.

After high school, his mother dropped him off at the Disney studio gate in Burbank. A guard took a look at his portfolio and let him in, and Mattinson wound up with an interview and a job in the mailroom. Six months later, with no formal art training, he started work as an in-betweener on Lady and the Tramp.

He was promoted to assistant animator under animator Marc Davis on Sleeping Beauty and continued in that capacity on One Hundred and One Dalmatians. When that film ended, he began a 12-year stint with animator Eric Larson, working on projects including Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color for television, The Sword in the Stone, Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book and The Aristocats (1970).

After completing an eight-week internal training program, Mattinson became an animator on Robin Hood (1973) and a key animator on Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too (1974), working with animator Ollie Johnston.

Animator Frank Thomas saw Mattinson's thumbnail sketches and asked him to help on storyboards for The Rescuers. "Storyboards are as close to direction as you can get," Mattinson noted. "You're telling cameras where to go, what's happening onscreen, where to cut and really making a blueprint for the film."

Inspired by a Disneyland Records Christmas album, Mattinson sent a note to then-studio head Ron Miller for an idea for a movie. He was surprised when he was assigned to direct Mickey's Christmas Carol, which led to his contributions on The Great Mouse Detective.

Mattinson was named a Disney Legend in 2008. He set the castmember longevity record on March 5, 2018, surpassing Disney artist and Imagineer John Hench's mark of 64 years, 8 months and 29 days.

Survivors include his wife, Ellen; son Brett, his wife, Kelly, and their two children; and his daughter, Genny, her husband, Larry, and their two children.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund.