RIP! Don Lusk, 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Pinocchio' Animator, Dies At 105, Last Of Disney's Golden Age

RIP! Don Lusk, 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Pinocchio' Animator, Dies At 105, Last Of Disney's Golden Age

The death of Disney's last living animator from the Golden Age marks an end of an era that defined the history of animation in America.

Born in 1913, Don Lusk, breathed his last at a retirement home in Burbank, California. He was 105-years-old. The last living animator from the Golden Age of Dinsey, Lusk had started his career with Disney in 1933. During the course of his 60-year career, he had been involved in bringing to life countless Disney superhits. In fact, of the 17 Disney animated movies that were released between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and 101 Dalmatians, 1961, Lusk was a part of as many as 13! Ed Asner’s daughter, Navah Paskowitz-Asner, shared this heartbreaking piece of news on December 31, 2018, via a Facebook post. Lusk is survived by his son Skip and daughter Marilyn; grandchildren Jason and Erica; and great-grandchildren Kyler, Catalina, Conner, and Kayla.

Source: Facebook
Source: Facebook

Some of the most famous movies he has worked on include Pinocchio; Bambi; Peter Pan; Lady and the Tramp; Sleeping Beauty; and One Hundred and One Dalmatians among others. Needless to say, animated Disney films might have been a completely different, less wholesome experience without Lusk's expert ministrations bringing to life some of our absolute favorite characters. Take, for example, Cleo the affectionate goldfish and Figaro the tuxedo cat in the 1940 release, Pinocchio. Little do people know that Walt Disney loved the cat so much that he wanted it to make an appearance as much as possible. Not only did Figaro replace Minnie Mouse's pet Fifi, shortly after Pinocchio's release, he also had three cartoons all about him! Figaro and Cleo was released in 1943, Bath Day was released in 1946 and Figaro and Frankie was released in 1947.   


Other notable works by him include the Arabian Fish Dance to the Nutcracker Suite for Fantasia in 1940, the dog chase for Bambi in 1942, the mice for Cinderella in 1950 and the title character floating down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland in 1951. For those who remember these scenes and characters know the beauty of Lusk's animation. Capturing the true essence of Disney, each of these scenes not only melt your heart but will also make you believe how real these characters are as they emote perfectly on-screen. Disney's Golden Age truly redefined the history of animation in America, and Lusk was right at the heart of it. 

For the uninitiated, the Golden Age of Disney began in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Severn Dwarves. It was the very first full-length Disney animation that was completely traditionally animated. It was also the film that defined Disney as one of the animation stalwarts of the time. Other successful films released around this time include Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942),  Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and The Jungle Book (1967). 

However, that is not all that Lusk had been involved with at Disney. On May 29, 1941, he joined 333 other Disney employees as they walked out of the studio, marking the beginning of a five-week-long strike. Though it was rumored that Disney animators enjoyed the best pay and working conditions in the country, it clearly wasn't enough. Work-related grievances were exactly what these 334 individuals were protesting against. Starting with unexplained salary cuts, inhumanly long work hours and unnecessary layoffs, Disney, as a company, was guilty of several other things during those years. One of the reasons Lusk and his colleagues were protesting was because they believed that they deserved more pay than the stipulated $87.50 every week. 

Eventually, the strike of 1941 did something incredible for the animation industry. Not only did it force studios to recognize labor unions, but it also paved the way for the rise of new studios. It also gave birth to artistic styles that were previously subdued by rigid guidelines. Often considered to be the Civil War of Animation, this strike revealed to the world the ugly, capitalist face of Walt Disney. Though Lusk came back to work eventually after the strike, things were far from perfect for him. Shortly after his return, he was expected to serve as a marine in the World War II. Assigned to a training unit in Quantico, Virginia, he spent a few years there. He eventually rejoined Walt Disney as an animator after the war came to an end.  


Needless to say, Lusk's return to Disney was not as peaceful as one could expect it to be. Though the matter had been resolved in 1941, artists, as well as officials, held on to the grudge. In 1960, the animator finally quit Disney after realizing that advancing within the company would be rather difficult for him thanks to his involvement in the strike. After his stint at Disney, he worked at UPA, Walter Lantz, DePatie-Freleng, and Bill Melendez Productions. Some of his most loved works from this time are the numerous Peanuts specials he animated. 

Source: Mubi
Source: Mubi

Later, his involvement with Hanna-Barbera was nothing short of epic. Not only did he direct over 100 episodes of the much-loved cartoon, The Smurfs, but his work has also been intrinsic to several other cartoon series as well. It was here that he discovered his penchant for direction. And if you have spent enough time devouring cartoons as a kid, you'll realize that all these titles are not just familiar, but absolute favorites as well. Which ones, you ask? A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, Yo Yogi!, Gravedale High, Jonny Quest, The Flintstone Kids, Challenge of the GoBots, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo! Phew! Now that is quite an impressive list - isn't it?  

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In 1993, Lusk retired from the animation industry. He was 80-years-old then. In 2015, he was awarded the Winsor McCay Award from ASIFA-Hollywood for all his contributions to the animation industry. Though Lusk chose to work behind the scenes, bringing to life two-dimensional characters, his influence on American animation as we know it, is undeniable. "As with so many animation veterans, he was as talented (and he was) as he was generous to others with his advice and help over the years. He will be missed but his wonderful work will live on," said Disney concept-artist, Mike Peraza, in a touching Facebook post mourning the loss of one of the best animators the world has ever known. 

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