For most people, Walt Disney is a brand name, or a flickering black-and-white image best remembered for hosting the Disneyland series throughout the 1960s. But for animator Burny Mattinson he was a real living, breathing person.
“I first met him as a traffic boy when I first came to the studio,” said Mattinson, a Disney employee since 1953. “I was in the elevator and he stepped in. I said, ‘Good morning Mr. Disney.’ He looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and said, ‘It’s Walt, son.’ That was my first adventure with him.”
Mattinson had many adventures in the studio, including working on Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast and the original Winnie the Pooh shorts in 1964 and ’74. Those shorts were wildly popular, but were originally planned as a feature film. Mattinson remembers watching the rough cut of the film with Disney.
“He came out afterwards and said, ‘You know, I think we should cut our losses. I don’t think audiences are going to like this kind of humour. It’s too mild. Let’s put it out as a featurette.’ So we cut it to 20 minutes and lost a lot of footage. We put it out as Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree and it did very well, and Walt said, ‘Well we have the rest of this footage, let’s put it out as A Blustery Day. Which we did and it won an Academy Award the following year.”
Recently Mattinson’s career came full circle when he was approached to help relaunch the Pooh Bear and his friends from the Hundred Acre Woods. The result is Winnie the Pooh, a movie Mattinson says, “is kind of like visiting an old friendly family you’ve grown up with.”
Mattinson has another family connection to the film. The movie’s opening moments are live action, featuring a Winnie the Pooh stuffed doll his wife made in 1964. It was set to be used in the 1964 movie, but when it wasn’t he gave it to his children.
“My kids played with it,” he says, “and their kids played with it. It’s kind of raggedy; it’s gotten a lot of patina of age on it but then when the bosses said they were going to shoot a new live action opening I brought it in and showed it to them and they said, ‘Yes! That’s it.’ It’s finally gotten its chance.”