Director, writer, producer, and narrator James “Jim” Algar loved the action and adventure associated with creating Disney’s nature pictures. While directing the True-Life Adventure The African Lion in 1955, he lived among the lions of Kenya; while producing the feature Ten Who Dared in 1960, he challenged the raging whitewater rapids of the Colorado River.
Among the many hats he wore, however, the most important was that of storyteller. Jim penned five Academy Award®-winning motion pictures for Disney, including Nature’s Half Acre, The Living Desert, and The Vanishing Prairie. As former vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company Roy E. Disney once recalled:
“Jim was a great storyteller, who made invaluable contributions to our animated classics, theme parks, and, especially, our nature films. He added tremendously to the Studio’s reputation for superior storytelling.”
Born June 11, 1912, in Modesto, California, Jim attended Stanford University. There, he served as editor of the campus humor magazine, The Chaparral. He frequently drew cartoons for the magazine and soon developed an interest in animation. In 1934, after receiving his master’s degree in journalism, he joined The Walt Disney Studios as an animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Walt Disney noted Jim’s talents and tapped the artist to direct the Mickey Mouse short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which became the foundation of the 1940 animated classic Fantasia. Jim then went on to direct sequences in Bambi, as well as several wartime films produced by the Studio for the United States Armed Forces, including Victory Through Air Power. In 1949, he directed The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
After the war, when Walt decided to produce live-action films about animals and nature, he asked Jim to direct the first True-Life Adventure. The film, Seal Island,” won an Academy Award in 1948. Other Oscar®-winning films he contributed to include Beaver Valley, Bear Country, White Wilderness, The Alaskan Eskimo, and Grand Canyon.
Jim also worked on 26 one-hour episodes for The Wonderful World of Disney television series, producing 14 episodes and narrating several, including Wild Geese Calling. He also contributed to such memorable feature films as The Legend of Lobo, The Incredible Journey, and Rascal.
Among his many theme park contributions, Jim wrote and produced Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and, later, Disneyland. He also wrote and produced several of the CircleVision 360 productions, including “America the Beautiful,” as well as The Hall of Presidents attraction at Walt Disney World.
After 43 years with The Walt Disney Studios, Jim retired on October 31, 1977. He passed away on February 26, 1998, in Carmel, California.