Story artist Joe Grant’s lengthy career at The Walt Disney Studios came full circle. In 1940, he contributed to Fantasia and, 50 years later, he fathered the “flamingo with a yo-yo” concept for the “Carnival of the Animals” sequence featured in Fantasia 2000.
In fact, Joe enjoyed two separate careers at Disney. His first began in 1937, when he contributed to the story and character development of such animated classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. Then, in 1949, he left Disney to pursue his own artistic ventures. Years later, in 1989, he received an unexpected phone call from Disney’s feature animation department, asking if he would consult on Beauty and the Beast.
Subsequent Disney animated films, such as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Mulan, benefited from Joe’s talent and humor. Former Walt Disney Feature Animation President Thomas Schumacher once said, “Joe is both a creative force and a touchstone. Not only is he among the most prolific artists in feature animation, but he’s always willing to let me run an idea by him and I always get an honest assessment. I depend on him as a sounding board for what is appealing, charming and entertaining.”
Born in New York City on May 15, 1908, the son of a successful newspaper art editor, Joe was educated in the newsroom by his father. His first professional break came when he was hired as a staff illustrator for The Los Angeles Record, sketching weekly cartoons and caricatures of Hollywood celebrities. His drawings caught the eye of Walt Disney, who hired Joe to design caricatures for Mickey’s Gala Premiere in 1933.
Walt eventually invited Joe to join the Studio, where he soon became one of its top writers and gagmen.
He also founded the Character Model Department, where characters were designed and visuals and stories developed. As head of the department, it was often said that no model sheet was official until it bore the seal “O.K., J.G.”
Along with his writing partner and fellow Disney Legend Dick Huemer, Joe accompanied Walt and Leopold Stokowski on a retreat to select music for Fantasia and, later, led its story development. He also co-wrote Dumbo, which was inspired by a children’s book. During World War II, Joe contributed to many patriotic-themed shorts including the Academy Award®-winning Der Fuehrer’s Face. Other early credits included The Reluctant Dragon, Saludos Amigos, Make Mine Music, and Alice In Wonderland.
After his return to the Studio, Joe contributed to the visual and character development of a number of features, including Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Disney/Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.
Joe worked four days a week at Disney until he passed away on May 6, 2005, nine days short of his 97th birthday. His story, alongside that of fellow Disney Legend Joe Ranft, is told in the 2010 book Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft.