If the Walt Disney Studios were to have a real-life Jiminy Cricket, it would have to have been former vice chairman Roy Edward Disney, son of Roy O. Disney and nephew of Walt Disney. Besides being its conscience, Roy has also been called the “soul of the Company;” he often looked to its past to define its future.
Roy once said, “The thing that distinguishes us from everybody else, and always has and always will, is our past. The goal is to look over our shoulder and see Snow White and Pinocchio and Dumbo standing there, saying, ‘Be this good.’ We shouldn’t be intimidated by them; they’re an arrow pointing someplace.”
Born in Los Angeles on January 10, 1930, Roy practically grew up at the Studio. His father managed the Company’s business affairs, while his uncle inspired artists to create magical animated worlds for movie screens. Roy was there when Snow White and Pinocchio were born and once recalled:
“The animators used to test stuff out on me. They’d say, ‘Come on in and watch this and see if you think it’s funny.’”
In 1951, Roy graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Southern California’s Pomona College. He soon launched his entertainment career as an assistant film editor on the television series Dragnet, starring Jack Webb. He joined The Walt Disney Studios in 1954, working as an assistant editor on the successful True-Life Adventures films. These included The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie, both of which won Academy Awards®. He later wrote and co-produced Mysteries of the Deep, which won an Oscar® nomination in 1959.
Roy also wrote for television series, including Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and the popular Zorro, starring Guy Williams. Then, in 1964, he formed his own production unit to write, produce, and direct some 35 television and theatrical productions including Varda, the Peregrine Falcon, The Owl That Didn’t Give a Hoot, and Pancho, the Fastest Paw in the West. He joined the Company’s Board of Directors in 1967.
After 23 years, Roy left the Studio in 1977 to become an independent producer and investor. He returned seven years later to serve as the Company’s vice chairman and head of the animation department. Subsequently, Disney animation produced some of its greatest box office successes of all time, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.
Roy achieved a long-time dream when he revived one of his uncle’s most colorful visions with Fantasia 2000. A continuation of Walt Disney’s 1940 classic Fantasia, which combined classical music with original animation, Fantasia 2000 rang in a new millennium on January 1, 2000, at IMAX theaters across the country.
Roy also spearheaded the effort to complete Destino, the surrealistic cartoon envisioned by Salvador Dali and Walt, but subsequently shelved. The film appeared in 2003.
After another brief time away from the Company, Roy returned as a consultant and Director Emeritus in 2005. He was also a trustee at the California Institute of the Arts, and an avid sailor; he smashed several speed records and participated in more than a dozen Transpacific Yacht Races in a series of ships named Pyewacket. Roy also produced a number of documentaries about sailing, including 2008’s Morning Light.
Roy passed away on December 16, 2009. In 2010, the feature animation building at The Walt Disney Studios was re-dedicated as the “Roy E. Disney Animation Building,” paying tribute to Roy’s efforts to revitalize the art form. The 2009 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty was also dedicated in his honor.