An Animated Life

May/June 1998

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An Animated Life

Courtesy The Walt Disney Co.

From Mickey Mouse's appearance as the terrified, half-drowned sorcerer's apprentice in Fantasia to the square-dancing death duel of scorpions in The Living Desert, James Algar delivered some of the most memorable moments in Disney films. "Jim was a great storyteller, who made great contributions to our animated classics," says Roy Disney, vice chairman and head of the animation department.

Algar, who died in February at the age of 85, was a writer, director and producer at Walt Disney Studios for 43 years. He began his cartoon career drawing for the Chaparral at Stanford and joined the young Disney studios in 1934 as an animator. In 1938, he was asked to direct one of Walt Disney's own pet projects -- a cartoon created around composer Paul Dukas's suite The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It was originally intended as a stand-alone short to bolster the popularity of Mickey Mouse, whose fortunes had waned against those of Donald Duck. "But when it was finished," says Algar's son James, "the studio thought it came out so well that they decided to build a whole movie around a mix of classical music and cartoons." The result was that Algar's Apprentice became a key part of the acclaimed Fantasia, released as a full-length feature in 1940.

In the 1950s, Algar worked as a writer and director on a series of true-life adventures. "They were my dad's pet projects," James says. "He was pretty much given the freedom to decide which subjects to cover."

Algar shared in nine Oscars for these documentaries and features, which included The Vanishing Prairie, Beaver Valley, Bear Country, The Living Desert and White Wilderness.

Algar's work also won awards from the Thomas Edison Foundation, the International Edinburgh Festival, Look magazine and the American Humane Society.

In addition to his son James of Valencia, Calif., Algar is survived by sons Bruce of Dallas and John of Charleston, S.C; a daughter, Laurie Adams, of Augusta, Ga.; nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

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