In September of 1991 I was a Lead at the Monorail Cafe at the Disneyland Hotel and read in the Cast Newspaper that they were closing the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyers Island to refurbish it for a new show.
That winter I thought it would be fun to see what the ROA looked like empty, so I headed over to the Park and found a big green fence and a sign that read “Imagination!” Opening in spring of 1992 (later it was changed to Fantastic!). I walked around, peaked through the fence and took pictures of the empty riverbed from atop of Pirates of the Caribbean.
One of the perks of being a cast member is being able to watch sneak peaks of the shows as they practice. My first time watching it, I was blown away first by the music, so powerful then by the beauty of it all, the lights the water show. WOW! A short time later I learned that the Park was looking for Media Escorts to help out with the media preview day for Fantastic! I quickly got permission and was going to be able to ”Be Here When the Night Ignites” with Micheal Eisner, Frank Wells and my assigned TV Station from Abilene, Texas (KTSX News 12).
On my first day with my news crew I met them at the Park, we signed in, received our credentials, and we were off! I had a reporter and a camera guy with me, so we took video around the Park, the reporter did some “ eases”with a live remote and talked with a few Guests. Then we enjoyed a night in the Park.
The next day was the press premier for the show, lots of live shots, interviews and reaction. It was so interesting to hear them writing out what they were going to say. I laughed to myself because the reporter defiantly had a 90’s reporter voice…”and now back to you in the studio”
On the last day, they asked if I could drive them to Burbank for an interview, I said sure and off we went. I had no idea that the station had lined up an interview with a Disney Animator for them.
We pulled into the driveway of this cute two story house and walked up to the door. We knocked and we were met by this nice older guy. As we walked through his front room, my eyes were zooming all around. Who is this guy? On the mantel there was a Disney Legends statue, lots of small trophy’s and Disney characters. The coffee table had lots of books on Disney, some I had never scene before. The hallway had photos of him at the studio, and as we walked into the backyard he pointed out all the inspiration he found in his yard. This bush was in Fantasia, these branches where in Snow White.
He invited us upstairs to his drawing room. It was a beautiful sun room with a wall of windows that overlooked the backyard. As the camera guy was getting set up, I finally heard who this person was…Joe Grant. The very first thing I thought of after hearing his name was… this guy next to me knew and worked with Walt Disney. It was a very out of body experience for me for a few minutes. I was now glued to every word he said.
As the reporter started the interview, we were at his drawing board and inside I had a ton of questions that I wanted to ask (but I knew I couldn’t). At one point, he started to draw a variety of Dumbo’s for the segment. As we finished the interview he gave the drawings to the camera guy (I didn’t have it in me to ask for one). And as we were wrapping things up, he talked about his work on Beauty and the Beast and his work on Aladdin and how much he loved being at the Studio.
I finally had my chance to talk, I thanked him for his time, shook his hand, and he said “anytime”. Yes… for a brief second, I wanted to ask him if we could chat sometime, but being the professional I am, I just said “take care Joe”
Born in New York City, New York, he worked for The Walt Disney Company as a character designer and story artist beginning in 1933 on the Mickey Mouse short, Mickey’s Gala Premier. He was a Disney legend. He created the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He co-wrote Dumbo. He also led development of Pinocchio and Fantasia.
During World War II, Grant worked on war cartoons including the Academy Award winning Der Fuehrer’s Face. He left the Disney studio in 1949 and ran a ceramics business and a greeting card business but returned in 1989 to work on Beauty and the Beast. He also worked on Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Mulan, Fantasia 2000, and Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. among others. The last two films he worked on before his death, Chicken Little and Pixar’s Up, were dedicated to him.
Grant worked four days a week at Disney until he died, nine days before his 97th birthday. Grant’s final project, Lorenzo, for which he conceived the idea and helped storyboard, received an Academy Award nomination in 2005.