You may not recognize the name Burny Mattinson, but we’re pretty sure that you and/or your kids adore his work as one of the Grand Poobahs of Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh.”
Mattinson’s one of the few remaining artists at the Walt Disney Animation Studios who began his tenure when Disney himself was still alive: Mattinson started in 1953 as a teenager in the mailroom and worked his way up through the ranks to Senior Story Artist, and along the way he lent his talented touch to numerous classics, including “Lady and the Tramp,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Jungle Book,” “Robin Hood,” “The Great Mouse Detective,” “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”
But it was his established knack for bringing Winnie the Pooh and his pals to animated life on the classic featurettes of the 60s and 70s that led him to contribute to Disney’s most recent take on A.A. Milne’s silly old bear, when the studio brass wanted to bring Pooh back to the big screen. With “Winnie the Pooh” making its bow on home video today, Mattison gave PopcornBiz a peek into the process of making animated magic.
On his original experiences contributing to Pooh’s cinematic legacy:
“My first time working on the early ‘Poohs’ was with [legendary Disney animator] Eric Larson – I was his assistant, and he was animating Pooh and Owl. At that time, we had just finished '101 Dalmatians,' and Walt had decided: ‘Let's go ahead and start doing “Winnie the Pooh” as a feature.’ We had a small crew working on it and we had gotten up through a lot of 'Blustery Day' stuff in pencil tests. And then Walt at one point said, 'Let's take a look at what we've got,' so we went to the ‘sweatbox,’ where we show the dailies and so forth. We showed him the pencil tests and afterwards he went in the hall and he said, 'You know, guys, we're going to have to cut our losses on this and put it out as a featurette, because I don't think the public's going to go for this kind of humor – It's too mild, too simple.' So even he had his doubts at that time. And then so we put out the first one and then since it was pretty successful, he said, 'Well, let's put out the other one', which was the 'Blustery Day'. We did, and it won an Academy Award. Walt passed away in '66. And we didn't tackle it again until ‘74 and 'Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too'. That became the last of the three featurettes that we wound up later on putting together as a feature. And I animated on 'Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too.’ I wasn't working with somebody else – I had animated my own scenes in there.
On working with Walt Disney himself:
“He was very intense – and he didn't suffer fools easy, so you had such respect for him. But he loved the business: he would wind up actually getting up and acting out the things that you had storyboarded. He would get so wound up and excited by it he would start saying, 'Well, puppeteers could do this.' And he would stand up and start to act out what was there. And everybody would get very inspired, because he was so juiced up. He would just carry you along with his enthusiasm.”
On bringing the lessons of Disney’s part to the Disney films of today:
“Mainly when we tackle a project like 'Pooh' we just have fun doing it, and it's not so much the storylines as it is the characters – being faithful to the characters. That's what we try to do, because all of animation is really about characters. The story is secondary, in a sense: it's seeing how Pooh reacts in a given situation. Today we're trying to look for things that are more modern in a way – maybe something that's more topical, but still we try to keep a certain amount of charm of how we would approach the thing, like back in those days.”
On his plans to create a new feature film starring Mickey Mouse:
“You know, Walt actually wanted to do a feature back in 1939 with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy and it was all storyboarded and so forth. I have taken a whole new approach to it, and a different story, but the point is he felt it was worth doing. So I've done beat boards that reflect the suggestion of the story with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy – an adventure story – and other than that I can't say much about it until I present it to the bosses and see if they are actually on the same page with me. So far we're still doing it, and if we did this as a feature we would do this in 2-D.”
On his days at Disney:
“It's been wonderful. Every day I feel more and more like a kid. It's like Walt's little sandbox. It's fun: the toys are great to play with, it's such a creative and collaborative effort over here, and there's no one person who does anything on their own. You have to really treat each other like family and bounce ideas off of each other – and every time you do it gets better and better and better. It's exciting: you don't even know where it's going to lead, so it's a lot of fun working here.”
"Winnie the Pooh" ia available on DVD and Blu-ray today.