4 Facts About Disney Legend Milt Kahl

by | Mar 22, 2022 | Disney History, Disney Legends, Walt Disney World

Your favorite DIsney characters may have come from the hands of Milt Kahl…

Disney’s animation legacy wouldn’t be what it is without Walt’s Nine Old Men. This legendary team of animators helped achieve Walt’s grand visions, creating countless masterpieces that revolutionized the art form. 

One of the most noteworthy members of the team of animation pioneers was Milt Kahl, whose meticulous work on character animation brought many beloved individuals to life on the screen. Over his 42-year career, Milton Erwin Kahl helped direct the animation in dozens of feature-length and short-form animated productions. 

For his efforts, Milt was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1989 as one of the first members of the prestigious hall of fame, alongside fellow animators like Ub Iwerks and Les Clark.

Here’s a look back at his career with a look at four particularly interesting facts about Disney Legend Milt Kahl.

1. Everyone “Nose” Milt is Talented

Pinocchio by Milt Kahl Walt Disney Studios

Milt Kahl’s Pinocchio. Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Milt — who was mostly self-taught — truly had a gift for character animation, displaying such artistic skill that he even impressed his fellow animators. That’s how Milt originally got recognized by the studio’s leadership. 

He began work in 1934 as an assistant animator for Walt Disney Studio, going uncredited in short films for half of a decade. His big break came during the production of Pinocchio, which was released in 1940. Milt’s drawings of the little wooden boy caught the attention of a senior animator who brought the work to Walt to see. 

Walt immediately promoted Milt to being a supervisor over his fellow character animators, leading the depiction of Pinocchio. Can you imagine how good Milt’s work must have been to even impress even Walt?

2. Willing to Do the Heavy Lifting

Milt Kahl Sleeping Beauty Animated Gif Prince Phillip

Just because Walt saw Milt’s talent and promoted him doesn’t mean that the animator had a cushy gig at the studio. In fact, the opposite was true: Walt assigned Milt the exceptionally tough work to complete. 

Most of the time, that involved drawing detailed, precise characters no one else could or wanted to, such as Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Prince Philip from Sleeping Beauty. He could animate human characters exceptionally but also proved he could master anthropomorphic and traditional animals as well. 

Characters were the heart and soul of the studio’s productions, so it was crucial that these fictional individuals came to life in ways that looked lifelike and evoked their humanity.

3. Give the Man a Hand!

Milt Kahl Aristocats Sketch

One of Milt’s biggest contributions to the art form of animation that has influenced generations of artists — and is still being studied today — is the way he approached drawing human hands. 

Depicting the proper proportions, movement, and poses of these complex body parts proves to be a challenge for many animators. Milt’s dedication to observing and capturing human anatomy led to a precise mastery on a level matched by very few of his contemporaries. His knack for proper foreshortening and exact, consistent joint movement prevented his characters’ digits from appearing rubbery or stiff.

In general, Milt’s drawing style utilized angular corners, rigid lines, and acute joints, which reflected his primary inspirations: Ronald Searle and Pablo Picasso.

4. Animated Idiosyncrasies

Milt Kahl Disney Animator

Milt Kahl likely working on a “head swaggle.” Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Milt imbued his characters with certain visual qualities and movements that, if you study Milt’s work, will often reveal his involvement in the drawing. 

One of his most famous idiosyncrasies is the “head swaggle,” in which a character rocks or shakes their head from side to side as they talk. You can clearly see this in Tigger — in which it has stayed a characteristic of his movement — and most of the characters in The Jungle Book

This flourish in movement gave his characters a distinct bravado and whimsical cockiness in a way that only Milt could portray.

Milt’s work has influenced today’s famed animators like Brad Bird, who was his protégé in the 1970s. The man worked hard at the studio until he retired in 1976 so he could continue studying and creating art for fun. 

What’s your favorite classic Disney character? Was it someone that Milt animated?

Posts by Aaron Widmar

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Aaron Widmar is a lifelong fan of the artistic and emotional power of animation to tell stories. He was raised on Disney VHS tapes as a child and even as an adult still loves re-watching his favorites. Aaron is a professional writer in a variety of fields, including the automotive industry. Although he and his wife Vicki don’t travel to Walt Disney World as often as they’d like, he can escape to the Disney-themed room of their house whenever he needs creative inspiration.
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Authored by
Aaron Widmar

Aaron Widmar is a lifelong fan of the artistic and emotional power of animation to tell stories. He was raised on Disney VHS tapes as a child and even as an adult still loves re-watching his favorites. Aaron is a professional writer in a variety of fields, including the automotive industry. Although he and his wife Vicki don’t travel to Walt Disney World as often as they’d like, he can escape to the Disney-themed room of their house whenever he needs creative inspiration.
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