Burny Mattinson, a Disney Legend who spent an unprecedented 70 years adding to the artistic and storytelling magic of Walt Disney Animation Studios, died today, February 27, at age 87. The studio’s longest-serving employee, Mattinson made his Mouse House debut as an in-betweener on Lady and the Tramp (1955) and most recently served as a story artist on Strange World (2022).
Mattinson passed away at the Canyon Oaks Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park, California, following a brief illness. He was still working full time as a story consultant and studio mentor at the time of his passing. A ceremony to honor the animator with the studio’s first-ever 70th anniversary service award was scheduled for June 4.
“I mean, 50 years is a long time, but I still feel like that 18-year-old kid that came here back in ’53, you know? I never feel like I’ve gotten old.”
— Burny Mattinson on marking 50 years at Disney.
Among Mattinson’s many achievements over the years, he directed the 1983 Dickens adaptation Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which marked the iconic character’s return to the big screen for the first time in 30 years, and was a co-director and producer of the Sherlock sendup The Great Mouse Detective (1986). And his remarkable animation career began when he was just a teenager dropped off at the studio gates by his mother with a portfolio and a Pinocchio-inspired dream.
“He literally did everything that could be done at the studio—assistant animator, animator, story artist, producer, and director of many films that made an indelible mark on our collective appreciation of the Disney ethos. He was also, when he started, traffic boy to Walt, giving Walt his weekly spending cash,” colleague and close friend Eric Goldberg shared.
“Burny was low-key, charming, inventive, and superbly gifted as a draftsperson and a storyteller. His storyboards were beautifully acted and wonderfully atmospheric, which I first encountered when I joined the studio for Aladdin. The more I saw of his work, the more I became in awe of his breadth of talent. I value his cheerful friendship and lasting inspiration to me and so many other animation artists. He will be missed, but not forgotten.”
Mattinson contributed to the Disney legacy as an inbetweener and animator on beloved classics including Sleeping Beauty (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963), Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973) and multiple Winnie the Pooh movies, and as story contributor to The Rescuers (1977), Pete’s Dragon (1977), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Mulan (1998), Tarzan (1999); story supervisor on Winnie the Pooh (2011); and story artist on Big Hero 6, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Strange World.
“Burny’s artistry, generosity, and love of Disney Animation and the generations of storytellers that have come through our doors, for seven decades, has made us better — better artists, better technologists, and better collaborators,” said Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. “All of us who have had the honor to know him and learn from him will ensure his legacy carries on.”
Burnett “Burny” Mattinson was born May 13, 1935 in San Francisco. His father, Bernie Mattinson, was a jazz drummer who played with the Horace Heidt big band and later as a recording session musician for Elvis Presley. The family relocated to Los Angeles in 1945, and Mattinson scored his job in the mail room of Disney Studios in 1953 after graduating high school. While working on Sleeping Beauty, he met fellow in-betweener Sylvia Fry. The couple married and had three children together. He was inducted into the Disney Legends pantheon in 2008.
Per the Walt Disney Co. obituary, Mattinson is survived by his wife, Ellen Siirola; son, Brett (Kelly); Daughter Genny (Larry Ellena); and four grandchildren. He will be buried at Forest Lawn following a private funeral. Donations may be made in his name to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
You can read more about Mattinson’s incredible career with Disney in the company’s obituary posted at thewaltdisneycompany.com.
[Sources: The Walt Disney Co., Laughing Place]