Chris Bailey has a career in animation that is in some ways typical but in other ways unique. Like many aspiring animators who went to CalArts in the seventies, he was hired by Walt Disney Animation Studios during a creative peak in the eighties and nineties where they made some of their best movies, but he had so much creativity that he aspired to be a director more than an animator, so he never became a master on the level of Glen Keane or James Baxter. He hated being stagnant, and as a result, he was a versatile animator who was willing to try anything new as long as it interested him. Even if he had to jump between different studios, different mediums and even different animation styles.

Chris Bailey was born in Portland, Oregon in 1962. He was a comic book fan who read a lot of superhero and monster stories, and he even wanted to be a comic book artist. But that changed in high school when he discovered an article about Disney animation in an issue of The Comics Journal. Bailey loved comics but he also loved animation, especially Warner Bros. cartoons, so he put together his cartoon portfolio and applied for the animation training program at the California Institute of the Arts and got accepted.

Bailey met fellow animation fans at CalArts but they were much more knowledgeable about Disney films than Bailey. Many CalArts students can tell you the names of the animators and directors who worked on Disney films, but Bailey was only a casual Disney fan. He respected Disney as an animation studio but films about princesses and talking animals were never as entertaining to Bailey as comic books like Fantastic Four.

After graduating from CalArts, Bailey freelanced as an animator in the early 1980s, which was a struggle because the eighties were not a fruitful period for animation. But he managed to get an impressive early gig as the person who animated Spider-Man in the Marvel Productions logo, which you may remember seeing after the end credits of TV shows like G.I. Joe and Muppet Babies.

That logo was computer-animated, and even though Bailey had no computer experience, he learned how to animate on one out of necessity. Because, like I said, not a fruitful period. This made Bailey one of the earliest hand-drawn animators to make the transition to computer animation, and that experience would come in handy later in Bailey’s career.

While freelancing, Bailey worked for Don Bluth as an animator on the arcade game Space Ace (1983) and later for Steven Hahn on the movie Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985) before being hired by Disney. He was an animator on the 1987 TV special Sport Goofy in Soccermania and was also going to animate on a new Donald Duck cartoon called Swabbies, but that never got produced so he wound up being an animator on The Great Mouse Detective (1986) in Glen Keane’s unit animating a few scenes of Rattigan and Fidget during the Big Ben finale.

Bailey, as I said before, is not a huge Disney fan so the material he was working on in this period was not as edgy as he would have liked, but he still enjoyed his time working there and has stated that the environment during the Disney Renaissance was creative, and all his memories at the studio are fond ones.

Following The Great Mouse Detective, Bailey animated characters in Oliver & Company (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990), and between Disney films he would freelance at other studios, including working as an animator on Bill Kroyer’s Oscar-nominated 1988 short Technological Threat, and as the designer and animation supervisor of MC Skat Kat in Paula Abdul’s music video for “Opposites Attract.” Disney CEO Michael Eisner even saw that music video and told Walt Disney Feature Animation president Peter Schneider that they should hire the animator behind MC Skat Kat, to which Schneider had to reply that Bailey already works for Disney.

Bailey had a few more gigs at Disney animating Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King (1994) and Nessus in Hercules (1997), but he made his directorial debut with the 1995 Mickey Mouse short Runaway Brain, which stars Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and told a story in which Mickey gets his brain switched with the brain of a monster. Although the film was nominated for an Oscar and it was an impressive directorial effort from Bailey, it got a mixed reception from Disney purists who felt the image of Mickey being possessed crossed a disturbing line, and Disney rarely showcases the film anymore, even asking theaters not to show it in front of their features anymore in the months after its initial release. However there are plenty of Disney fans who love the short too.

Bailey made a transition into visual effects for live-action films when the crew for the Disney film Hocus Pocus (1993) was having trouble getting a cat to talk in a believable way and they asked Disney’s animators if they could help. Peter Schneider pointed to Chris Bailey because he was one of the few Disney animators at the time who had experience with CGI, so Bailey replaced the head of a real cat with the head of an animated cat and saved the day. After that, Bailey became the go-to guy for CG animation problems that live-action directors couldn’t figure out, and so Bailey subsequently worked on Deep Rising (1998), Mighty Joe Young (1998), Inspector Gadget (1999), X2: X-Men United (2003) and live-action/animated hybrid films like Garfield (2004), Fat Albert (2004), Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) and Hop (2011).

Bailey’s computer experience was also put to use in theme parks like Animal Kingdom when Disney hired him to direct the 3D short film It’s Tough to Be a Bug! (1998) starring Flik and Hopper from Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. But Bailey also had time to work on his own passion project Major Damage, an unpublished comic-turned-animated short film brought to life by 100 animators and artists around the world. It premiered at the annual computer graphic conference SIGGRAPH in 2001 to widespread acclaim.

Chris Bailey had a lot of success on the big screen but his biggest success is on the small screen. When Kevin Smith adapted his film Clerks into an animated ABC sitcom in 2000, he hired Chris Bailey to direct it. The underrated series was funny but short-lived. However Bailey got back on his feet quickly at Disney Channel where he was a director and co-executive producer on Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle’s 2002 series Kim Possible, an Emmy-nominated action comedy about a high school cheerleader who has a double life as a spy.

Kim Possible was a stylish, well-written and entertaining series whether you were a girl, boy, child or adult, and the show’s popularity led to two movies and a live-action film adaptation. It was my introduction to Bailey’s filmmaking style and I still think it’s his best work.

Bailey was later a supervisor and producer on the Boomerang series Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? (2019) which brought back the celebrity guest format started by The New Scooby-Doo Movies, and he continues to work for Warner Bros. as an animation supervisor on the HBO Max series Tom and Jerry in New York (2021-present). Clearly it is Bailey’s refusal to be pigeonholed and his willingness to dip his toes into many different things that has kept his career afloat through the decades.