Arthur Harold Babitsky, aka legendary Disney animator Art Babbitt, was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1907. His entry into animation was in 1924 when he animated medical films and commercials, but he later worked for Paul Terry on short films at Terry-Toons in New York from 1929 to 1932 alongside fellow future Disney animator Bill Tytla. Babbitt moved to California in 1932 to join the Walt Disney Studios (along with Tytla) where he delivered top-quality animation in Mickey Mouse cartoons like On Ice (1935), Mickey’s Polo Team (1936) and Moving Day (1936) and in Silly Symphonies like The Wise Little Hen (1934) and Three Little Pigs (1933) for which he was the primary animator of the Big Bad Wolf as well as The Country Mouse (1936) in which he animated Abner in a drunken stupor. Babbitt’s work on that Oscar-winning film was his claim to fame, as well as his work on Goofy. Thanks to some great Goofy animation in On Ice and especially in Moving Day, Babbitt is credited with giving Goofy his definitive personality (low intellect, cheerful attitude, narrow-minded determination, clumsiness) which are the traits that made audiences fall in love with the character.
Babbitt also did fantastic work on Disney’s feature films, showing a lot of range animating the cold, evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and the friendly and fatherly puppet maker Geppetto in Pinocchio (1940), Geppetto’s animation being what Babbitt personally considered his best work in Disney’s best film. Plus Babbitt did memorable work in Fantasia (1940) animating the cute Chinese mushrooms, the dancing Russian flowers and the Olympian gods Zeus and Vulcan, as well as animating Mr. Stork in Dumbo (1941) who was a light caricature of his voice actor Sterling Holloway.
Babbitt could have continued to be a great character animator at Disney but his period at the studio was cut short because he tangled with Walt over wages and working conditions as a leader in the recently founded Screen Cartoon Guild and Disney was reluctant to unionize, even though it was what many of his employees wanted. Babbitt even led the first major strike by Disney animators in 1941 over the issue, picketing alongside animators who would later find animation jobs outside of Disney like Bill Melendez, Steve Bosustow, Bill Tytla, David Hilberman and John Hubley. In fact many of the animators in the strike would go on to found animation studio UPA, the animation studio known for Gerald McBoing-Boing and Mr. Magoo.
Babbitt was one of Disney’s best, most respected and highest paid animators in the thirties but in the forties he was Disney’s most vocal critic, even almost getting into a physical altercation with Walt while shouting at him with a bullhorn from the picket line. Disney fired Babbitt but Babbitt left to join the Army anyway, seeing combat action during his tour of duty, and after World War II ended in 1945, Disney rehired Babbitt as an animator long after the dust from the strike had settled although Walt Disney and Art Babbitt were never as friendly towards each other as they were before the strike. Babbitt briefly worked on Fun and Fancy Free (1947) in this period but he left Disney again for the last time two years later to work at UPA, where he animated on their Jolly Frolics series, Mr. Magoo’s screen debut The Ragtime Bear (1949) and the Oscar-nominated Rooty Toot Toot (1951). After UPA, Babbitt had a successful career as a director and animator of commercials as president and co-founder of Quartet Films. This was in the fifties and sixties and it was around then that Babbitt headed Hanna-Barbera’s commercial department while animating a number of independent cartoons, inking John Hubley’s Oscar-nominated 1969 short film Of Men and Demons and Hubley’s 90-minute prime-time animated TV special Everybody Rides the Carousel (1976) for CBS.
Babbitt also continued working on theatrical animation with The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) and he worked with Richard Williams on two of his films: Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977) in which he animated the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, and The Thief and the Cobbler for which he was a lead animator who brought King Nod and Phido to life, although that film was long-delayed in development hell until being released in the nineties as Arabian Knight in a heavily compromised state that displeased Williams. Of course the animation work on the film was still eye-poppingly good.
Art Babbitt died in 1992 at the age of 84.