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Toon Tuesday : Remembering Pete Young (1948 - 1985)

Toon Tuesday : Remembering Pete Young (1948 - 1985)

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I've always been fascinated by storytellers. Those gifted individuals who have the ability to spin a captivating yarn and pull you totally into a make-believe world. Animation has had its fair share of talented storytellers. Lucky for me, I've had the opportunity to know and work with a few of them during my years in the cartoon business.

However, this is not an in-depth look at the talented individuals I intend to profile. Regretfully, I know little about their personal lives as individuals. What I do know is that each of them made their contribution to the wonderful art of animation storytelling. So don't expect me to tell you about their background, family or other personal details. For me they were simply colleagues and friends, taken away while they still had so much more to give.

Pete Young

I returned to the Walt Disney Studio in the early seventies to work on "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and the animated "Robin Hood." I was introduced to an eager young man from the animation effects department who was looking to get into Disney's story department. Pete Young had more than a love of story -- he had a passion. This was something I had seen before in other young artists with a love of story and a willingness to do whatever it took to break into this coveted Disney department.

Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Because of his persistence, Pete was able to take a book the studio owned and develop it. Working on his own time, Pete developed "The Small One. " And in time, this project was green lit for production. Disney story veteran Vance Gerry mentored Pete much the same way he guided me during my early story days. However, "The Small One" became a Don Bluth project, and Pete was not thrilled to see his story moving in another direction. No matter. He had finally made it into Disney's story department and that was reward enough.

In the years that followed, Pete did story development on "The Fox and the Hound," "The Black Cauldron" and "Basil of Baker Street" (Later given another stupid title). Like most good Disney story artists, Pete knew that character development was critical to a great story. Some of the most effective sequences in "Fox and the Hound" were the work of Pete Young.

(L to R) Ron Clements, Pete Young and Steve Hulett at Walt Disney Studios in the 1970s
Photo courtesy of Randy Cartwright

Of course, a good story artist has to know when to make decisive moves in story development. Pete learned not to introduce a new story element if his director wasn't ready for it. Good ideas presented at the wrong time stood a chance of getting rejected. At Disney, the politics of story can be as important as creative skills.

Pete Young -- along with Ron Clements -- sold "Basil of Baker Street" as an animated project. And sure enough the film was green lit for production by studio boss, Ron Miller. However, in the eighties, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg became animation's new bosses, and "Basil of Baker Street" failed to get the support it needed to be a box office success. The studio bosses eventually apologized for their poor judgment. In any case, "The Great Mouse Detective" turned out to be a darn good movie, and proved that Disney's animation department was still full of energy and creativity.

The new Disney managers then came up with the idea of doing what became known as "The Gong Show," a venue where new ideas could be pitched with the hope of becoming studio projects. Pete Young brought up the idea of doing "Oliver Twist" in a New York setting. The principal characters would be played by dogs and cats, and would feature a contemporary score by Billy Joel. For a time, it was rumored that Pete Young might actually direct "Oliver." But I don't think Pete had directing on his mind. Helming a Disney movie is as political as it is creative. And I doubt Pete was ready to deal with politics on that level. He did work with George Scribner, a colleague who eventually became the film's director.

 Copyright 1988 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Pete Young died suddenly in the fall of 1985 at the age of 37. His passing came as a shock, and more than a few of us found it difficult to deal with the loss of one so young. He had so much potential as a Disney storyteller, and his work as story artist had only barely begun.

Like the typical Disney success story, Pete Young started at the bottom and rose to the top in a relatively short period time. His contributions to the Disney legacy were few compared to most artists who had a lifetime of work under their belt. However Pete Young poured his heart into every task that came his way. And his contributions as a storyteller will continue to be enjoyed by generations of animation fans in the years to come.

Walt Disney would have been proud.


Next time, meet Fred Lucky, the syndicated comic strip writer and Disney story artist who provided major development work on the animated feature film, "The Rescuers."

Did you enjoy today's profile of Pete Young ? Well, that's just one of the hundreds of animation-related tales that Floyd Norman has to tell. Many of which you'll find in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman has spent in Toontown.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

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  • What was the cause of his death?

  • According to imdb, complications from the flu


  • Pete Young worked on many of my favorite Disney films...he died all too young, but his work will always be remembered.  Great article, Mr. Norman- I can't wait for the rest of the series!

    p.s.- "The Great Mouse Detective" isn't any more or less "stupid"/boring/unoriginal as movie titles featuring a name ("Pinocchio", "Dumbo", "Bambi", etc.), or something like "The Lion King"...

  • Yeah, I've never yet understood why "The Great Mouse Detective" is called a bad title. I'd call it a step up.

    I've never actually seen Oliver & Company, which probably explains why it wasn't until now that I never made the Oliver Twist connection. It makes complete sense now.

  • A few months before "Basil of Baker Street" was to be released, "Young Sherlock Holmes" hit the theatres to mediocre reviews and a tepid box office.... and it was a Spielberg production! So the powers that be and marketing people decided that any title that hinted at a Holmes story was box office poison. So they dropped the Baker Street reference. Naturally, everyone working on the film for the previous few years had fallen in love with the cool title, the Holmes reference and the alliteration (after all, it was the title of the book on which it was based). Then it was dropped for the stark "The Great Mouse Detective". Soon afterward, a fake memo was distributed through the studio announcing the changes of other titles, as well: Pinocchio was to be come "A Little Wooden Boy", Dumbo would be changed to "The Flying Elephant", etc, etc.

  • I watched "Oliver and Company" the other day, and it was kind of painful. The Joel-voiced dog is too much like the Tramp - except he has none of the Tramp's charm - and the animation is soooo below par for Disney. The most evident example of this is when Georgette (the snooty poodle voiced by Bette Midler) sings "Perfect's Not Easy": it's a terrific song, and Midler really sells it - but the animation doesn't. It's cliched, mechanical, and lacks the oomph evident in a similar song voiced by a similar character - Peg from "Lady and the Tramp" in her torch song "He's A Tramp". "The Great Mouse Detective" has similar flaws; it too has very weak animation, and its only saving grace is the wonderful voice work by Vincent Price for the villainous character Ratigan. Films like "Oliver" and "Mouse Detective" are really sad little things; not until "Little Mermaid" did Disney start to recover the magic lost when Walt died. Anyway, thanks for the article, Floyd; your writings are greatly appreciated even by over-picky Disneyphiles like me.

  • To gigglesock:

    Neither of these movies were meant to have "glorious" animation. But then again neither did 101 Dalamations or The Aristocats or others. Oliver and Company especially had a more "gritty" animation style. Although I am not a big fan of the animation, not EVERY film has to have the same style.

    As to Oliver and Company, I love the music, but was not a big fan of the big chase at the end. I wasn't a big fan of the climax. But I wasn't a big fan of The Little Mermaid's climax either.

  • I actually always preferred "The Great Mouse Detective" as a title. But maybe I'm crazy or have no taste. Mr. Norman always knows what he's talking about so I'll defer to him...

    Always sad when someone full of talent and promise dies, let alone so young. This kind of stuff scares me -- I'm only 28, and a freelance artist... Could I not be as immortal or as invincible as I feel??

  • That is SO sad. He was SO young, and you know, maybe because of his passing, we lost a lot.. and thats why the animated features are declining in quality.  Oliver and Company is also one of the best that Disney has put out, and my love for the 80s is one of the reasons I love it. Billy Joel, Cheech, Huey Lewis AND Bette Midler??? Come ON! Where are the movies like THAT anymore??

    Thank you again! I love this stuff!! :D

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