Burny Mattinson, a Disney animator, director, producer and story artist, died on Monday, Feb. 27, in Canoga Park, Calif., following a short illness. He was 87.
Mattinson’s death was confirmed by The Walt Disney Company, his longtime employer. Mattinson was the longest-serving Disney employee and was set to receive the first ever 70th-anniversary service award this June.
Born in San Francisco on May 13, 1935, Mattinson was first inspired to pursue a career in animation after seeing “Pinocchio” at age 6. He began drawing in hopes to recreate the Disney animation style. By the time he finished high school, Mattinson joined The Walt Disney Company and in just six months moved from the mailroom to an animation in-betweener on “Lady and the Tramp.”
Academy Award-winning Disney director Don Hall said, “For almost 30 years, I’ve had the privilege to work alongside Burny Mattinson, from ‘Winnie the Pooh’ to ‘Big Hero 6’ to, most recently, ‘Strange World.’ I have marveled at his artistry, enjoyed his good humor, and sat enraptured by his stories of Disney history. At 18 years old, he followed his dream of working at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and for almost 70 years he lived that dream every day, inspiring all of us who had the good fortune to follow in his footsteps. I love him dearly.”
Following his first animation contribution, Mattinson would go on to work with Marc Davis on “Sleeping Beauty” and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” followed by collaborations with Eric Larson on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” television series, “The Sword in the Stone,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book” and “The Aristocats.”
Mattinson then became the animator for “Robin Hood” and the key animator for “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too.” In 1983, Mattinson directed the animated featurette “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and in 1986 he co-directed “The Great Mouse Detective.” Throughout the 1990s, he contributed to Disney’s contemporary animated features, including “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Tarzan” and “Mulan.”
Mattinson continued his 70-year career on more recent projects, too, serving as story supervisor on the 2007 “Goofy” short “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater” and on the 2011 “Winnie the Pooh” feature. By 2014, Mattinson served as a story consultant and mentor for “Big Hero 6” and the 2022 feature “Strange World.”
“Burny was the Renaissance man of Disney Animation,” said Disney animator Eric Goldberg. “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.”
Goldberg added, “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 is survived by his wife, Ellen Siirola; his son, Brett Mattinson; his wife Kelly and their two children; and his daughter, Genny and her family.