Disney’s Lost Animation (From Snow White to The Little Mermaid)

Mickey Sorcerer from Fantasia
Credit: Disney

Walt Disney Animation Studios has a history that goes back over 100 years, from the first days of Walt Disney working on his early sketches of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to the latest movie produced by the studio.

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Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

Credit: Disney

In terms of feature films, Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced 61, with the upcoming movie Wish (2023) to be their 62nd. The list of films is vast, spanning not only decades but blockbuster favorites to record-setting flops. But if there’s one thing the Walt Disney Company does well, it’s preserving its history.

Or so we have all been led to believe…

Disney Damaged

Snow White with apple

Credit: Disney

Going back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and including feature animations such as Peter Pan (1953), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Cinderella (1950), going all the way up to The Little Mermaid (1989), the animation studio has used plastic animation cels.

Dumbo Movie scene

Credit: Disney

However, carelessness by these art cels (in part due to the same animators who created them) has put Walt Disney Animation at risk of losing up to 95% of its original content.

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Walt Disney

Credit: D23

The plastic cels have also been neglected for years while in storage in Los Angeles. The heat and humidity have not been kind to the thin plastic material maintaining Disney animated classics.

Ursula with Flostsum and Jetsom

Credit: Disney

They have started to turn yellow and deform, and some of the original coloring of characters and scenes is flaking off. Some of these cels have been sold to private collectors, some are being moved to climate-controlled vaults, and others that have already suffered damage are undergoing preservation methods from the Getty Conservation Institute (an organization dedicated to preserving the conversation of classic art and architecture).

Aurora Forest Scene Animated Movie

Credit: Disney D23

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Rushing to Save It

The Getty Conservation Institute has been working tirelessly to preserve as much of the material as possible – but there are more than 200,000 animation cels (and they aren’t all Disney movies). Hopefully, the result of this endeavor will prove successful. If not, they original animation of these films will be gone forever.

walt disney burbank building

Credit: Disney

Fortunately, digital versions of many of these films are available on Disney Plus and elsewhere. But that doesn’t make the risk of losing the original animation cels any less crucial.

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Regardless of anyone’s feelings about how the company is being run, how expensive the parks can be, or its questionable decisions, most Disney fans believe in the preservation of the company’s history and artistry.

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About Steven Wilk

Steven has a complicated relationship with Disney. As a child, he visited Walt Disney World every few years with his family. But he never understood why kids his age (and older) were so scared of Snow White or Alien Encounter. He is a former participant of the Disney College Program (left early…long story), and he also previously worked in Children’s publishing, where he adapted multiple Disney movies and TV shows. He has many controversial opinions about Disney…like having a positive view of Michael Eisner, believing Return of the Jedi is superior to The Empire Strikes Back, and that Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge should have never been built (at least not at Hollywood Studios). Every year for the past two decades, Steven has visited either Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani or went on a Disney Cruise. He’s happy to share any and all knowledge of the Disney destinations (and he likes using parenthesis a lot…as well as ellipses…)