Franklin Thomas (September 5, 1912, Fresno, California – September 8, 2004, Flintridge, California) was one of Walt Disney’s team of animators known as the Nine Old Men.
He graduated from Stanford University, attended Chouinard Art Institute, then joined The Walt Disney Company on September 24, 1934 as employee number 224. There he animated dozens of feature films and shorts, and also was a member of the Dixieland band Firehouse Five Plus Two, playing the piano.
His work in animated cartoon shorts included The Brave Little Tailor, in which he animated scenes of Mickey Mouse and the king; Mickey and the bear in The Pointer, and German dialogue scenes in the World War II propaganda short Education for Death (shortly before Thomas enlisted in the Air Force). He also worked on Pooh and Piglet in two of the Winnie the Pooh featurettes.
In feature films, among the characters and scenes Thomas animated were the dwarfs crying over Snow White’s “dead” body, Pinocchio singing at the marionette theatre, Bambi and Thumper on the ice, Lady and the Tramp eating spaghetti, the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty, Merlin and Arthur as squirrels in The Sword in the Stone, and King Louie in The Jungle Book. Thomas was directing animator for several memorable villains, including the evil stepmother Lady Tremaine in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, and Captain Hook in Peter Pan.
He retired from Disney on January 31, 1978.
Thomas authored, with fellow Disney legend Ollie Johnston, the comprehensive book The Illusion Of Life, first published by Abbeville Press in 1981. Regarded as the definitive authority on traditional hand-drawn character animation (particularly in the Disney style), the book has been republished numerous times, and is often considered “the bible” among character animators. Thomas and Johnston were also profiled in the 1993 documentary Frank and Ollie, directed by Thomas’s son Theodore Thomas. The film profiled their careers, private lives, and the personal friendship between the two men.
Thomas’s last appearance in an animated film before his death was in The Incredibles, although he voiced a character, rather than animating one. Frank and his friend and colleague Ollie Johnston voiced and were caricatured as two old men saying “That’s old school…” “Yeah, no school like the old school.” The pair had previously been heard, and caricatured, as the two train engineers in Bird’s The Iron Giant.