Remembering Walt & Diane: ‘Fantasia,’ Magic and More

Diane Disney Miller (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Getty)

This interview with Diane Disney Miller originally appeared on in December 2010. It has been reposted in honor of Diane, who died Tuesday at the age of 79:

Last month marked the 70th anniversary of Walt Disney’s third animated classic “Fantasia,” which was a stunning audio and visual achievement for its time, combining Walt’s state-of-the-art animation with the orchestral music of Leopold Stokowski.

Today, it still stands as one of Disney’s greatest works of cinema, with scenes such as Mickey Mouse’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” becoming icons of American animation.

Walt’s only living child, Diane Disney Miller, who turns 77 this month, still hails “Fantasia” as one of her father’s best films.

“As far as animation goes, I think most people would put it at the top, because of everything it attempted and really did quite successfully at a time, when the technology that’s available today wasn’t then,” Diane told me in a recent interview. “And a lot of those special effects were done in very, sort of, down-home ways.”

Although “Fantasia” boasts classic status today, the film was a financial disappointment in the early ’40s, due to the loss of European markets to the looming World War. Despite the devastating monetary hit the Walt Disney Studio took from the failure, Walt was ever the optimist.

“I think he took it very well,” Diane recalled. “Actually, it was not the failure that it’s talked up to be. It ran in theaters for a year. It had a long run. It didn’t pay for itself right away. But I never heard him express disappointment or regret.”

This week, “Fantasia” (and the 1999 sequel “Fantasia 2000”) were released on Blu-ray for the first time, including DVD versions of both films, bonus features (such as the Oscar-nominated short “Destino”), documentaries, art galleries, audio commentaries and high-definition sound and picture. The Blu-ray cover touts the restored films as being “the way Walt envisioned,” but even Walt’s daughter agrees today’s technology would have fascinated him.

“All the things that are happening now with special effects … I think everything would amaze him and he would love it and he’d love to work with it,” Diane said.

Walt Disney would have been 109 years old this month – he died 44 years ago – and while his legened continues to grow, even the most dedicated Disney fan can learn about one of history’s most famous men. With the help of his daughter Diane, here are 10 things you may not have known about Walt Disney:


Walt Disney with his wife and two daughters, Sharon and Diane, and Karin Bergstrom. (Photo: Getty)

1. Walt was a great father: “He loved his home. He grew up in a strong family, but he worked hard all his life. He liked it. It was the kind of life he liked to lead. But family meant a lot to him and home was a refuge.”

2. Walt kept cartoons at the office: “He never brought home animation art. People would assume we had a great collection of it, such a popular thing to collect – we didn’t have anything. And he said once: I work with it all day, why do I want to bring it home with me?”

3. Walt never did the Mickey Mouse voice at home: “No. [laughs] Not ever.”

4. Walt didn’t regret much. Except, maybe, “Alice”:  “He always kind of sort of put it aside and went on. It didn’t last long. He would talk about it. ‘I should have done this, I should have done that.’ He thought he never should have attempted ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I actually enjoyed the film very much.”

5. Walt threw Studio pool parties: “When I was just a child, through the summer, [employees] would all come up and have swimming parties and barbecue and things around our pool. And [animators] Ham Luske and Norm Ferguson and I remember Freddie Moore and his wife and their little kids. That was kind of a golden time.”

6. Walt loved magic: “He was fascinated with magic tricks. He would do dumb little tricks on us and our girlfriends, like pulling a coin out from behind your ear or something. He loved magic. And he loved being on stage.”

7. Walt wasn’t big on giving advice: “He told me he would really like my mother to give me some advice on how to dress, instead of my casual dress – blue jeans. He said, ‘Your mother really knows how to dress. You should let her tell you how to dress.’ That is the only real piece of advice he ever gave me.”

8. Walt has a grandson named after him: “I didn’t realize how much he wanted us to name a grandson after him. Our first child was a boy, and we thought about Walt, seriously, and I thought, ‘How can I do this to a little kid?’ So we didn’t name him Walter, and so [Walt] kept saying, ‘Well, that’s ok, but next time.’ I said, ‘Ok, dad.’ Then we had three daughters. So when the fifth child came along, he got the name Walter Elias Disney Miller. And strangely enough, he’s the one that shows more of my father’s personality.”

9. Walt collected miniatures: “Did you know that? He made some. He loved to work with his hands.”

10. Walt wasn’t the easiest guy to work for: “He could be really tough on them at times. [Animators] will cite those times that maybe he kind of berated them and they found it kind of cruel and all that. They never felt any anger at him. But I think when they talk about him and they talk about those times, they talk about it with a smile. They all remember, ‘Yeah, that happened to me too.’ But I think they loved the guy.”


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

, , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.