Don Lusk, the last link to Disney Animation’s golden age of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, has died at the age of 105. His passing was confirmed in an Instagram post by the Disney Animation Research Library.
Lusk joined The Walt Disney Company in 1933 and went on to work as a character animator for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” and “Bambi.” His best-known achievement is single-handedly animating the “danse arabe,” or “dance of the seven veils,” featuring a sultry goldfish during the Nutcracker sequence of “Fantasia.”
The legend goes that the stacked sketches of the fish doing her entire dance would stretch from floor to ceiling, it was that monumental and exhaustive a feat. But a feat of real delicacy and subtlety too. Lusk had previously worked with Eric Larson to animate the goldfish Cleo in “Pinocchio” along with the cat Figaro, whose movements are incredibly lifelike — just look at the moment when the toymaker Geppetto holds Figaro up by the scruff of his neck to get a look at his new boy made of pine, and Figaro winds up his paw to take a jealous swing at Pinocchio. When his slug misses the marionette, Figaro continues to twist, his fur animated to look like it’s really just hanging on his bones. It’s an incredibly dynamic moment that shows the sharpest eye for movement.
Following a break for military service, Lusk returned to Disney to work on such classics as “Cinderella,” “Alice in Wonderland” (the sequence where Alice falls through the rabbit hole and her cat Dinah waves goodbye), “Peter Pan,” “Lady and the Tramp,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “101 Dalmatians,” as well as the early live-action meets animation mixed-media films, “Song of the South” and “So Dear to My Heart.”
Plus, he worked on several of the less heralded but equally impressive anthology animated films Disney produced in the late 1940s, including “The Wind in the Willows” from “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” and several shorts from one of the most gob-smackingly gorgeous of all Disney animated films, “Melody Time,” in which he contributed to sequences in “Once Upon a Wintertime,” “Trees,” and “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed.”
After leaving Disney in 1960, Lusk worked on many of the Charlie Brown animated TV programs, including “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” and for the Hanna-Barbera studio. Active deep into his 70s, he even directed the crossover special, “The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones” in 1987.