SUSPENDED ANIMATION
February 15, 2019 posted by Jim Korkis

Was Stan Lee the Next Walt Disney?

Suspended Animation #202

Stan Lee’s cameo in “Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse”

Over the decades I have been fascinated with animation, I have often seen magazines or newspapers predict that someone was the “next Walt Disney”. I have heard Ralph Bakshi and Richard Williams described that way but neither lived up to their early potential.

Stan Lee in 1954

I would suggest the closest someone came to being the next Walt Disney was probably Jim Henson who created characters and stories that will continue to outlive him and inspire new projects from others. However, the bottom line is that Walt Disney was unique in so many different ways that it would be hard to name a successor. One contender might be the late Stan Lee.

When Stan Lee passed away Monday November 12th, 2018 at the age of 95, Todd McFarlane one of the founders of Image Comics and the creator of characters like Spawn and Venom stated:

“I get that he created all these characters but Stan’s true superpower was the way he interacted with his fans. He understood that responsibility and he never treated being famous as a nuisance. He got a kick out of it.

“Few people can create the kind of characters who have that kind of global impact. The only other person I can think of is Walt Disney. Just as Disney’s impact continues to grow and expand, I think we’re going to see Stan’s legacy grow even bigger.”

Stan in the 1980s

I think that is an accurate prediction and immediately I can see a similar relationship between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as the one that existed between Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Just like Walt, Lee was dependent upon the talents he partnered with to achieve his storytelling goals.

Stan was born in December 1922, just a few weeks after Walt Disney had turned 21 earlier that same month and roughly one year before Walt would start the Disney Brothers Studio and the Alice Comedies series.

Lee was awarded the Disney Legends honor in July 2017 at the D23 Expo.

Disney acquired Marvel in 2009 for roughly four billion dollars and so there was some concern that giving Lee and co-creator Jack Kirby awards did not honor the past legacy of the company and individuals “who have truly made an indelible mark on the history of The Walt Disney Company” but was just acknowledging the financially successful film franchise that started before Disney purchased it.

However that same year Disney Legend awards went to Star Wars performers Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher as well and Star Wars was also a recently acquired franchise in 2012 for roughly four billion dollars.

In his acceptance speech for the Disney Legends award, Lee stated, “I’ll go back a few years to a kid around eight or ten who loved to read everything he could get his hands on. In those days, he read the Hardy Boys, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes…little books he could buy inexpensively.

“One day in a bookstore, he saw a book that was an expensive book. It was what they would have called a coffee table book. To him, it was called The Art of Walt Disney (by Robert D. Field 1942 which would actually have made Lee roughly nineteen years old but facts never stopped Lee from telling a good story).

“I was that boy and I couldn’t afford the book and it drove me crazy. I wanted that book so badly. I saved my pennies and after a few months I bought The Art of Walt Disney. I loved that book so. I loved Walt Disney so.

“To me, he was more than a man. He was an inspiration, something to reach for to be like him. And to think that today I’m standing here in the house that Disney built and now we are talking about all the things of Disney’s.

“It is so thrilling. I can’t tell you. I thank you all and I thank you, Bob (Iger) for having me and, of course, I can’t leave without saying ‘Excelsior!’”

Stan Lee was never shy about giving interviews so when the Disney Family Museum asked him for some comments about Walt Disney in Fall 2011, Lee was willing to share the following:

“When I was a young teenager, Walt Disney was my idol. As a kid, the first expensive book I ever bought was a big, beautiful, hard cover, coffee-table book called The Art of Walt Disney. I’ve had it and treasured it for years.

“Attempting to emulate Walt Disney, I always tried to remain true to whatever creative visions I might have had, even if others thought they weren’t practical or doable.

“I think Disney’s influence is as pervasive now as it ever was. He was the greatest exponent of ‘family entertainment’ and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s still the greatest and most laudable type of entertainment.

“His early, full-length animated cartoons…I’ll never forget them….also, those great TV nature shows which were as thrilling as any of today’s superhero shows.

“I guess my favorite (Disney comic books) is really everyone’s favorite – the great Carl Barks and his renditions of Donald Duck.

“I feel that Walt Disney was always ahead of the crowd, creatively. He was an innovator and an artistic pioneer. Starting with his full-length animated classics such as Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio and the unforgettable Fantasia, and songs that are still remembered and universally loved today, and his fabulous nature series and the forming of his Mickey Mouse Club and his creation of something as fantastic as Disneyland…

“He was a dreamer who managed to bring his dreams to life.”

Stan Lee did cameos in many of the Marvel superhero movies. “I don’t consider them cameos anymore,” laughed Lee last year. “I consider them supporting roles.” He even playfully lobbied that the Academy Awards should create a category for ‘Best Cameo’.

His very first on camera cameo was as the jury foreman in the made-for-television movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989).

However, it wasn’t just live action films where Lee made cameo appearances. He was caricatured in many animated cartoons as well.

In 1989, he also made a live action cameo on the animated Muppet Babies series (Episode 606: Comic Capers) where Baby Rowlf dresses up as “Spider-Dog” and is helped by the real animated Spider-man.

Rowlf erratically shoots webbing that gets on the hand of a Lee while he is sitting at a drawing board and he yells “Hey, you kids! Don’t you know there’s only one Spider-Man?”

ABOVE: Stan in DIsney’s “Big Hero 6” (left) and Warner Bros. “Teen Titans Go To The Movies” (right).

As his health declined, Lee made more and more animated cameos like Fred’s father in Big Hero 6 (2014) and an appearance in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

This last summer, he even appeared in the animated feature Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. “I don’t care if it’s a DC movie. I love cameos! Excelsior!” an animated Lee cries out while speeding around the Warner Bros. backlot with the teen superheroes.

In the recent animated feature, Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018), Lee has an animated cameo where he is almost knocked down by Vanellope von Schweetz as she weaves her way through the hallways of the Oh My Disney website in order to avoid some Star Wars storm troopers giving chase.

Like Walt, Lee created some memorable characters and stories that will outlive him, explored different media to tell those stories and inspired new generations to keep dreaming.

8 Comments

  • Yeah, I think they might need to do some adjustments on the Disney Legend awards. Probably put the different aspect of the company in separate categories (Marvel Legends, ABC Legends, ESPN Legends, etc.). Like in the Annies.

    I’m a bit surprised that Stan didn’t voice cameo in the infamous short-lived strip-teaser super hero animated series that he and his company helped developed for Spike TV. Not exactly one of their best creations.

    • You mean Stripperella, and he did have a cameo in that.

  • Good article. There are certainly parallels one can draw to Walt the man from Stan Lee. While both their contributions were integral to the success of their companies, everyone knows their methods of creation and contribution differed. As far as raising the respective profile of their media, 100% agree.

    I absolutely agree when you said Jim Henson; he is probably the closest to Walt Disney in comparison of anyone that has lived, I think.

    Thanking Bob Iger for Stan Lee’s Disney Legend award ironically circles back to a comic books’ connection. Bob’s dad is Jerry Iger, who started in the comic business, pioneering with another Eisner, Will.

    As for the “Next Walt Disney”, somewhere I have a clipping from an old Millimeter Magazine (late 70s) in which the writer talks about next Walt Disneys, mentioned everytime a young animator came along. He wrote something like (paraphrasing) : “So there is the Canadian Walt Disney, the French Walt Disney, the British Walt Disney, the Black Walt Disney….When in actuality, Walt Disney was the gentile Max Fleischer…”
    I loved that line. Tickles me to no end. Once upon a time I photocopied that quote in a column and taped it to my sharpener.

  • I remember seeing Jerry at a Cinefamily event in 2014 or 15… I remember saying “I’m trying to steer (Stan’s Company, which I was working for) into doing more animation.” His response: “Please don’t.”

    • Ha! Funny anecdote. I do recall meeting someone (you?) from Stan’s company at Cinefamily. I don’t recall saying that however. It isn’t like me to discourage anyone from doing animation. Especially Stan, whom I was a a huge fan of.

  • When Stan passed away, I did have the thought that the only other person who had as much influence on the world’s entertainment culture as Stan was Walt Disney, and I wondered if over time Stan may be seen as having an even greater impact.

  • On the subject of cameos, I seem to recall Stan The Man making an appearance in one episode of Bob Newhart’s short-lived sitcom Bob! . So far, I can’t see any sign of it on YouTube, but I’m sure someone here can either confirm or correct me on this.

  • In his lifetime Walt Disney was financially a minor player among the big studios, but paradoxically the most famous and recognizable producer. Also, for better or worse, he was the last one with a recognizable “house style” as the majors became corporations with executives less interested (and able) to put their imprint on everything. He was a cultural force more for his other ventures — television, comics, music, nature films, merchandising, and especially Disneyland — and the cumulative impact of those ventures combine with decades of characters and stories that never left the public consciousness.

    On that basis, Jim Henson was the closest to a New Walt. At one point there was an hour-long show he hosted in the Uncle Walt manner, combining Muppet comedy sketches with episodes of “The Storyteller”. His projects were extending well beyond the Muppets yet remained identifiably Henson — again, a cumulative universe of stories and characters that stayed in public memory. At the same time, he was fairly eager to be acquired by Disney so he could do creative and leave the empire stuff to the Disney machine.

    George Lucas had big, Walt-like ambitions. By taking rights to “Star Wars” instead of letting it be a job for hire, he had the resources to start big things and take risks. Sadly, not all of them paid off. The Young Indy series was hugely ambitious, but sort of petered out on a cable channel. When it finally appeared on DVD, critics whined about getting extensive historical content instead of outtakes and actor interviews. Had that been a bigger hit, Lucas may well have gone on to build something remarkable in education. As it is, his main legacy will be changing how movies and TV are actually made.

    Stan Lee was certainly the Walt Disney of the comics world — or the Louis B. Mayer or P.T. Barnum, if you like. He promoted himself to be sure, but also promoted artists and writers as his stars (money is another discussion). But while he certainly shaped the Marvel universe and pushed it beyond the comics themselves, he never made the leap to a broader range and influence like Disney and Henson. It should be noted Stan Lee never seemed to have ambitions beyond being Stan Lee. Among comic readers and creators, the dream was to be the next Stan.

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