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Kimball, Ward

Entry updated 3 January 2022. Tagged: Film, People.

(1914-2002) US animator, director and producer, one of Walt Disney's "nine old men" (see The WALT DISNEY COMPANY).

Kimball, full name Ward Walrath Kimball, was born in Minneapolis. He studied at the Santa Barbara School of the Arts, then joined the Disney studio in 1934 as an inbetweener (drawing intermediate frames between key frames so the animation looks smooth); he became an animator in 1936 and was the Animation Supervisor or Directing Animator on films such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). Kimball also animated and/or directed many shorts. Aside from occasional consultancy work, he retired in 1973.

From a science fiction perspective, he is primarily of interest for four programmes he directed, produced and co-wrote for the Television series Walt Disney's Disneyland (1954-1958), broadcast on ABC. This show was primarily a promotional tool for Disneyland (which opened in 1955) and the company's releases. Six episodes reflected Disneyland's Tomorrowland "promise of things to come", looking at Technology and the future (see Prediction) and including these four, three of which may be classed as Space Documentaries.

1. Man in Space (1955), 51 minutes. This centres on Space Flight and begins with the history of Rockets, referencing ancient China, Scientists such as Robert Goddard, and works by Jules Verne and Georges Méliès. Willy Ley then discusses the science of rockets and the benefits of satellites; Heinz Habor looks at the health (see Medicine) and psychological (see Psychology) problems an astronaut would face – including radiation, weightlessness (see Gravity) and eating; followed by Werner von Braun explaining the current state of research into Space Flight and the potential for the future (such as passenger travel). There is considerable footage of rockets being launched (see Fan Service). Animation is frequently used, sometimes to humorously illustrate the topics being discussed, but also to seriously depict, for example, a future manned spaceflight: this is the extended final segment, dramatically ending with: "Man has taken his first great stride forward in the conquest of space. His next goal will be the exploration of the Moon, then the planets and the infinite universe beyond."

2. Man and the Moon (1955), 53 minutes. This opens with a 15-minute animated look at the history of humanity's beliefs (see Mythology) and stories about the Moon, including "perhaps the first science fiction story", Lucian of Samosata's Ikaromenippos (see Proto SF), as well as Johannes Kepler's Somnium (1634); Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone (1638); Cyrano de Bergerac's L'autre monde ou les états et empires de la lune (1662); Richard Adams Locke's "Moon Hoax" (1835) and Jules Verne's De la terre à la lune (1865). Then comes a talk on the current scientific knowledge about the Moon, followed by speculation on its exploration; the latter is presented by Werner von Braun, who shows a model of a wheel-shaped Earth-orbiting Space Station that was considered a necessary first step. After acknowledging that "it will be many years yet" before it could happen, he introduces the final segment, a live action dramatization of the first voyage around the Moon (which finds a possible Alien structure on the dark side).

3. Mars and Beyond (1957), 53 minutes; subsequently edited into Cosmic Capers (1979), 18 minutes. As with the previous episodes, the prologue is by Walt Disney, though here he is introduced by a Robot. The programme looks at the possibility of Life on Other Worlds, but opens with a 15-minute animated history of humanity's relationship with the Stars: early interpretations of their significance leading to astrology, then the Greeks' more reasoned approach (though we see Aristarchus of Samos's insights pushed aside by Ptolemy), after which came a thousand years when "free and logical thought was stifled by a black period of stupidity, superstition and sorcery" (see Long Night) – until the Renaissance and, in particular, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Their ideas led to speculations on whether the Solar System's other planets held life: works by Bernard le Bovyer de Fontenelle and Emanuel Swedenborg are discussed, followed by a focus on Mars, with stories by Kurd Laßwitz, Robert D Braine, H G Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs outlined; Professor W H Pickering's plan to communicate with Mars using mirrors is also mentioned. The conversation then moves on to the science fiction Pulps, with a cartoon initially summarizing the "typical" story (see Clichés): the attractive secretary of a young electronics genius is kidnapped by a Martian robot; she faces numerous perils whilst the Scientist obliviously smokes a pipe ... the expected resolution is then averted by the secretary heroically coping with the problems herself and returning to Earth of her own accord. This is the only remotely Feminist scene in any of these episodes (see Women in SF).

The programme then discusses scientific theories regarding life on other planets, beginning with the story of the Evolution of life on Earth. The other planets in the Solar System are then looked at, with only Mars deemed suitable for colonization (see Colonization of Other Worlds), with Earth's Overpopulation and depletion of natural resources given as possible reasons for this. Giovanni Schiaparelli's canali are mentioned (and correctly translated as channels), whilst Percival Lowell's work and theories are treated sympathetically. Astronomer E C Slipher then gives a scientific overview of what was then known about Mars. Though it is acknowledged that Mars is likely "a cold, desolate world", a memorable animated sequence then looks at what life on Mars might have been like with more air and water, and how they might have evolved to survive current conditions. Finally, the show looks at the possibility of travelling to Mars and the problems involved, such as fuel consumption: "a spaceship using an electro-magnetic drive to neutralize Gravity is the obvious answer" (see Antigravity). It is accepted that this will be a long way in the future, so Ernst Stuhlinger's atomic powered Spaceship is described and the steps in its 13-month journey to Mars shown in animation (though the health issues – muscle wastage etc. – are not addressed). Exploring Mars is only an early step, as "... carried forth on the wings of science, man in the years that follow may discover the miracle of life as it exists in all its countless forms throughout an infinite creation."

4. Magic Highway, U.S.A. (1958) 49 minutes. Kimball produced and directed this episode, but it was mainly written by Larry Clemmons. It focuses on the history of American roads – "The most important symbol in the progress of our nation is the highway" – and their construction in the present day (vast swathes of forest are shown being mowed down). The last 12 minutes offer an animated look at the future: how can the highway infrastructure cope with the expected increase in vehicles (see Transportation)? The answer is to build more, bigger highways: we see gargantuan mechanized roadbuilders traversing rough ground turning it into "a wide finished highway" whilst prefabricated bridges are dropped into place behind them. A bridge-building machine is kept aloft by the very bridge it extrudes; tunnels are melted through mountains by mobile atomic reactors (see Nuclear Energy). We are also shown the future evolution of cars, including "possibly the sun-powered electro-suspension car, which needs no wheels" (see Power Sources). The show ends with a futuristic highway crossing the ocean towards a huge setting sun, as the narrator announces that "These giant arteries will link together all nations and help create a better understanding among the peoples of the world."

The first three shows can be considered a trilogy. They are very much of their time: some of the science is out of date (Mercury is said not to rotate); the history is Eurocentric (such as the reference to the Dark Ages); and women are absent whenever the future is seriously portrayed. Perhaps less objectionably, the Parody of pulp SF plots more accurately reflects pre-World War Two Magazines rather than the contemporary ones. To modern eyes the presentation of von Braun as a hero for children (he appears in all three episodes) is disturbing, given his knowledge and acceptance of the slave labour conditions at Operation Paperclip. Nonetheless, the shows are all entertaining and well made, not talking down to their target audience – presumably boys in propeller beanies – and having varied and imaginative animation sequences; particularly impressive is the surreal Mars and Beyond segment speculating on possible Martian life.

The fourth show, Magic Highway, U.S.A. is an example of changing attitudes: aside from the deification of the car; the mass destruction and disfiguration of the countryside to build a vast network of highways that intrude into all habitats, built by vast machines rolling across the landscape, is presented as a Utopian vision – yet to the modern eye it will likely be viewed as the stuff of nightmares (see Dystopia). These scenes are effectively animated, complimenting the crusading tone of the narrative.

Kimball also produced, directed and co-wrote the 25-minute Disney theatrical short Eyes in Outer Space (1959), a "science-factual presentation". This covered science and the weather. After a brief look at superstitions, it explains weather formation and how meteorologists create their forecasts, then considers how in the future science will improve forecasting using satellites, and perform Weather Control. Hurricanes will be tamed by chemical cloud seeders in military-style operations, whilst deserts and frozen lands will become verdant and "productive". This is the least of Kimball's five scientific films, which are all emphatically positive about science and the future (see Optimism and Pessimism). [SP]

Ward Kimball

born Minneapolis, Minnesota: 4 March 1914

diedArcadia, California: 8 July 2002


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