Burny Mattinson, animator who was Disney’s longest-serving employee, dies at 87

A man with gray hair and facial hair wearing a black shirt with a leaf print smiling
Burny Mattinson, pictured at Disney’s D23 Expo in 2013, has died. He was 87.
(Imeh Akpanudosen / Getty Images)

The Walt Disney Co. is mourning the loss of animator, producer and story artist Burny Mattinson, whose work included “Lady and the Tramp,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Mattinson died Monday at Canyon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park after a short illness, Disney announced in a release. He was 87.

“Burny’s artistry, generosity, and love of Disney Animation and the generations of storytellers that have come through our doors, for seven decades, has made us better — better artists, better technologists, and better collaborators,” said Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.


“All of us who have had the honor to know him and learn from him will ensure his legacy carries on.”

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Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger also paid tribute to the late animator.

“Deeply saddened that Disney Legend Burny Mattinson — our longest serving employee — has passed away,” he tweeted Monday. “Burny started as a messenger on the lot in 1953 & went on to become a true icon of @DisneyAnimation. We are forever grateful for his contributions & seven decades of service.”

Born Burnett Mattinson on May 13, 1935, in San Francisco, he grew up in Los Angeles. After graduating from high school in 1953, Mattinson landed a job in the mail room at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Months later he worked on “Lady and the Tramp,” which premiered in 1955.

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“I only wanted to work at Disney. I was six years old and I decided I was going to work at Disney,” Mattinson said in 2018 at his 65th work anniversary at Disney.

In the following years, Mattinson worked on more Disney animation classics including “Sleeping Beauty,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” “The Jungle Book” and “The Aristocats.” During his tenure as assistant animator, Mattinson worked with fellow animation greats Marc Davis and Eric Larson.


During the ’80s, he made his foray into directing with the animated short “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” in 1983 and the feature film “The Great Mouse Detective” in 1986, which he produced and co-directed.

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A decade later, Mattinson “served as a key member” of the beloved films “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Mulan,” according to Disney. “Big Hero 6” and “Strange World” were among Mattinson’s most recent credits.

In 2008, Disney honored Mattinson with the Disney Legend title. The designation is awarded to people who have made “extraordinary contributions to the Disney legacy.

As of March 5, 2018, Mattinson became Disney’s longest-serving employee (“cast member”), breaking the record previously held by artist John Hench.

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The Walt Disney Co. was set to honor Mattinson with its inaugural 70th anniversary service award in June.

“One of the things that I found when I first started here, and it has never changed, is that sense of the anticipation of what’s going to happen here at the studio the next day,” Mattinson said at his 2018 ceremony. “I could hardly wait to get here and ... there was always something that was remarkable that happened and you felt a part of it.”


According to Disney, Mattinson is survived by his wife, Ellen Siirola, son Brett, daughter Genny, their respective spouses and four grandchildren.

Mattinson will be laid to rest at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills in a private funeral. Donations can be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.