Walt Disney Animation Studios’ original short film “Once Upon a Studio” welcomes heroes and villains, princes and princesses, sidekicks and sorcerers—in all-new hand-drawn and CG animation—to celebrate 10 decades of storytelling, artistry, and technological achievements.
Directed and written by Dan Abraham and Trent Correy, and produced by Yvett Merino and Bradford Simonsen, “Once Upon a Studio” features more than 500 Disney characters spanning more than 85 feature-length and short films—and it includes a pair of magical touches from two Disney Legends.
Set at the end of the workday at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California, “Once Upon a Studio” begins with Disney Legend Burny Mattinson—The Walt Disney Company’s longest-serving employee of 70 years, who passed away in 2023—being the last person to walk out the door. Then, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse step out of a framed picture and corral 541 other characters for an official 100th anniversary portrait.
A jack of all trades, Mattinson made his onscreen debut in “Once Upon a Studio” after decades spent as an animator and in-betweener, a storyboard artist, a director, a producer, and an inspiration to countless people within Disney Animation and outside its walls. “Burny Mattinson’s involvement in Once Upon a Studio was not only right, it was necessary, because he was our link with the Disney legacy,” Eric Goldberg, Head of Hand Drawn Animation for “Once Upon a Studio,” says in a new featurette on Disney+. “I don’t think there’s any way we could have made the film without having honored Burny in it.”
Mattinson wasn’t the only Disney Legend to share his time and talents with the “Once Upon a Studio” filmmakers. As Abraham and Correy contemplated the musical cue that would accompany a tender moment in which Mickey expresses gratitude to a portrait of Walt Disney, they knew it had to be something special in keeping with that emotional moment. There was only one song that fit the bill: “Feed the Birds,” by Disney Legends Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman. And so, on a Friday afternoon in August 2022, Abraham and Correy joined Richard in the very same place where he and his brother would regularly perform the lullaby for Walt. “It’s very nice to be back in Walt’s office. It’s just the way it was when I was much younger and Walt was here; piano’s the same,” Richard says in a behind-the-scenes featurette, streaming on Disney+. “Walt’s not here, but his spirit’s here.”
The same could be said for “Once Upon a Studio” itself.