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The women of Disney: author aims to highlight female animators' contributions

Behind every iteration of Mickey Mouse or Peter Pan, there are unfamiliar names like Mary Weiser and Margaret Winkler, the unsung and forgotten heroines of animation.

'Women have always been there. We’ve just, sadly, neglected or looked past their work,' says author

Mindy Johnson's book aims to highlight the forgotten female animators behind the Walt Disney Company. (Disney)

Behind every iteration of Mickey Mouse or Peter Pan, there are unfamiliar names like Margaret Winkler, one of the unsung and forgotten heroines of animation.

But author, filmmaker and Walt Disney veteran Mindy Johnson has made it her personal mission to bring stories like Winkler's to the forefront with her new non-fiction book Ink and Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation.

On Nov. 13, Johnson will share these stories during a guest lecture at Vancouver's Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

"Women have always been there," Johnson told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn. "We've just, sadly, neglected or looked past their work and we need to shift that unconscious bias," 

Mindy Johnson hopes that by highlighting the past, she'll empower female animation trailblazers. (Mindy Johnson)

The other side of the story

Johnson first became inspired by the women of Disney while working behind the scenes at the Walt Disney company.

Years later, she realized that very little had been told about about the contributions of Disney's female animators.

"I thought it was going to be a charming little book, but then I realized, this was the other half of the animation process that we've been looking past...for almost a century," she said.

When she thinks back to classic films like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, she can't help but see women's contributions.

"It's their artistry that we are seeing on screen through colour and brushwork and ink pen lines. It's masterful artistry," said Johnson.

Through her research, she found that women's roles in the industry gradually began to grow. They moved beyond inking and painting — where they would take an artist's sketch and draw it in ink on a sheet of celluloid, then colour it in by hand — into careers in animating, editing, camera work and writing. 

Mindy Johnson says women have always been involved in animation, but were often overlooked. (Mindy Johnson)

The mother of animation

While Walt Disney is often referred to as the grandfather of animation, Margaret Winkler is the mother, says Johnson.

Winkler was one of the earliest female producers of animation, with international hits like the cartoon, Felix the Cat.

In 1922, Winkler's production company, Winkler Pictures, signed an unknown animator to produce the Alice comedies, an animated cartoon starring a live action girl based on the Lewis Carroll novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

That animator's name was Walt Disney and that contract marked the creation of the Disney Brothers Studio‍ —  later named the Walt Disney company.

Johnson says Winkler worked with Disney to make his animation better and more relatable to audiences, but noted Winkler's contributions have been widely forgotten.

Johnson hopes her work as an author and educator will inspire women to consider a career in animation.

"If we know this past, we can move forward with a whole new beginning in terms of trailblazing...where women have been and what their contributions have been and can be."

You can listen to the full interview below;