Jack Hannah was a Disney animator who directed numerous classic Disney shorts, particularly starring 'Donald Duck'. He was also active as a comics artist for the company and best remembered for collaborating with the legendary Carl Barks on two longer 'Donald Duck' adventure comics before returning to animation again. Later in his career he was also active for Walter Lantz.
Jack Hannah was born in 1913 in Nogales, Arizona. In 1931 he moved to Los Angeles where he studied at the local Art Guild Academy. He found work as a film poster designer and was employed by the Walt Disney Company in 1933. The young man started out as an in-betweener and clean-up artist, moving his way up to being an animator and script writer. In 1944 he was promoted to director, a position only shared by his colleagues Jack King, Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Dick Lundy, Wilfred Jackson and Ben Sharpsteen. Hannah directed 52 shorts starring Donald: 'Donald's Off Day' (1944), 'The Eyes Have It' (1945), 'No Sail' (1945), 'Lighthouse Keeping' (1946), 'Frank Duck Brings 'em Back Alive' (1946), 'Straight Shooters' (1947), 'Clown of the Jungle' (1947), 'Bootle Beetle' (1947), 'Chip an' Dale' (1947), 'Daddy Duck' (1948), 'Inferior Decorator' (1948), 'Soup's On' (1948), 'Three for Breakfast' (1948), 'Tea for Two Hundred' (1948), 'Donald's Happy Birthday' (1949), 'Sea Salts' (1949), 'Winter Storage' (1949), 'Honey Harvester' (1949), 'All in a Nutshell' (1949), 'The Greener Yard' (1949), 'Slide, Donald, Slide' (1949), 'Toy Tinkers' (1949), 'Lion Around' (1950), 'Crazy Over Daisy' (1950), 'Trailer Horn' (1950), 'Hook, Lion and Sinker' (1950), 'Bee at the Beach' (1950), 'Out on a Limb' (1950), 'Dude Duck' (1951), 'Corn Chips' (1951), 'Test Pilot Donald' (1951), 'Lucky Number' (1951), 'Out of Scale' (1951), 'Bee on Guard' (1951), 'Donald Applecore' (1952), 'Let's Stick Together' (1952), 'Uncle Donald's Ants' (1952),'Trick or Treat' (1952), 'Pluto's Christmas Tree' (1952), 'Don's Fountain of Youth' (1953), 'The New Neighbor' (1953), 'Rugged Bear' (1953), 'Working for Peanuts' (1953), 'Canvas Back Duck' (1953), 'Spare the Rod' (1954), 'Dragon Around' (1954), 'Grin and Bear It' (1954), 'The Flying Squirrel' (1954), 'No Hunting' (1955), 'Bearly Asleep' (1955), 'Beezy Bear' (1955) and 'Up a Tree' (1955).
Hannah also created several side characters for Donald like Spike the Bee, Humphrey Bear, Louie the Mountain Lion and the chipmunks Chip and Dale. However, some critics have argued that they actually received more screen time than Donald himself. Particularly the cartoons where he is pitted against Spike the bee and Chip and Dale make him come across as the villain, rather than a pitiful but aimable loser. This may have something to do with the fact Hannah revealed later in life: "I got so damned tired of that duck's voice. I just could not stand having to work with it all the time." While most of Hannah's cartoons revolve around Donald he also directed one cartoon starring Mickey Mouse and Pluto ('Squatter's Rights' (1946), two Chip 'n Dale cartoons ('Chicken in the Rough' (1951) and 'Two Chips and a Miss' (1952)), two Humphrey the Bear shorts ('Hooked Bear' (1956) and 'In the Bag' (1956)) and four Goofy cartoons ('A Knight for a Day' (1946), 'Double Dribble' (1946), 'Foul Hunting' (1947) and 'They're Off' (1948)). He also directed the one-shot cartoon 'Lambert the Sheepish Lion' (1952) about a lion who is raised by a sheep. This classic short was a personal favorite of Japanese emperor Hirohito. During one of his state visits to the USA he received an original print of the film as a gift. Hannah was also nominated seven times for an Academy Award, but lost each time. The pictures in question were: 'Squatter's Rights' (1946), 'Chip 'n' Dale' (1947), 'Tea for Two Hundred' (1948), 'Toy Tinkers' (1949), 'Lambert the Sheepish Lion' (1951), 'Rugged Bear' (1953) and 'No Hunting' (1955).
Hannah was also active as a 'Donald Duck' comics artist for a short while. The short-tempered duck already starred in a newspaper comic by Al Taliaferro since 1938, but this was strictly a gag-a-day comic. Since Donald was already more popular than 'Mickey Mouse' the idea rose to let him star in longer adventure stories, similar to Floyd Gottfredson's 'Mickey Mouse' comics. Former Disney animator and gag writer Carl Barks was given the task of providing the art work, while Hannah functioned as his assistant. Together they worked on two comic books, they did the script for 'Pluto Saves the Ship' (1942) and the art for 'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold' (1942). The latter was based on a script for an animated feature starring Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto, which unfortunately never left development hell. Various reasons have been given for its eventual cancellation. A huge strike among Disney's animators changed the original atmosphere in the studio severely. Several talents even left. The same year the United States also got involved in the Second World War. The Disney Studios were now officially ordered to create propaganda films to help the war effort. In the stream of these events the film was scrapped.
Donald Duck Pilots a Jet Plane
Yet Bob Karp, who scripted Taliaferro's newspaper comic about Donald, felt the story could still be useful. He rewrote the plot and made it a Donald-centered narrative instead. Barks illustrated the first two pages, followed by the fifth and then continued from page twelve until forty. The rest was drawn by Hannah. This also makes it one of the earliest examples of a crossover comic. The comic book is impressive given that it had to be whipped out in such short notice and that both Hannah and Barks had no experience with the medium. Still, some scenes betray that they were originally intended for a cinematic experience. Barks and Hannah lifted some moments directly from the storyboard sketches, which explains the much bigger reliance on visual gags than dialogue. Even during action scenes there is notable absence of typical comic book onomatopeia. Nevertheless 'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold' was an immediate best-seller and launched the legendary comics career of Barks. He would remain Donald's main artist until 1966.
Hannah, on the other hand, eventually returned to animation after being offered the position of director. Yet he did do some more comic book art for Western Publishing in 1947. He drew at least three premium give-away books for Cheerios cereals, such as 'Donald Duck and the Pirates' (1947, basically a remake of 'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold'), 'Donald Duck Pilots a Jet Plane' (1947) and 'Pluto Turns Sleuth Hound' (1947). He also had a couple of stories published in 'Walt Disney's Comics and Stories'. Some 'Donald Duck' cartoons were also adapted into comic strips, such as the 1947 short 'Sleepy Time Donald' - in which Donald suffers from sleepwalking and is unknowingly rescued by Daisy Duck. While the original cartoon was directed by Jack King it was Jack Hannah who drew a comic strip about it. He added narration on rhyme to the images. In 1952, one of Hannah's animated 'Donald' shorts, 'Trick or Treat' (1952), was simultaneously adapted into a comic book by Barks. The plot revolved around Donald's refusal to give his nephews candy for Halloween, after which they take revenge with a little help from Witch Hazel. Since the short was only seven minutes long Barks came up with more ideas to pad the comic out to 32 pages.
When Disney moved into television in the 1950s, Hannah and his crew animated segments for 'Walt Disney's Disneyland' (1954-1959), the first of many shows to broadcast old Disney cartoons and promote their new productions. He also filmed Walt's host segments. Hannah hoped this would lead to a position as director of Disney's live-action films and series, but Disney preferred him to stay as the head of his cartoon department. This caused a falling out and Hannah left to join Walter Lantz' studio. There he basically ended up doing the same thing he did at Disney: animation. He directed various 'Woody Woodpecker' shorts and made segments for the TV show 'The Woody Woodpecker Show' (1957-1958). By 1962 he returned to Disney, where his long-time wish to become a live-action director was partially granted. He became a story consultant for their live-action films between 1962 and 1967. In 1975 he was co-founder of a character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts and worked as its head until 1983. Hannah lived long enough to be honored by his former company as a Disney Legend in 1992 and passed away two years later in Burbank, California.
Hannah and Barks' 'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold' was a strong inspiration for Osamu Tezuka and Sakai Shichima's similar pirate story 'Shin Takarajima (' 新宝島,新寶島,新寳島 ', 'New Treasure Island' , 1947).
Jack Hannah (left) with Clarence Nash, Donald's cartoon voice