Ward Kimball was one of Disney's "Nine Old Men," referring to a group of original Walt Disney animators who created some of the studio's most iconic animated characters. Kimball, for example, is the man who brought Jiminy Cricket to life, later going on to help spearhead the animation in some of Disney's feature films (like Mary Poppins), as well as playing a large role in a Disney television series which began as Disneyland in the 1950s and went on to take a number of titles throughout the years, with it currently known as The Magical World of Disney Junior. As part of that Disneyland television series (itself created as part of a deal to help fund the creation of Disneyland), Ward Kimball was responsible for a three-part documentary series under their Tomorrowland banner called Man in Space, Man and the Moon and Mars and Beyond. However it was Man in Space that really took off, leading to what might be one of the most fascinating mysteries in the history of Walt Disney.
Man in Space was a 1955 documentary that mixed live-action footage with animation and was an attempt to show what it might look like when man finally ventured into space. The doc did boffo numbers at the time (42 million people watched it), so much so that President Eisenhower personally sought out a copy of it from Disney, leading many to later claim that it was Man in Space that helped inspire the leaders of our country to finally take space travel seriously. But Man in Space may have also played a large role in the creation of another secret documentary, pieced together by Walt Disney and Ward Kimball, that was supposed to assist in revealing the existence of UFOs to the American public and the world at large.
Um, say what?
Kimball apparently rehashed the story at the July 1979 MUFON UFO symposium in California to a stunned crowd who couldn't believe what they were hearing. What he told them was that around 1955 or 1956 Walt Disney was contacted by the USAF (United States Air Force) and asked to produce a documentary about UFOs that included USAF-shot footage proving the existence of real UFOs. At the time the USAF had promised to give Kimball and Disney this footage to include in the documentary, and the idea was that this sort of news would be received better if it was coming from the family-friendly Disney, who was no stranger to working with the military having produced propaganda videos during World War II.
So Disney went ahead and began creating the documentary, tasking his animators with coming up with a concept for what an alien would look like, but when it came time to insert the real footage the Air Force rescinded its initial offer, all but squashing the documentary. Apparently it just didn't think the world was ready, despite Kimball being told that there was "plenty of UFO footage" by Air Force officials. Disney still had all of these animated creatures that he created for the doc, though, and so he decided to push forward, bringing on Jonathan Winters to voice many of the characters created for the movie, including an old lady who witnessed a UFO and a little boy who spots an alien through his telescope.
That particular UFO doc was never shown to the public, though Kimball did reveal 15-20 minutes of footage at the UFO Symposium in '79. The story goes that this wasn't the last time members of the Air Force had attempted to share their footage with the world, approaching various filmmakers throughout the years, with much of their proof stemming from the Air Force's Project Blue Book program. Project Blue Book was a series of studies conducted by the Air Force in the early '50s with the goal of determining whether UFOs existed and/or were a threat to national security.
The on-the-record findings from Project Blue Book claim there was no evidence of extraterrestrial vehicles, and that none of the UFOs reported were a threat to national security. Naturally that goes against the stories that have been told over the years, especially the one about the former Project Blue Book spokesman who was promising documentary filmmakers (including folks from HBO in the early '80s) upwards of 800 feet of film proving the existence of such vehicles. According to these filmmakers, every time they got close to handing over the footage, the Air Force backed off claiming the time just wasn't right, blaming the Vietnam War and then later the Watergate scandal.
Oddly enough, in 1995, Disney did finally produce a documentary on UFOs called Alien Encounters from New Tomorrowland. Essentially this was a movie meant to promote the new Alien Encounters ride at Disney World's Tomorrowland, but some claim this was finally the government's attempt to see how the country would react to news that UFOs and aliens were real. The documentary aired one time on only five stations and was never heard of again. Luckily one person managed to record it off their VCR and a shoddy version is available to watch online. You can check it out below...
Disney historian Jim Hill is now theorizing that Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof's mysterious Tomorrowland movie is in fact related to the story above in some way. Whether or not it's this exact story they'll be telling or simply using it as the launching pad for a completely fictitious adventure movie, we do not know. We do know that George Clooney stars, and if the movie will focus on the Air Force's attempt to reveal the existence of UFOs through Disney, then Clooney could be playing Ward Kimball, Walt Disney or a member of the Air Force.
Proof the two may be connected comes in the form of that mystery box Bird and Lindelof tweeted a while ago. In it, among other things, you see a blue book (Project Blue Book?) and images of Walt Disney with military officials. Is this the plot of Tomorrowland? We may not find out until the film hits theaters in December 2014, but regardless this is one intriguing story we're itching to learn more about.