The other day, I was watching the Fairly Oddparents with my ten year old child when I saw something that made me stop, pause the television with the DVR, and give the child a full explanation. Specifically, the episode was in the fifth season and the first half of the seventy fourth episode. The road sign flashes for a second and you would have to know exactly what was going on as well as the reference to even laugh at it. To say that this is a joke intended for ‘one percent’ of the audience may be giving one percent of the audience too much credit. You would have to be a student of animation and be able to process it as soon as you saw it within the context of the overall wish. In the episode, Timmy’s regular babysitter Vicki is replaced by an addled old man named Pappy. Pappy seems to hate all things that are modern. Pappy and Timmy seem to have nothing in common at all until they come upon a cartoon from the 1930’s. Timmy wishes Pappy and himself into an old 1930’s cartoon. As a tribute, the street sign above reads ‘Ub Iwerks.’ It works on two levels. To the average fan, it might simply read as nonsense and you might get a bit of a chuckle. To others, the mere mention would mean so much more.
As a student of animation could tell you, Ub Iwerks was an animator who was working for Disney Studios from the very beginning. More to the point, Iwerks was actually the original designer of the final design for Mickey Mouse. Disney himself is often given the credit for this but it was actually Iwerks who came up with the initial design. Disney described Iwerks as one of the fastest most accurate animators he ever knew. As a matter of fact, Iwerks tried to break off and form his own studio. Iwerks failing at his own studio was not a lack of talent, Iwerks lacked Disney’s personality and flair for production. Of the actual Disney, no less a source than Dick Van Dyke likened him to being an ‘old producer’ and curmudgeon when dealing with salary on Mary Poppins. Disney acted like paying Van Dyke the agreed upon salary was going to sink the entire studio. This is per an interview that Van Dyke did on the set of the Rosie O’Donnell talk show in the 1990s.
Eventually, Iwerks went back to work for Dusbey after his own attempt at a studio floundered. It is unclear where the joke came from. It could have been from director Dave Thomas or art director Ernie Gilbert. It also could have been simply slipped in by one of the animators and then subsquently approved. At any rate, the name of Ub Iwerks has been generally lost in this day and age. Iwerks influence was not actually lost on the whole of Disney Studios. Iwerks was honored posthumously as a Disney legend in 1989. Iwerks also outlived Disney by about five years. However, the fact that Iwerks was honored anywhere much less in a Nickelodeon production in 2005 is thoroughly remakreable. This is in case you may have missed it. Also, if you ever happened to be watching the same episode with some one else, you are more than welcome to give them the same explanation. A ten year old, in my experience, will stop for a moment and say ‘Wow.’ They will then promptly ask to watch the rest of the episode that was just paused.