John Ewing’s 1981 animated short PSA film “Smoking: The Choice is Yours”

By on October 12, 2015

Although “Smoking: The Choice is Yours…” contains no actual studio credits, this 1981 short PSA film for Walt Disney Educational Media was directed by a Texas-born, New Zealand-based former Disney animator named John Ewing. It was distributed to schools in the United States and other countries  in an attempt to dissuade kids from taking up the nasty habit of smoking.

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From various scraps of info we found online, we’ve been able to piece together what we think is a pretty good overview of Ewing’s life and work résumé:

John W. Ewing was born (in 1928) and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas, and he has led quite an interesting life. He worked in a dental laboratory before he joined the Navy, briefly. He then knocked around the country, trying different things. He spent some time on a ranch in Colorado (no doubt some of Ewing’s experiences ends up in this short film’s Smokey Mountain Dude Ranch), and he also worked on an oil rig in Texas. He then took a few semesters worth of classes at Midwestern University before going back into the Navy.

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After his eventual discharge, he ended up taking classes at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (which we’ve mentioned before on Night Flight, here and here) and that experience led to him working in cartoon animation at Disney’s animation studios in Burbank during the company’s golden age. Ewing learned from the best, and worked with the core Disney animators (some of whom later became directors) that were collectively called the “Nine Old Men”: Les Clark, Eric Larson, Marc Davis, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Ward Kimball.

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Ewing worked (mostly as a layout artist and character animator) for Disney for eleven years (approximately 1956-1967), on a variety of popular animated films like Sleeping Beauty (1959), Sword in the Stone (1963), Spider-Man (1967), 101 Dalmations (1961), The Jungle Book (1967), Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), and the Oscar-nominated Aquamania (1961).

In 1967, Ewing moved to New Zealand, and he worked mostly on classic TV commercials which were broadcast on TV Kiwi in New Zealand (animating Ches’n’Dale for Chesdale Cheese, Mr Juicy, Jungle Juice and the Marley Duck). Ewing also began making educational films that were distributed to schools, and generations of New Zealanders have literally grown up seeing his work. In 1979, Ewing directed another Disney educational film, this one titled “Understanding Alcohol Use and Abuse.”

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In 1989, Ewing and design studio owner Barry Pearce formed Freelance Animators Ltd., based in Aukland, New Zealand. It was the first company in that country to do contract work for both Disney and Warner Brothers, and Ewing worked mostly as an overseas animation supervisor, overseeing many episodes of “Tiny Toon” (for none other than Steven Spielberg), “Animaniacs,” and “Taz-Mania”, in addition to episodes of “Darkwing Duck” and “Goof Troop”, an animated cartoon for Walt Disney Australia.

Ewing and Pearce eventually began teaching others the art of animation, as there was no formal animation training in New Zealand at the time, and in the decade that followed, Ewing ended up training dozens of animators, many of whom went on to work at Weta in NZ, Blue Sky Studios in New York, Passion Pictures in London and ILM in San Francisco. Ultimately, the training scheme grew into Freelance Animation School and branched out into modern animation techniques such as 3D-animation. In 2012, the school was renamed Animation College, and today it is registered as a Private Training Establishment (PTE) with the New Zealand Ministry of Education. Ewing’s son Sam even followed in his father’s footsteps and became an animator at Disney’s Orlando studio.

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In addition to his talents for animation, Ewing has illustrated several books, including My Best Friend, Abe Lincoln: A Tale of Two Boys from Indiana, and he also wrote and illustrated The Cessna, The Sky, …and the Cartoonist. According to his own bio, he’s an avid pilot and has not only enjoyed flying airplanes, but he’s also spent time climbing mountains, bushwalking, kayaking and running marathons, and he became so proficient at tennis that at one time he was actually a tennis pro (one of the highlights of his life he says was teaching actress Sigourney Weaver the kick serve).

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We found some other interesting anti-smoking cartoons you might enjoy too — Ewing didn’t have anything to do with these but we figured we’d probably include them anyway, what the hell:

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.