Documentary Review: Walt & El Grupo (2008)

Release Date: April 26th, 2008 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Directed by: Theodore Thomas
Written by: Theodore Thomas
Music by: James Stemple
Cast: Walt Disney (archive footage), various

Theodore Thomas Productions, Walt Disney Studios,106 Minutes

Review:

Walt & El Grupo is the story of Walt Disney’s 1941 US government sponsored trip to Latin America with a group of other artists in an attempt to study the culture in an effort to create two of Disney’s World War II era animated features: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

Considering that I really like those two movies, quite a bit, it was cool finally seeing the story behind their creation.

For those that don’t know, those movies were made to get Americans interested in traveling to the beautiful, exotic nations south of us. The films also gave us one of my favorite Disney animated characters, José Carioca! Granted, I also like Panchito Pistoles but José takes the cake for me.

Walt Disney was always a fascinating figure to me, so learning the reasons behind why he did this was pretty neat. It was also nice learning about who went with him and what they all were looking for and how they created the iconic material that they did from this Latin American adventure.

It was really cool seeing what the culture was like in Latin America in the early 1940s and kind of comparing that to where those places are at now. I like that this documentary showed these places in the modern era, in an effort to illustrate their changes and growth. Granted, that wasn’t the bulk of the story here.

The most important thing about this documentary is that it simply helps you understand Walt’s creative process, his business mind and his passion.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2018)

Also known as: What We Left Behind: Star Trek DS9 (shortened title)
Release Date: October 12th, 2018 (Los Angeles special screening)
Directed by: Ira Steven Behr, David Zappone
Music by: Kevin Kiner, Dennis McCarthy
Cast: Max Grodenchik, Andrew Robinson, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Jeffrey Combs, Aron Eisenberg, Rene Auberjonois, Ira Steven Behr, Alexander Siddig, Casey Biggs, Rick Berman, Terry Farrell, Jonathan West, David Carson, Marc Bernardin, Penny Johnson Jerald, Avery Brooks, Rene Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, Michael Okuda, Chase Masterson, Louis Race, Michael Dorn, Wallace Shawn, Marc Alaimo, Michael Westmore, John Putman, James Darren, Bill Mumy, Cirroc Lofton, Nicole de Boer

Le Big Boss Productions, Tuxedo Productions, 455 Films, 116 Minutes

Review:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek show of the bunch. However, my relationship with it didn’t start out well. In fact, I really disliked it early on, quit halfway into the first season and didn’t return until years later, after it was off the air and I could stream it on Netflix.

Over the years, I’d hear from really hardcore Trekkies that it was the best show and that once it found its footing, its larger story and its purpose, it became one of the best shows in sci-fi television history.

After giving it a second chance, I discovered this to be true and the show, at least for me, lived up to that hype and may have even exceeded it.

This documentary was crowdsourced and probably long overdue. I’m glad that it got made when it did because a few key people who were involved in it have passed away in the few years since.

This was directed and put together by Ira Steven Behr, who was the DS9 showrunner. But he clearly has a ton of passion for this show, all the people he worked with on it and the large fanbase that has continued to grow over time.

What We Left Behind features interviews with just about every key person that was involved in the show and it was nice seeing how much they loved their work and each other, as well as the fans. Sadly, many fanbases have been wrecked in recent years, Star Trek, as a whole, being one of them. However, for whatever reason, DS9 seems to be less effected by that.

Overall, this was a really cool documentary and it was fun to watch. If you loved Deep Space Nine, you really should check this out. Plus, I think it is currently free on Prime.

Rating: 7.25/10

Documentary Review: Vice Versa: Chyna (2021)

Release Date: June 17th, 2021
Directed by: Marah Strauch, Erik Angra (segment director)
Written by: Marah Strauch
Music by: Ceiri Torjussen
Cast: Chyna, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kevin Nash, Drew Pinsky, various

Rock Skull, Rock Salt Releasing, Citizen Skull Productions, Vice, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a big fan of Vice, overall. However, I really like Dark Side of the Ring quite a lot. I attribute that more to the showrunners and not the network, itself.

However, since they recently put out a documentary on Chyna, I figured I’d give it a watch, as their professional wrestling related content, thus far, has been exceptional.

While this didn’t captivate me on the same level of Dark Side of the Ring, it still pulled me in and held my attention. I think a lot of that has to do with Chyna’s story, though, as she lived an interesting but very sad and fucked up life. And I don’t say that lightly or to be disrespectful, it just is what it is and she was a nice person that deserved much more from life than her demons winning in the end.

This goes deep into her backstory before she entered the world of professional wrestling and it was cool finally getting to know her from that perspective.

Beyond that, it discusses her career and how it truly impacted the wrestling business. There are a lot of talking head interviews with several of her former co-workers and friends, as well as those she was most intimate with.

After the wrestling part of her life, things got really dark and I appreciate that this doesn’t gloss over it or try to play it down. This puts it all out there but at the same time, it lets Chyna talk about it and reveal why she did certain things and how having the rug pulled out from under her, professionally and romantically, really destroyed her spirit.

This starts to show you Chyna, in Japan as a teacher, where she started to get her life together and turn things around. However, after returning to the United States, probably too early, she picked up bad habits again and well, the rest is sadly history.

I always liked Chyna but I never felt like she had the right avenue to tell her story until now. Frankly, I like her even more and this is truly a heartbreaking and tragic story and it sucks that she couldn’t overcome the issues that plagued her for so long.

So this is a pretty depressing documentary but I think it’s also good in that it let her speak about this stuff and it also shows people who she was beyond the WWE’s glamor and glitz.

Rating: 7.25/10

TV Review: The Imagineering Story (2019)

Original Run: November 12th, 2019 – December 13th, 2019
Created by: Leslie Iwerks
Directed by: Leslie Iwerks
Written by: Mark Catalena
Music by: Jeffrey Kryka
Cast: Angela Bassett (narrator), various

Iwerks & Co., Disney+, 6 Episodes, 62-68 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

In the last few years, I’ve started to take many documentaries with a grain of salt. Reason being, they always have an objective and typically tend to lean towards their preconceived biases, ignoring things that may actually challenge or disprove their message.

This is especially true when a documentary about a subject is made by the subject itself. For instance, for those who know anything about the wrestling business beyond the WWE, when they watch WWE documentaries, they know that it’s from the company’s point-of-view and that they often times don’t tell the whole story, alter the story for their benefit or completely ignore or gloss over some of the darker, unpleasant things.

I’ve got to say, though, as dishonest and “woke” as Disney has become with their output, this seemed to be pretty straightforward and fairly objective. It also included many key people from Disney’s past and didn’t really seem to sugarcoat things or censor the talking heads who may have had issues with Disney after moving on by their choice or the company’s.

That being said, I enjoyed this quite a bit and binged through it over a rainy Sunday afternoon.

It talks about Disney’s Imagineers from their earliest days up to modern times. Each of the six episodes moves forward and covers a different era of the many theme parks, their creation at the earliest stages, their design and engineering challenges, as well as their birth into the world and how they were perceived by the people who worked on them, the company itself and the public, who just want the best experience money can buy.

My only real complaint about this, and it’s probably just my personal preference, is that I wish they spent more time on the earliest stuff. I honestly don’t feel like one episode on Walt Disney, the man, and the genesis of the original Disneyland was enough. Granted, each episode could’ve been beefed up to two hours apiece and I’d still find this enjoyable.

The Imagineering Story is pretty damn cool if you’re into this stuff.

Rating: 8/10