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

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

Book Review: ‘The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway In the Sky’ by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt, Paul Wolski

I pre-ordered this and got it late last year. It sort of got lost in the shuffle of my stack of books needing to be read but I finally got around to it and I should’ve sooner because I really wanted to kick back and enjoy this.

I’m glad to say that this big, oversized coffee table book was a really neat read.

Growing up in Florida, it was hard not to be captivated by Disney’s magic, especially when trips to the parks were fairly common in my childhood and ’80s through ’90s Disney theme park stuff always hits me hard in the nostalgia part of my brain.

In fact, I loved riding the monorails as much as I liked riding the actual rides. It was always a cool, fun experience flying along the rail, a dozen or more feet above the beautiful grounds of the Disney parks and resorts.

I suspected that this book would be like many Disney books about the company’s history. It was full of large pictures throughout the decades, showcasing all the different monorails, it’s creation, construction and every other part of the vehicle’s long and colorful history.

This also featured a lot of concept art and promotional material about the monorail system.

The chapters were all really interesting a well-written and alongside all the imagery, helped to paint the full story of this great attraction from Walt Disney’s earliest vision of it to being the easiest way to get around the Disney parks since its inception.

For those that also have a burning nostalgia for the history of Disney’s parks, this is a must-own. Plus, it wasn’t as expensive as one would think. I paid something like thirty bucks for this pristine, thick, hardcover beast.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other books about the history of Disney parks or theme parks in general.

Film Review: Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Also known as: Fun and Fancy Free, Featuring Mickey and the Beanstalk (VHS title)
Release Date: September 27th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Hamilton Luske, William Morgan (live-action)
Written by: Homer Brightman, Eldon Dedini, Lance Nolley, Tom Oreb, Harry Reeves, Ted Sears
Based on: Little Bear Bongo by Sinclair Lewis, Jack and the Beanstalk
Music by: Oliver Wallace, Paul Smith, Eliot Daniel, Charles Wolcott
Cast: Cliff Edwards, Edgar Bergen, Luana Patten, Walt Disney, Clarence Nash, Pinto Colvig, Billy Gilbert, Anita Gordon

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Once upon a time, long long ago…” – Edgar Bergen, “Funny, nothing ever happens nowadays.” – Charlie McCarthy

The fourth of six films in Disney’s 1940s package/anthology series is a return to form of what the first two were. It actually plays very similarly to Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, except it’s not pushing Latin American tourism as its main objective.

This one is an anthology film that features a few short animation tales that come together with a series of live-action bits featuring a guy and his ventriloquist dummy telling the tales to kids. The guy and his dummy also narrate the short films.

Honestly, my only real issue with Fun and Fancy Free was the narration. It’s not bad but the guy talking to his dummy gets tiresome after awhile and it felt like more of a distraction by the time you reach the great Mickey and the Beanstalk story.

That Beanstalk cartoon is the most memorable bit to come out of this film and it has lived on beyond this movie as a whole. I think most kids, even today, have seen or at least heard of Mickey and the Beanstalk but not a lot of people would know what Fun and Fancy Free is. That’s probably due to that short film appearing on its own over the years in a variety of places.

In the end, this is mostly okay but it’s not up to the level of what Walt Disney Studios was capable of at their best.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: Saludos Amigos (1942)

Also known as: Hello Friends (literal English title)
Release Date: August 24th, 1942 (Rio de Janeiro premiere)
Directed by: Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, 
Written by: Homer Brightman, William Cottrell, Richard Huemer, Joe Grant, Harold Reeves, Ted Sears, Webb Smith, Roy Williams, Ralph Wright
Music by: Paul Smith, Edward H. Plumb
Cast: Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Pinto Colvig, Walt Disney, Norman Ferguson, Frank Graham, Clarence Nash, Jose Oliveira, Frank Thomas

Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 42 Minutes

Review:

“Here’s an unusual expedition: artists, musicians and writers setting out for a trip through Latin America to find new personalities, music and dances for their cartoon films. So, adios, Hollywood, and saludos, amigos.” – Narrator

Following five fantastic animated feature films, Disney, for some reason, decided to switch to a new playbook and started making package/anthology movies. This is the first one of those.

Saludos Amigos is pretty entertaining and kind of serves as Walt Disney’s way of promoting tourism in South America. I’m not sure why but maybe Walt just loved it down there.

This is both an educational film and a fictional one with fantastical elements and cool stories used to teach the audience about South American culture, geography and well, just about everything else.

It’s a mix of animation and live-action footage and is comprised of a few short pieces sewn together in an anthology format.

What’s cool about this is that it features some of Disney’s core animated characters like Donald Duck and Goofy and it also introduces a new one, who was really popular at the time, José Carioca, an anthropomorphic Brazilian parrot known for his dapper style.

This is the shortest of the Disney package films but it still packs in a lot for its running time.

Overall, the animation is good, the stories are quick and enjoyable and it’s a pretty lighthearted short film.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Vids I Dig 326: Yesterworld: How Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White’ Changed Animation Forever – A History of “Disney’s Folly”

From Yesterworld’s YouTube description: The story of Walt Disney’s uphill battle to revolutionize feature length animated films, ultimately winning him one of the rarest Academy Awards Oscar in History and changing the film industry forever.

Vids I Dig 164: Defunctland: Walt Disney’s Childhood Amusement Park, Electric Park

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: In this episode, Kevin discusses the history of Walt Disney’s childhood amusement park, Kansas City’s Electric Park and all of its attractions, including Hale’s Tours of the World, the Loop the Loop Coaster, and Alligator Joe.