'Walt & El Grupo'
(Various / DVD / NR / 2010 / Disney)
Overview: For ten weeks in 1941, Walt Disney, his wife Lilly, and sixteen colleagues from his studio visited nations in Latin America to gather story material for a series of films with South American themes. The feature documentary film Walt & El Grupo uses this framing device to explore inter-American relations, provide a rare glimpse into the artists who were part of the magic of Disney’s “golden age” and give an unprecedented look at the 39 year-old Walt Disney during one of the most challenging times of his entire life.
DVD Verdict: 'Walt & El Grupo, The Untold Adventures,' is the story of Walt, Lily (his wife) and "The Group" of 16 hand-picked artists and support personnel, during a relatively unknown trip to South America in 1941. It was the genesis of the two "Good Neighbor" movies, "Saludos Amigos" and "The Three Caballeros."
1941 was a particularly hard year for Walt. After the successes of Snow White and Pinnochio, he had a semi-failure with Fantasia in 1940,and as work was being completed on Dumbo in 1941, union organizers struck the Disney Company.
At the same time, WWII in Europe was raging, and he lost the financing of many of the European banks he was working with, leaving the studio (and Walt) over 4 million dollars in debt.
Also during the same time, the US Government was worried about the Nazi influence down in South America, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru. They sent a number of "Good Will Ambassadors" to South America, to try and win over the people and away from Nazi Germany. Many weren't successful.
They asked Walt to do a trip, but declined, he didn't want to go down to South America just to shake hands. But then, this *was* the State Department watching a war in Europe, so they offered additional incentives, including taking a number of people to do research for future movies as well as the underwriting of those movies.
The movie is directed (and commented on) by Theodore Thomas, son of Frank Thomas (not the baseball player) and follows Walt's trip through South America in present day. Some portions seem overly tedious, the film probably could have been a few minutes shorter.
It's produced by The Walt Disney Family Foundation Films, so there's a lot of private and archival film footage (including footage from Walt's 16mm movie camera), as well as correspondence from different members of El Grupo to family back home.
This is more in the vein of a talking head documentary, and Thomas takes you to locations in South America as they are today (with some *remarkable* present day to 1941 (and vice-versa) transitions), panning pictures using a multi-plane camera simulation and interviews with surviving people (or the sons or daughters in some cases) who Walt had an influence on.
I think it's the weakest of the three released. It does document Walt's life in the first half of 1941, right before the U.S.'s involvement in WWII. Both events would cause significant changes to the studio, so it's a story I suppose that needs to be told.
It's a must for Disney History and Walt fans. [BJ] This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
• Audio Commentary - Director Theodore Thomas and Historian J.B. Kaufman
• Photos In Motion - How the photos literally came to life
• From The Director’s Cut – 3 different segments taking you deeper into the story
• Saludos Amigos – Original theatrical version
• Original Theatrical Trailers: Saludos Amigos (1942); The Three Caballeros (1944)