Walt & El Grupo
The year was 1941, and the world was on the brink of war. In an effort to improve relations between the Americas, the Roosevelt administration called upon one of Hollywood’s most influential filmmakers to embark on a special goodwill tour. Written and directed by Theodore Thomas (“Frank and Ollie”) and produced by Kuniko Okubo, the documentary WALT & EL GRUPO chronicles the amazing ten-week trip that Walt Disney and his hand-picked group of artists and filmmaking talent (later known as “El Grupo”) took to South America at the behest of the U.S. Government as part of the Good Neighbor Policy.
I'm a sucker for the history of the Walt Disney company, and the trip that inspired The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos deserves more publicity. But I'm not sure this movie earns its length. A 107-minute documentary about Disney and a handful of animators traveling around South America in 1941 is just too much, especially considering the slightness of a far more exceptional Disney doc, Waking Sleeping Beauty. It's not bad--some of the talking heads who aren't directly affiliated with Disney were clearly not unconditionally in love with Saludos Amigos, and show it--but too slight.
Also, on a nitpicky level, director Theodore Thomas makes a strange choice of cutting to a black screen to introduce each talking head, ruining the visual flow of the first third of the film, especially. Just...no.
A documentary which gives a fascinating insight into the ten week goodwill tour of South America made by Walt Disney and a group of his artists in 1941. Great production values and I couldn’t get enough of the archival footage. However the back stories of the family members giving their recollections of the time did not add anything. I felt like there was so much more to be gained and as such it’s really only of value to Disney fans.