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    Hola Walt! A DVD Review of "Walt & El Grupo"



    Most think of "Walt Disney" as the symbol for family entertainment. The name itself evokes memories, feelings, and yet the path to this immense success was not a simple one.

    Even after the career-launching success of Snow White, the studio was consistently faced by several challenges. Bambi, Pinocchio, and Fantasia all struggled out the gate when they were first released. The Disney Studio also suffered from an artist strike that crippled the company.

    This was the environment the studio was facing in the early 1940's when it was enlisted at the same time by the US government for a Good Will tour at the onset of World War II. Amidst a crumbling studio, disintegrating company morale, and shaky success of his films, Walt embarked on a trip as a cultural ambassador to South America with a few of his best artists.

    Walt and El Grupo
    is a riveting documentary about those tough times facing the Walt Disney Studios and also Walt Disney the man.

    This wonderful documentary, directed by Ted Thomas, gives us a rare glimpse of what that trip to South America was like for “El Grupo” and how it changed every single person that went on the trip in a different way.

    Thomas, who is actually the son of animator Frank Thomas, wrote and directed the film. He does an excellent job of retelling the trip not only through Walt and El Grupo’s eyes but also through the eyes of the people they were close to.


    An interesting fun fact is that this film presented the opportunity of being one of the largest collections (if not the absolute largest) of filmed footage of Walt. The use of this vintage video and photographs of Walt Disney and his South American team was outstanding.

    To help bring this footage to life, the still photographs were also slowly dissolved into live-action video of the locations as they exist today. You truly thought you were with them every step of the way. I couldn’t help but pause the DVD and compare the old photographs to the current scenery of that country.

    Since I’m such a Bonus Feature junkie, I would have loved to see more included with Walt and El Grupo but what we do get definitely gives us enough to whet our appetite.

    The first Bonus Feature of mention is the Audio Commentary with Director Ted Thomas and Historian J.B. Kaufman. This was such an insightful commentary; while some can be dry with just technical information both Thomas and Kaufman give their personal stories of doing the research for the film. Thomas especially offers stories about his father Frank Thomas who was the only animator chosen to go on the South American Good Will tour.

    Ted Thomas narrates the next feature, Photos in Motion. This was an extremely interesting and welcomed feature as it talks about the use of the vintage photos and the modern day footage used in the documentary. Thomas explains how they took the photos and wanted to draw you into 1941. A brief clip from the film is used to show how they used the old photographs of a terrace party and recreated it in present day in the same location.

    From the Director’s Cut is actually three different featurettes. Home Movies for the Big Screen shows us footage of the 16mm camera that Walt and El Grupo brought that was supposed to be for reference material. J.B Kaufman explains how this footage actually became important for connecting the different scenes in what would become Disney's Saludos Amigos.


    Walt and El Grupo actually reshot several scenes at the Studio in Burbank to recreate their trips to Argentina, Chili, Peru, and Brazil. For example, the scenes and photograph above of them getting on and off the airplane were actually reshot at the Burbank airport. Careful attention was made so that each person was wearing the same clothes they had traveled in weeks before. Hey, it's Hollywood, babe!

    My Father’s Generation is narrated by Cecilia Acle, daughter of a Chilean passenger aboard the S.S. Santa Clara (the ship that took El Grupo back to Florida) and Cindy Garcia, daughter of Disney story-man Ted Sears. They retell what outstanding qualities that Walt and that group had on other people. Cindy explains that in that generation there was a sense of fun and hope even with the War going on.

    Artists and Politicians is an amazing featurette with music historian Roberto Gnattali and J.B.Kaufman returning to the Urca Casino in Rio De Jinero to speak on how important it was at the time for the Brazilian government to have Walt and his group come. The Urca was the cream of the crop in the 1940s but today is an old dilapidated, and literally crumbling, building. This feature has some of the best before and after scenes in the film. It’s so eerie to see the empty abandoned casino where Walt and other dignitaries were once before.

    The DVD also includes the original theatrical trailers for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Finally, we are given the full feature Saludos Amigos as it was seen in its 1943 release. This is a great feature that hardcore Disney fans as it shows unedited footage of Goofy smoking a cigarette. You'd be hard-pressed to find any DVD today that shows this footage unedited. Walt and El Grupo is that only disc!

    Walt and El Grupo is a documentary that I actually might find myself watching more than once not only for the incredible footage of Walt and his group of artists but to be able to enjoy something that truly touched people all over the world.

    Walt and El Grupo is available on DVD November 30, 2010.


    THE END!

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  2. #2
    Meeska-Mooska-Mouseketeer MI Lead Moderator smitty-78's Avatar
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    Great review Nfty, I can't wait till this is out only a couple more days!
    Today's going to be a beautiful, busy day, and "we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future." —Walt Disney

  3. #3
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    I was surprised at how interesting this actually was. The camera techniques of using the vintage photos with modern video was really clever.
    Joey AKA "dlfreak"
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    Pirates! Bob38dizfan's Avatar
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    Great review! I can't to get this!
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