Review: Walt The Man Behind The Myth (2001)

Genre: Documentary
Starring: Diane Disney Miller, Roy E. Disney, Chuck Jones, Ron Miller, Dick Van Dyke
Released: 2001

A Pioneer of the animation industry. From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom, he turned his dreams into entertainment for the ages. Now, learn his real story. Through exclusive footage and interviews with friends and family, this documentary traces the complicated life of legendary animator Walt Disney.

Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, IL. At the age of four his family relocated to Missouri where his creative talents started to flourish. Particularly during his time at the Pesman-Rubin Commercial Arts Studio. It was at this time that he befriended who would become his lifelong friend. Ub Iwerks.

After Pesmen Rubin’s revenue started to decline in 1920, the two decided to go into business for themselves and started Newman Laugh-O-Grams in 1921 in partnership with the local Newman theater, which included a soon to be who’s who of animation including Rudolf Ising, Hugh Harman and Ub Iwerks.

Early Laugh-O-Grams Video: (Public Domain)

it was here that Walt Developed the Alice series starring Virginia Davis as Alice, a live action girl in an animated world. The result, a 12-and-a-half-minute, one-reel film, was completed too late to save Laugh-O-Gram Studio, which went into bankruptcy in 1923.

Former Laugh-O-Grams Studio in 2010
Adam The Woo Visits Laugh-O-Grams

Disney moved to Hollywood in July 1923. Although New York was the center of the cartoon industry, he was attracted to Los Angeles because his brother Roy was convalescing from tuberculosis there, and he hoped to become a live-action film director. Disney’s efforts to sell Alice’s Wonderland were in vain until he heard from New York film distributor Margaret J. Winkler. She was losing the rights to both the Out of the Inkwell and Felix the Cat cartoons, and needed a new series. In October, they signed a contract for six Alice comedies, with an option for two further series of six episodes each. Disney and his brother Roy formed the Disney Brothers Studio‍—‌which later became The Walt Disney Company‍—‌to produce the films they persuaded Davis and her family to relocate to Hollywood to continue production, with Davis on contract at $100 a month. In July 1924, Disney also hired Iwerks, persuading him to relocate to Hollywood from Kansas City.

It was during this time that Winkler retired and handed over distribution to her husband Charles Mintz, who grew increasingly critical of the Alice Shorts. He demanded a new series which resulted in Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. But before Walt could negotiate a new contract, Mintz pulled the rug from under him by claiming ownership of the character and hiring away most of his staff….Except Ub Iwerks who refused

To remedy this, Iwerks and Disney created a new character who transcended all gernerations, nationalities and time soon to become one of the world’s most prominent icons, Mickey Mouse. Many legends are spun as to the character’s development but it was after he starred in the first Synchronized sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie that Mickey really took off.

Due to the overwhelming success of Mickey, Disney was able to branch out into feature films which became his creative output for the rest of his life. In fact he decided to quit animating and become solely a producer.

Disney had been a heavy smoker since World War I. He did not use cigarettes with filters and had smoked a pipe as a young man. In November 1966, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and was treated with cobalt therapy. On November 30 he felt unwell and was taken to St. Joseph Hospital where, on December 15, ten days after his 65th birthday, he died of circulatory collapse caused by the cancer. His remains were cremated two days later and his ashes interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

The release of The Jungle Book and The Happiest Millionaire in 1967 raised the total number of feature films that Disney had been involved in to 81.When Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day was released in 1968, it earned Disney an Academy Award in the Short Subject (Cartoon) category, awarded posthumously. After Disney’s death, his studios continued to produce live-action films prolifically but largely abandoned animation until the late 1980s, after which there was what The New York Times describes as the “Disney Renaissance” that began with The Little Mermaid (1989). Disney’s companies continue to produce successful film, television and stage entertainment. Roy O. Disney finished the building of Walt Disney World

Disney’s plans for the futuristic city of EPCOT did not come to fruition. After Disney’s death, his brother Roy deferred his retirement to take full control of the Disney companies. He changed the focus of the project from a town to an attraction. At the inauguration in 1971, Roy dedicated Walt Disney World to his brother. Walt Disney World expanded with the opening of Epcot Center in 1982; Walt Disney’s vision of a functional city was replaced by a park more akin to a permanent world’s fair. In 2009, the Walt Disney Family Museum, designed by Disney’s daughter Diane and her son Walter E. D. Miller, opened in the Presidio of San Francisco. Thousands of artifacts from Disney’s life and career are on display, including numerous awards that he received. In 2014, the Disney theme parks around the world hosted approximately 134 million visitors.

Disney has been portrayed numerous times in fictional works. H. G. Wells references Disney in his 1938 novel The Holy Terror, in which World Dictator Rud fears that Donald Duck is meant to lampoon the dictator.Disney was portrayed by Len Cariou in the 1995 made-for-TV film A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story, and by Tom Hanks in the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks. In 2001, the German author Peter Stephan Jungk published Der König von Amerika (trans: The King of America), a fictional work of Disney’s later years that re-imagines him as a power-hungry racist. The composer Philip Glass later adapted the book into the opera The Perfect American (2013).

This film paints an amazing portrait of the Walt Disney we never knew, beyond the animation, the theme parks and all the magic lies a man who is not without fault but longed to always look to the future and made everything he did with the best possible care he could. This is perhaps why his legacy is so amazing and the company that bears his name continues to look toward the future going into new mediums (eg: Disney+) And seeing the potential in everything (Fox, Lucasfilm, Pixar) Disney’s legacy is still being felt in ways we never thought possible when he was alive. And here’s an interesting statistic for you, If he were still alive today come December Walt Disney would have been 119 years old.

I Give This Film A Five Out Of Five

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