A portrait of a legend from those who knew him best
Walt Disney has been a role model of mine from a very young age. Having read just about everything ever written about the man (both good and bad), I wasn't expecting to glean much new information. Imagine my surprise learning more about Walt during this two hour retrospective than in all my past research combined. Produced by the Disney family, under the supervision of Walt's grandson Walter Elias Disney Miller and director Jean-Pierre Isbouts, the documentary exhibits a tremendous sense of warmth and intimacy. From his 1901 birth in Chicago to his tragic death from lung cancer in 1966, Walt's life story, as narrated by Dick Van Dyke, unfolds as a rich tapestry of photos, stories, and home movies. One can't help being moved by the impact this man has had on the world.
While the still images, news footage, and never-before-seen home movies are fascinating to watch, the real value of the film is found in the newly recorded interviews with the people who knew Walt personally and professionally—animators Chuck Jones, Bill Melendez, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson, Ward Kimball, imagineers Marc Davis, Marty Sklar, Rolly Crump, Xavier Atencio, composers Robert and Richard Sherman, legendary TV personality/friend Art Linkletter, author/friend Ray Bradbury, actors Buddy Ebsen, Fess Parker, Dean Jones, and many more. Their stories give us insight and depth into a very driven and complex man, who was not without his own demons. From forging his birth certificate to join the Red Cross in World War I, to battling striking animators and accused communist union organizers in 1941, and twice mortgaging his family's future to create both Snow White and Disneyland, Walt Disney lived ten lifetimes in his all too brief 65 years. One can only imagine how different the entertainment industry might look today had Walt lived another decade or two.
The film itself, in its 1.66:1 transfer, is beautiful. The images, both new and archival, are exquisitely presented with rich colors and a full spectrum of grays and blacks. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is lush, capturing the music that populates the Disney mythos as well as the reflective underscore of musical director Adam Morrison. The bonus features center mostly on footage not used in the documentary itself—30 minutes of interviews with legendary Disney animators and imagineers, 30 minutes of interviews with family and friends, 20 minutes of location visits and home movie commentary by Walt's daughter Diane Disney Miller, a nine-minute "making of" featurette, and a DVD-ROM family museum.
Some might claim this is a sanitized, happy ending version of Walt's life, effectively covering the long rumored skeletons in his closet and his cryogenically frozen head. I'll leave that for you to decide. In any case, fans of Walt Disney or those fascinated by American icons will find this disc is a must buy. However, given its strangely limited availability—only a VHS version is available on Amazon and other retail sites—you might have to spend some time tracking it down.
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