Walt & El Grupo (2008)
Theodore Thomas, son of the late Walt Disney Studios animator Frank Thomas (1912-2004) and director of the acclaimed 1995 documentary Frank and Ollie, helms this second foray into Disney history, Walt & El Grupo (2007). The subject this time lies somewhat outside the boundaries of Disney animation and rests on an unusual footnote: in 1941, Walt Disney personally led a "goodwill tour" and research expedition of South America, with a team of animators in tow whom he collectively christened "El Grupo." The voyage transcended passing personal interest on the part of the animators; its residual effects can be seen in several Latin-themed Disney projects -- notably, Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1945), both of which won Oscars, and other efforts designed to support the Good Neighbor Policy of the United States. With Walt & El Grupo, Theodore Thomas and his wife, Kuniko Okubo, combine rare, unseen 16 mm home movie footage of the original trip (held in the Disney vaults for years) with footage from their own trip through South America that retraces the Disney animators' original journey -- contrasting 1941 footage with glimpses of the same locales, shot 60 years later. On the soundtrack, Thomas and Okubo overlay reminiscences by the original travelers, taken from journals and letters and read by family members. … More
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Critics Consensus: 9 Looks Great, But The Plot's Weak
– Rotten Tomatoes
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Critic Reviews for Walt & El Grupo
The production values are first rate. But you will wait in vain to hear a good reason for this movie's existence.
At a time when Hollywood doesn't remember last year, is obsessed with the bottom line and is run by men who often have no sense of history, Walt & El Grupo evokes a better time.
While skimming over the troubled waters of impending war and ongoing labor unrest, it's both a vicarious vacation and a crash course in animation.
[Thomas] may need more distance from the subject -- Walt & El Grupo could shed about 20 minutes -- but there's no questioning his sincerity or his instinct for revealing anecdotes.
This may be the first documentary that contains not a single American, living or dead, who is anything but merry of disposition. That cheer carries over to the on-the-spot gusto of el grupo's sketchbooks -- a more accurate tribute than the final cartoons.
A relentlessly upbeat vanity project destined for the Disney family archive.
...a niche effort that has little to offer all but the most ardent of animation junkies.
An intimate, albeit uneventful, story filled with flashy graphics but not a lot of substance.
... less probing documentary than colorful press release for the paternal Disney...
This is the 'untold story.' And apparently there's not much more to tell.
Above all else the film is a treasure trove of fantastic archival material, much of it never before shown.
A bland tourist souvenir, the equivalent of an authorized biography rather than an independent one.
You get a taste of what the Disney group went through and saw, and you see how that work translated into rough sketches and designs.
A lively, well-edited documentary brimming with insight, warmth and humor while captivating audiences both young and old.
Provides a framing device for the Disney creative process as well as the issue of the place of art in geo-politics.
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