Today we bring you a great Disney DVD recommendation that chronicles a very important, critical time for Walt Disney and the Disney Company. The feature documentary Walt & El Grupo provides a rare glimpse of a ten week tour in 1941 that Walt Disney, his wife, and sixteen colleagues from Walt Disney Studios embarked on in South America. The film specifically chronicles Walt and his team visiting with many Latin American officials to gather story material for a series of films Walt was planning to release with Latin American themes. Not only does the documentary help give insight into Walt and the inner workings of his animators, but it helps to highlight relations between the United States and Latin America during this time period as well as give an unprecedented look into the personal life of Walt Disney during one of the more challenging times of his career.
Times were a bit tough for the Walt Disney Studio during the early 1940’s. Though Walt achieved great success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio– Fantasia, Walt’s musical experiment, struggled to achieve the same box office success of it’s two predecessors. On top of Fantasia’s financial troubles, just as work was being completed on the animated feature, Dumbo, a rather nasty strike broke out at the Studio and left Walt Disney feeling rather downtrodden. It was the first time Walt had been faced with a union strike and he had trouble understanding why anyone would rise up against him in this manner. As if all of this wasn’t enough, World War II was raging on in Europe during this time and Walt ended up loosing the financing of many of the European banks and film distributors he was working with. This hit the Studio pretty hard and ended up putting Walt and his company nearly $4 million dollars in debt.
Around this time the American Government stepped in and offered Walt to take some of his Studio heads down to South America as a good will ambassador trip to help strengthen relations, particularly in light of the War raging on in Europe. At first Walt was against the idea, as he wasn’t looking to go anywhere to merely shake hands and provide lip service. However, Walt ultimately changed his mind when he realized he could use the trip as an opportunity to research Latin American culture for future films. Two great films that Walt ended up producing and later releasing as a result of his visit to South America were Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
Walt & El Grupo is directed by Theodore Thomas, who happens to be the son of one of Walt’s original 9 animators, Frank Thomas, and follows Walt’s trip to South America by showing us the locales Walt and company visited in the present day. The film is produced by The Walt Disney Family Foundation and as such provides wonderful private and archival film footage from Walt’s personal camera as well as the cameras of some of the folks touring with Walt.
The documentary gives great insight into Walt Disney and the persona he lead outside of the public eye. For the first time we get a glimpse of Walt during one of the more difficult periods of his life. If you’re a Walt Disney fan, or just a fan of history in general, this is definitely a film you need to check out. We here at WaltDisneyQuotes can’t recommend it any higher.