Sunday, April 05, 2015

Walt & El Grupo

Written and directed by Theodore Thomas, Walt & El Grupo is a documentary film about Walt Disney’s trip to South America with a group of animators in 1941 for goodwill trip sponsored by the American government. The film showcases a period in the life of Walt Disney who was coping with financial difficulties as well as an industry strike as he would travel to countries in South America that would serve as inspirations for two of his 1940s animated features Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. The result is a fascinating and vibrant film from Theodore Thomas.

The film explores a period in the life and career of Walt Disney where he was asked by the American government to go on a goodwill trip to South America in 1941. In that trip, Disney was joined by animators, artists, and musicians known as El Grupo to find ideas for new projects during what was a very tumultuous period for Disney and his studio company. It wasn’t just through the commercial failure of Fantasia in 1940 but also some financial losses in Europe due to the early moments of World War II. All of this led to a strike by animators over various issues where Disney was hurt by what was happening as he took the trip in a need to escape from these issues. Among those who would join Disney on this trip to South America would include animator Frank Thomas, artists Lee and Mary Blair, and various others.

Much of the story is told by the relatives of these people including Walt’s daughter Diane where they read old letters from these people that explore the many events they encounter during their trip. Also helping to tell the story are historians as it relates to not just what was happening with Walt Disney during that period but also the world itself. There is also interviews from various historians and relatives in South America that talk about Disney’s impact into the arriving their respective countries while they also admit to have mixed opinions on Saludos Amigos. Much of Theodore Thomas’ compositions are simple as he does shoot the film on location in places like Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and other rural locations with the help of cinematographer Shana Hagan.

With the aid of editor Lisa Palattella, Thomas would compile lots of rare footage and home movies of the journey and then dissolve them to match the exact locations of where some of the photos and action took place. Even as the photos are transferred into 3D by Bill Bryn Russell to get a richness of the look. Sound editor Robert Getty help provide some archived audio interviews with Walt Disney who talks about that period in time as well as some union problems he was dealing with as well as some of the sound textures to play into these moments in time. The film’s music by James Stemple is excellent as it is a mixture of classical music with elements of samba and South American folk music to play into its environment while music supervisor Brooke Wentz provides that same approach by utilizing that same mix as well as some bossa nova music.

Walt & El Grupo is a fantastic film from Theodore Thomas. Not only is it an intriguing documentary that explores a period in the life and career of Walt Disney. It’s also a film that showcases a group of people coming to South America for a cultural exchange program and actually create goodwill between two continents through art. In the end, Walt & El Grupo is a fabulous film from Theodore Thomas.

© thevoid99 2015


Ruth said...

I'm rather fascinated by Walt Disney since I grew up watching his animated films. This sounds like an interesting doc indeed!

thevoid99 said...

It is very interesting while it has an amazing soundtrack that plays into the world of South America.