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Walt and El Gruppo - documentary - film review SIFF 2008
by Karen Pecota

In 1941, Walt Disney was approached by the U.S. government asking him to make a goodwill tour to three countries in South America. The idea was not favorable to Walt because politics was not his forte. He initially declined the offer but reconsidered after the Roosevelt administration proposed that he take the tour to drum up ideas for his work in film.

Germany was in dialogue with the South American countries hoping they would side with Hitler’s causes. The U.S. was worried that Hitler’s financial investments and influence would be too hard to resist. Therefore, they needed to send an Ambassador to curtail such collaboration. The U.S. wanted to do everything in its power to avoid going to war with Germany, but, they were making it pretty tough.

Walt was suffering from his own turmoil with an employee strike on the horizon just before the film Fantasia was ready to embark on a world wide release. Up to this point, Walt Disney’s success story was a phenomenon. The success if gained from the world premiere tour of Snow White and the Seven Dwarf’s was what he needed to build his Walt Disney Film Studio with grandeur. He had not banked on the fact that the second generation of animators would not only be ungrateful, but would rebel. Instead, they felt taken advantage of and demanded higher wages that would compare to those who initially started Walt’s company. Walt was saddened at the employee disarray and decided it was time for him to do some soul searching. The U.S. government-sponsored good-will tour to South America paved the way for Walt to seriously re-evaluate his life, goals and career. In the summer of 1941, Walt Disney and his wife, along with eighteen of his most revered Disney artists, journeyed to an unknown world to represent the good will of the United States as well as answer the questions regarding their future.

This remarkable documentary expounds upon the Walt Disney, Americans have grown to know and love; however, it also exposes him like never before. The expansive coverage gives credibility to a historical accounting of an unconventional mission few people have ever known. Par Excellence to documentary film director, Theodore Thomas, for putting a face on good ‘ol Mickey Mouse.