I’ve read many of the Disney biographies. While everyone concentrates on his post-Mickey success, I’ve always thought his pre-Mickey days were the most interesting and inspirational.
Here was a guy who was screwed and screwed and screwed — yet he never gave up.
And the setting of the story: The early days of film and animation and an America that was filled with the youthful optimism of that time. What a story!
I’ve always thought it would have made a magnificent TV mini-series. I’ve always wondered why the Disney company itself never thought of doing it, at least as a tribute to its founder. Hell, they could have at least made it as a documentary. Maybe commissioned Ken Burns — who did the ground-breaking The Civil War — to do it. All those rare photos and unseen-for-decades footage in the Disney vaults. I really do swoon thinking about all that.
But none of that ever happened.
And now there’s this movie.
This is one Disney book I haven’t yet read.
So, this movie.
Let me get this out of my system to begin with. I’m a stickler for detail. And these two things are just plain wrong:
That’s modern 35mm film. It didn’t exist back then.
And this is perhaps even more unforgivable to me as a New Yorker:
Modern boxy skyscrapers in 1920s Manhattan! Couldn’t they have licensed a damn stock photo from the time?!
The story of the pre-Mickey Disney really is a goddammed epic tale.
And this movie just wastes that pot of gold.
It should have been on the scale and sweep of a Dances with Wolves or a Wyatt Earp. Big and big, huge, and capturing the spirit — and linguistic idioms — of the time. And filled with pre-Mickey film snippets.
Instead, this movie just isn’t very exciting. The music never swells. The direction is rather pedestrian. There’s never the emotional connection with Disney and his sufferings. And, my god!, some of the dialogue would have never been said back then.
Is it still worth seeing? Yes. Because this is probably all we’ll ever get in filmed form about that time and history of Walt Disney.
If anything, consider this to be a very long trailer for the book. The book which probably — and again, I haven’t yet read it — doesn’t gloss over several aspects of that time this movie chooses to ignore.
… and his supportive brother, Roy:
Walt and Roy, a team like Jobs and Wozniak.
Walt was never really a good artist:
And he was big enough to admit it. Ub Iwerks …
… who was a better artist, a master animator, and inventor of the multiplane camera.
Some of that very, very rarely-seen early Disney footage:
Walt’s first studio:
An evicted and eve-of-bankruptcy Disney sleeping on the floor of his office studio:
He gets screwed out of money owed him:
Evicted from the studio too:
Homeless, a mouse for a friend, he turns to a trash can to feed himself and the mouse:
Film animation was still a young art. Yet Walt thought he had entered it too late:
Some more rarely-seen early Disney:
The Alice shorts are significant in Disney’s history. An early sign of his spirit to innovate, to not settle for what everyone was doing.
Even re-located to California, with a new studio, and a contract for the Alice shorts, the debts piled up:
There were no Venture Capitalists back then. Hell, he had to nearly beg The Bank of America for a loan to complete Snow White, even with the success of Mickey Mouse.
And he gets screwed again:
Given over to Ub Iwerks to give a final design to and to animate:
Walt, smiling. There would be many more woes ahead. But he never gave up.
That card skips the bit where Ub left Disney to form his own studio and did Flip the Frog. Things were never really the same between them after that.
If you have the chance to see it, do. Even as disappointing as it is, I could at least watch it. I couldn’t manage that with the Sorkin Steve Jobs movie!