Walt: The Man Behind the Myth (TV)

(2002) *** Unrated
119 min. Walt Disney. Director: Whitney Ransick. Cast: Freddy R. Capra, Arthur Nascarella, Karina Arroyave, Frank Medrano, Danny Cistone.

The video biography and family album Walt: The Man Behind the Myth presents the official story of Walt Disney, the genius, and it's surely a story worth telling. In its warm recollections, visuals that span from nostalgic Norman Rockwell to computer-generated futurism, and calculatedly stirring score, this industrial film brushes against cheesiness and sometimes glosses over troubling spots. Still, the film admits Disney's strong reticence to share compliments with his workers and his cooperative testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, so it's hardly a concerted whitewash. Narrator Dick Van Dyke is charged with the duty of peppily shifting gears from a tragedy or failure to the next forward-looking movement in Walt's life or career.

For extensive interviews, director Jean-Pierre Isbouts rounds up plenty of family (most notably, daughter Dianne Disney Miller), as well as former colleagues, friends, enthusiasts, and historians, including Chuck Jones, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Bill Melendez, Ray Bradbury, Robert Stack, Leonard Maltin, Art Linkletter, Buddy Ebsen, John Lasseter, Ken Annakin, Richard and Robert Sherman, and Van Dyke. Using a trove of archival photography and a judicious minimum of short clips to reference Disney films, Isbouts does a quite reasonable job of truncating a wide-ranging life and career to a two-hour biography filled with reminiscence (much that might be considered a "gloss" could be fairly chalked up to practical necessity).

The story is partly familiar, but offers plenty of surprises, as well. Disney's technique was innovative; he lived by the idea of challenging not only his staffers but himself. He often talked of "plussing," or adding to his films and attractions--for Disney, nothing was ever finished. According to Walt: The Man Behind the Myth, he also pioneered many now-widespread practices, from sound sync and color in animation to the use of storyboards in planning live action films. You knew Uncle Walt was savvy in film (animated and live-action short films and features), TV, and amusement parks, but did you know he loved not only trains but chili (he would travel with cans of it)?

Though perhaps not 100% balanced, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth assures that future generations (of audiences and Disney employees) will recognize the undeniable artistic and business genius--and, yes, the humanity--of a self-made man.

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Aspect ratios: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

Street date: 10/8/2002

Distributor: Walt Disney

Walt: The Man Behind the Myth offers an impressive array of additional interview and archival footage.

"An Intimate View" offers six segments of multiple interview clips totalling about half an hour, with a "Play All" option. Each segment centers on a theme: "Meeting Walt for the First Time," "Walt as a Boss," "Walt at Home," Walt and Music," "Walt's Creativity," and "Walt's Passing."

"Disney Legends" offers another half-hour of bonus interview clips (again with a "Play All" option) from six veterans: Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Joe Grant, Ward Kimball, and John Hench.

"Actors, Directors & Friends" features 32 minutes of recollections by Disney's more famous friends: Dick Van Dyke, Ray Bradbury, Ken Annakin, Richard Fleischer, Art Linkletter, and Dean Jones.

As is often the case, these interview "outtakes" contain stories about the subject which are often more rich, offbeat, or revelatory (like Frank Thomas's estimation of Sleeping Beauty as the turning point in Disney's involvement in feature animation). Others of the clips are rambling, pointless, or painfully slow, but all in all, these are well worth a spin.

"The Making of Walt: The Man Behind the Myth" clarifies that Marc Davis--one of Disney's "Nine Old Men"--died just weeks after his interviews for the film and plops in an amusing story of a Disney employee accidentally "kidnapping" Richard Nixon. The rest of the eight-minute promo is uninspired analysis and self-serving commentary by the filmmakers.

Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, narrates travelogue footage of four "Location Visits" to Chicago, Marceline, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. These mini-documentaries highlight trivia about places Disney lived and are mostly redundant to the documentary feature. These segments would be mostly of interest for Disney fanatics looking to tour the key homes and workplaces in Disney's life (go looking for the Hyperion Studio and you'll find a supermarket!). But you will learn here that Disney's move to Holmby Hills was largely motivated by his desire for a longer commute (and therefore more alone-time to think on ideas).

A selection of home movies narrated by Miller offers a more complete view of the personal footage glimpsed in the documentary. Play all, or play any of six thematic segments: "The Early Years," "The Travelers," "Sports and Exercise," "Walt as a Dad," "Sunday Afternoons," and "The Cruise to Vancouver."

The disc also offers a handy-dandy DVD-ROM link to the Walt Disney Family Museum (handy-dandy if you're watching on your computer, that is).
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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