Walt & El Grupo: The Story of Disney’s Political Propaganda
By Maria Popova
In 1941, Nelson Rockefeller, Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, asked Walt Disney to make a goodwill tour across South America, hoping the universal popularity of his characters would help diffuse anti-Axis sentiments in the region. It was a bad time for Walt — on top of his personal inclination for introversion, WWII had cut off his business in Europe, he had just lost a third of his workforce in a fiercely fought strike, and he owed Bank of America $3.4 million. But when the government agreed to underwrite the tour expenses, Disney took off for Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile with his wife Lily and a posse of 16 artists dubbed “El Grupo.” Among them was director Theodore Thomas, son of the celebrated animator Frank Thomas, who took it upon himself to record the extraordinary journey on 16mm film.
Walt & El Grupo is the product of Thomas’ labor, brimming with letters, photographs and rare footage of the places El Grupo visited, as well as interviews with people who welcomed Disney into their homes. The film captures not Walt’s familiar soft, avuncular public persona but his passionate, driven, inventive side as an artist and entrepreneur at the tipping point of a career that forever changed the world of animation.
The DVD features fascinating audio commentary from Historian J.B. Kaufman and the director hismself, three exclusive segments from the Director’s Cut version, the original theatrical trailers for Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944), and a fantastic Photos In Motion feature, which traces how the photos literally came to life.
Walt & El Grupo is a priceless and vibrant timecapsule of a unique time in the history of both the global politics and creative culture, revealing a rare portrait of a man who came to define the childhoods of generations and, in the process, play a key role in shaping the visual literacy of our time.
Published December 13, 2010