WALT: The Man Behind the Myth

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Matt Lucas, Oct 16, 2003.

  1. Matt Lucas

    Matt Lucas Stunt Coordinator

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    Hello all---

    A few months ago, my family was visiting my favorite aunt in Florida, and, being only a couple of hours from DisneyWorld, we decided to make the trip to take our young children to the park for a couple of days. During a particularly hot afternoon in the park, we stopped by one of the numerous shops to cool off, and, as per usual, my eyes were drawn to the displays full of DVDs. Hidden among some of the more mediocre films of the past few years was a DVD with a striking cover I had not seen previously---a black and white profile photo of Walt Disney looking toward the ground. The film was a documentary on Walt's life---WALT: The Man Behind the Myth. I was immediately interested in it, but I figured I would wait until I got home and order it over the net. Long story short---it didn't work out that way [I'll get to that later], but I managed to buy a copy.

    What a sweet, sad, wonderful, joyful film about a man who brought so much happiness to the world.

    Walt is alternately described as a tough boss, "one of the guys," a demanding individual, a normal man, a genius and a perfect father and grandfather. Interviews include comments from family members, collaborators, friends, historians, and current professionals for whom Walt is an inspiration. There are some truly touching moments caught on film in WALT, and many happy ones as well. Archival footage and home movies contribute greatly to the film.

    There is plenty of information about Walt's childhood and early years---including a surprising amount of home videos dating back to the 1920s---but the most entertaining parts for me were during the years as the Disney empire grew. It was great to hear about Walt's involvement in the many classic films we now love so much from those who were directly involved. The film is lovingly narrated by none other than Dick Van Dyke.

    Some might say this was a white-wash of the man's life. I was surprised---given that it was produced by Disney---that it DOES address Walt's near bankruptcy during World War II, his supposed racism, and his conservitism, albeit briefly. [Pretty much the only thing that wasn't touched upon is the rumour of Walt's body being frozen at his death. The end card notes that, at his request, he was cremated, though.]

    The feature is 119 minutes long and appears in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. I confess that I watched it on my laptop at work, so I'm not sure if the video is enhanced for widescreen televisions or not. There are a number of bonus features that are exclusive to the DVD, including many more interviews [presumably cut from the main feature] that focus on specific areas ["Walt at home," "Meeting Walt for the first time," etc.], a featurette on the making of WALT: The Man Behind the Myth, featurettes on the various location shots, home movies and more.

    If you're interested in purchasing the DVD, good luck! When I returned from Florida, I was shocked to find it's not listed at online companies like Amazon [which only lists the VHS, for the same price I paid for the DVD]. I checked eBay, which had several copies up for auction at ridiculous prices. [There's a copy on ebay right now, and the current bid is $30.99.] I even checked the DisneyDVD.com site, which lists the DVD, but when I tried to order it, I received a message saying that it was "not available." Frustrated, but not deterred, I called DisneyDVD's telephone ordering number and was first told that WALT had been returned to the vault. I explained that I had just seen it at the park the month before, and I was given a second number---this time to Buena Vista Home Video. I called BVHV and ordered the DVD with no problem [well, actually, there WAS a problem---they first sent me a film called Bionicle, which isn't quite the same thing...].

    Bottom line: skip the high prices on eBay and call Buena Vista directly.

    I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves and cares about the classic Disney films and the man whose vision drove those masterpieces. Regardless of your feelings about the current corporation known as Disney, it started with one man [well, two if you include his brother] who always remained a kid at heart. It really is a tribute to the man behind the myth.

    mattl
     
  2. Randy Tennison

    Randy Tennison Screenwriter

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    Matt,

    I watched this on my last Disney Cruise. They were playing it on the stateroom tv system. Yes, it was a wonderful film, and as someone who claims Walt Disney as a personal hero, I, too, found that it was not a white wash. It dealt with the fact that he was a tough boss, and not always forthcoming with the compliments.

    I do believe that Roy Disney (the father, not the son) is really overlooked in the history of Disney. Walt was the dreamer who thought up the ideas, Roy was the financial genius who found ways to make his brother's ideas happen.

    I'll have to see about getting this on DVD. Thanks for the heads up!
     
  3. Matt Lucas

    Matt Lucas Stunt Coordinator

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    Certainly the film is focused on Walt Disney, but his brother, Roy, is clearly recognized as Walt's partner and the financial official behind the company. At least once during the film, the narrator or person being interviewed says something along the lines of, "With such a large, new project, Walt approached Roy, who resisted at first, but once again found a way to make Walt's dream a reality."

    But you're right, Roy deserves credit, too.

    mattl
     
  4. Michael St. Clair

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    Make sure and read Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince, to balance it out. [​IMG]
     
  5. Paul Penna

    Paul Penna Supporting Actor

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  6. David Lambert

    David Lambert Executive Producer

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    Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't spot the price you paid for it.

    Can you post that, and maybe also the phone # you calleD? Thanks,
     
  7. Jerome

    Jerome Second Unit

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  8. Randy Tennison

    Randy Tennison Screenwriter

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  9. Dan Hitchman

    Dan Hitchman Cinematographer

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    Not to mention ratting on people during the McCarthy era. Maybe Mickey Mouse should have been changed to Mickey Rat. [​IMG] Mickey, afterall, was voiced by Walt for many years.

    He sure wasn't a saint, but I'd imagine he had much better business sense (along with his brother) than what Eisner is making out of his empire. The schmuck! Walt is probably turning over in his cryo chamber ( [​IMG] ) now that Disney is thinking of scrapping their traditional animation department, and has had image problems as of late, and the fact that their parks are being run down, etc. etc. etc.

    Dan
     
  10. Matt Gordon

    Matt Gordon Supporting Actor

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    Wow! Beautiful cover! [​IMG]
     
  11. Paul Penna

    Paul Penna Supporting Actor

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  12. Mark_Wilson

    Mark_Wilson Screenwriter

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  13. Matt Lucas

    Matt Lucas Stunt Coordinator

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    David---

    I ordered the DVD from Buena Vista Home Video customer service at 800-723-4763. If you call this number, press 3 and you'll be connected to the ordering department. [Note---when I dialed the number again this morning to make sure it was the correct one, the automated system stated that I had called Disney Home Video, or something like that. I asked the representative about this, and he said that even though there are two numbers---one for BV, one for Disney---they more or less end up in the same place. The weird thing about this is that when I ordered my copy, I called the Disney number first and was told the DVD was no longer available. I told the woman I had seen it in the theme parks, and she gave me the BV number and suggested that I call them. BV took my order with no problem. Odd, eh?]

    The DVD is $19.95 + shipping, so drive-out was $23.90 for me. The man I spoke to this morning said they have 8 copies on hand [as of 9:37 a.m. central time!].

    And yes, as I noted in my original message, they had the DVD on the video racks in a number of the shops inside Walt Disney World-Magic Kingdom in Florida. I think it was $19.99, but I'm not completely sure about that.

    mattl
     
  14. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    This is an interesting thread.

    Back when I was reviewing product,
    Disney sent me a copy of this DVD.

    Unfortunately, I had too many other
    titles on my plate and I just sort of
    threw this title into my collection
    without ever bothering to open it up.

    I'm gonna take a look at this one over
    the next day and get back to all of you.
    It sure sounds like an interesting DVD.
     
  15. David Lambert

    David Lambert Executive Producer

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  16. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Matt:

    Interesting thread. I have seen the video in the past just never purchased it.

    I was watching the Antique Roadshow with my wife the other day and they had a guy on there that his grandmother was a friend of Walt Disney's. When ever he would get back to Kansas City he always would look her up. He gave her a animation cell from Snow White and he signed it. (For those that don't know Walt very rearly signed anything himself. He usually had an artist or someone else sign stuff for him).

    At any rate it was of course it was valued at a high price. The interesting thing is that his Grandmother's name was Daisy.
     
  17. Brian L

    Brian L Cinematographer

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    Well, I too ordered, but they are currently out of stock. The gal said that there were more inbound, but it may take a couple weeks. NBFD.

    I am right that this is the show that was on TV last year? If so, I think I Tivo'd it, but it will be good to have a DVD copy.

    I do note that they appear on e-bay with some regularity. Prices are all over the map, as you might expect.

    BGL
     
  18. John Fieldstadt

    John Fieldstadt Stunt Coordinator

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    I called my order in about 6:45 PM EST and was told that it is in stock and that it should be shipped in a day or two and that I should receive it within 7-10 days from that time.
     
  19. BrettB

    BrettB Producer

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    I was looking at the Disney Movie Club just now wondering if it was worth signing up and ran across this film and remembered this thread.

    DVDEmpire

    It looks to be a lot easier to acquire at this point in time. Props to Matt and everyone else but I'm really hoping Mr. Rister sees this. [​IMG]
     
  20. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    The film is a nice, family-sanctioned point-of-view on Walt Disney's life. I have my own beliefs about Walt "the Man", based on events which the film tries to shunt aside, but I just can't get past them -- I'm not talking about crazy conspiracy kook stories like you'll find in Marc Elliot's smear book -- I'm talking about the abuse (yes, abuse) Walt endured at the hands of his father in his formative years. I think its the rosetta stone that finally deciphers and answers many of the questions as to who Walt was as a person, and the documentary avoids that subject like kryptonite.

    I once had the great pleasure to attend a screening of some early "Alice Comedies", with the original Alice, Virgina Davis, attending and answering questions from Leonard Maltin. Mr. Maltin asked her what it was like working with Walt back in the early 20's, and she answered honestly (I believe), that back in those days Walt had a hard time relating to people because, and I quote, "because of how hurt he'd been". Long before the Mintz betrayal, the defection of Iwerks, the studio strike, the multiple miscarriages of his wife, the death of his mother, the deterioration of relations between his brother and himself, the box office failures of Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi and the collapse of the golden age, etc. etc. etc., Davis is talking about Walt Disney being a wounded individual long before any of this ever happened.

    There is a cliche about show business, but sometimes cliches come into being because they are common truths. The reason many people get into the performing arts, especially acting, is because of a lack of love and support at home - for whatever reason, they have a bottomless hole in their heart, and they thirst for love and acceptance from strangers.

    By modern standards, the reported punishments inflicted on the young Disney brothers at home by their father, Elias, were criminal. Elias, it is written, would dole out beatings to his children on a *daily* basis, sometimes for no reason. Elias reportedly felt this kind of treatment was needed to ensure productivity and focus. I think it is Bob Thomas who writes about Elias getting angry with young Walt when they were fixing a screen door, and Elias allegedly hit the young boy in the head with a hammer. Little Walt was traumatized by this, and as recounted in Storming the Magic Kingdom, he would curl up in his older brother's arms at night, and weep, and ask Roy why his father hated him so. At that age, Walt even came to believe that Elias couldn't be his real father, because no father could ever do such things to his own children.

    At this point in Disney's life, he starts to draw, retreating into a fantasy world. His grade-school teacher was reportedly surprised to see a drawing of Walt's where all the flowers and animals had smiling faces. Is it any wonder he would anthromorphize animals and flowers? Abused children frequently speak to their pets and dolls and even furniture, pretending they are loving friends (Spielberg talks about having this trait, as well, when he was a child, but that's a whole other story).

    Later Walt would put on his own neighborhood stage and vaudeville shows with his best friend, but he would never tell Elias what he was doing. Walt would sneak out of the house through his bedroom window to perform his shows, because he was afraid of what Elias would do if he found out. I think these early shows and the praise he received for drawing were the seminal moments in his life, because he had found a skill that earned him the respect and love he was not getting at home.

    The rest of the story writes itself. Out of that cauldron, a young man is formed with some personal issues, looking for admiration and respect, and choosing art and filmmaking as the pathway to those goals. We're talking about a man who created a monument to himself in the Anaheim orange groves, like some Egyptian Pharoah trying to conquer death by building something immortal.

    So much of what I know about Disney's life snaps into such sharp relief focus once you understand what he went through as a boy. There's a story about Walt in his later years that has always stuck with me -- Wald would always cry everytime he heard the Sherman Bros. play "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins. Why, because he was such a big ol' sentimental sap? Personally, I think it's because of what that song is about...how it doesn't take very much to show your children you love them. It doesn't take Sigmund Freud to figure out why that song would touch him so.

    Back when Walt Disney began building the Burbank studio in the late 30's, Walt and Roy brought their mom and dad to California. Fearing the scorn of his father, Walt lied through his teeth and told his dad that the building was designed so it could also be sold and used as a hospital if the studio went bankrupt (Elias, it seems, was always dubious about his sons' cartoon business). Even in his late 30's, Walt was still afraid of his old man.

    Anyway, I could go on for pages and pages...from Mickey Mouse to Walt's attraction to dark stories to his mood swings to his difficulties relating to people, the core of Walt Disney the man is Walt Disney the child.

    The documentary, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth is a good primer for a general timeline of Walt's life, with some good anecdotes from admirers and co-workers. It isn't a white-wash, the film was comissioned by the Disney family to celebrate Walt and point out his accomplishments and all the positives of his family life, and as such, it is rather like a eulogy at a funeral. It's a largely celebratory film, and it should be taken as such.

    However, they do spend about 20 seconds to address the abuse issue by Elias, and they dismiss it and excuse it, saying it was necessary to maintain discipline on the farm and that everybody loved Elias, and that Elias was stern, but not a demon. Thing is, the abuse stories did not come from hearsay or rumours, though, they come from Walt himself, talking to various people over the years. This where things get dicey -- the position of the Disney company or the Disney family or whoever it is that runs the "Disney Museum" section of the disney.com website states (and I'm not kidding) that these stories by Walt about his childhood were not true and were embellished and exaggerated by Uncle Walt in order to spin a good yarn.

    Who do you believe? Walt? Writers Bob Thomas and John Taylor? Or his modern heirs and family, who love him, who are trying to make sure the world remembers him in a warm and happy light?

    Personally, I've come to see Walt as Virginia Davis remembers him -- as a good, hard-working man who had been hurt in early life, and so he carried some pain around in his heart and, yes, developed some issues. The flip side is that out of this internal sturm und drang, he turned it around and created and produced an astonishing body of work and made uncounted millions of children and adults happy. He was motivated by pain, but his life's work was a source of tremendous good. That's Walt to me -- Ironic, full of contradictions, endlessly creative and productive, and very, very human.
     

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