American Experience (1988– )
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Walt Disney - Part 1 

A look at Walt Disney's career from early films to Disneyland to ideas for a new community (EPCOT) that was not realized before his death. A great insight into his motivations and values.



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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Narrator (voice)
Himself (archive footage)
Sarah Nilsen ...
Herself, associate professor of Film and Television Studies
Steven Watts ...
Himself, historian
Himself, journalist and author
Eric Smoodin ...
Himself (archive footage)
Edna Disney ...
Herself (archive footage)
Lillian Disney ...
Herself (archive footage)
Carmenita Higginbotham ...
Herself, associate professor, University of Virginia
Michael Barrier ...
Himself, animation historian


A look at Walt Disney's career from early films to Disneyland to ideas for a new community (EPCOT) that was not realized before his death. A great insight into his motivations and values.

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14 September 2015 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Is there anyone who remains untouched by Walt Disney's magic?
25 September 2015 | by See all my reviews


If the world had been blessed with more great visionaries as Walt Disney we would be living in a much kinder and forgiving world, as his world is closest to Utopia. This two-part, four hour documentary focuses on the legacy that Walt Disney left behind for the world to remember the man and his vision. To this day almost 100 years ago since his first animated production in the year 1922, the six (6) minute animated short Little Red Riding Hood was released Walt Disney persevered through all the naysayers and endless string of penny pinching bankers to build his empire and the sheer vastness of his rich colored cinematography decade after decade and with an imagination of what the present (not the future) should include like no other person before him. Disneyland and Disneyworld are just two examples of his vision of Utopia.

I especially liked that this documentary provides fair credit towards Walt's older brother Roy O. Disney for helping build the Walt Disney brand and empire to what we know exists today. No doubt Walt was the visionary and driving force behind the Disney's creative and extensive brand but it was Roy who was the reliable older brother who made Walt's dreams come true through shrewd financing and brokering mega million dollar deals with heavy financiers who were hungrier than a pack of wolves to take over the business if it floundered. This film also outlines how during the evolution of labor unions first being formed in the 1940's on the outskirts of the Disney lots, Walt literally escaped the turmoil of bargaining with organized labor as he travelled to far away countries and left the labor resolution issues to his big brother Roy who is credited with resolving the labor unrest which allowed the Disney studios to forge ahead with so many historic and successful feature animated films, and never before seen world class amusement parks.

The documentary is well paced and extremely insightful on how Walt's endless drive and high energy began with his own superior artistic talents to draw characters and develop a short animated feature. Walt's fortitude to draw idyllic characters expanded over his early years to the unheard of venture of the very first full feature animated film, the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937, it is as popular today if not more so than it was almost 80 years later when it was first released. Ironically, Walt Disney has won more Academy Awards than any other single person but the most prestigious Academy Award for the Best Picture category had always eluded Walt. The Academy members have always snubbed the art form of animation (as well as comedy themed films) in the elusive Best Picture category. Instead the Academy created specific categories for animated feature films to win their own category of Oscars and thus excluded them from the "Best Picture" category. What the Academy could not take away from Walt Disney and his production company though was his fan base and their loyalty. Walt's expansive fan base has rewarded Walt Disney with billions of satisfied customers around the entire world and with billions of dollars in revenues which have allowed Walt Disney productions to continue producing state of the art films and a host of related Disney themed products that have warmed the hearts of children and parents around the world.

I loved the insight this documentary provides on Walt's personal life with his wife and two daughters (one who was adopted) and there is an endless supply of Walt's ear to ear grin which personifies how much he loved what he was building both with his family as well as with his Walt Disney Empire. Sadly the film touches briefly on the distance held between Walt and his father Elias until his father's death at the age of 82. Walt and Roy did purchase their parents a home in North Hollywood California upon their business success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. After moving in to their beautiful new home Walt's mother Flora complained about their new gas furnace which the repairmen supposedly fixed. Unfortunately Flora died a month after moving in to their new home of asphyxiation caused by the gas furnace fumes at the age of 70. Walt never would discuss the circumstances of his mother's unexpected and unnatural death.

Central to the Disney history is the vision and subsequent construction of Disneyland. A good chunk of this worthy documentary is spent with actual footage of the gradual construction of Disneyland with Walt being front row and center throughout the building -phase and the eventual grand opening on July 17, 1955, on a hot and sweltering day after many of the work crews said it would never be ready for the pre-announced day of Disneyland's grand opening. Walt's perseverance again paid off and with the many dignitaries present, television crews and tens of thousands of visitors the grand opening proceeded as originally planned. Near the end of the documentary there is an unknown person who is mentioned as having irritated Walt by stating that if Walt had chosen to run for the presidency of the United States, he would have won. To which Walt retorted, "Why would I want be President of the United States when I am already King of Disneyland?" Thank you Walt and Roy Disney for such an abundance of fine feature family films, documentaries, and not only the epitome of what an Amusement Park (Disneyland, Disneyworld, family resorts, cruise ships and Epcot Center) and family centric vacation should encompass, but what literally billions of happy paying customers have grown up with through the family generations. The Disney legacy can be summed up in two words…FAMILY VALUES.

Scores a 10 out of 10

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