When I heard that PBS was showing a two-part, four-hour long documentary about the man, I was like, “Yessssssssss!”
Now, I’ve seen the Disney produced doc, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth and I’ve read several books about him. (Read all about my favorite book here: The Best of Walt’s Biographies). They’re all good.
The PBS doc started last night, and I can’t wait to finish it. It’s overly dramatic and I’ve found a couple things so far that contradict other things I’ve learned: 1) The PBS show claims it was Walt Disney’s idea to change the name of the studio from Disney Bros. to Walt Disney studio, thus removing Roy from the title. I understood it to be Roy’s suggestion in the first place. 2) PBS claims Walt came back from New York on the train after loosing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit depressed and discouraged. It says that he then got together with some of his closest collaborators and came up with Mickey Mouse. The story has always been that he was utterly disappointed on the train ride home (and he had a right to be!) but still he telegrammed his brother:
LEAVING TONIGHT STOPPING OVER KC ARRIVE HOME SUNDAY MORNING SEVEN THIRTY DON’T WORRY EVERYTHING OK WILL GIVE DETAILS WHEN ARRIVE — WALT
(I love that telegram! It shows the unbridled optimism that made Walt Walt.) During the ride home, Walt himself came up with a cute little mouse, called Mortimer. His wife suggested Mickey was a better name and history was made!
PBS also likes pointing out the character flaws present within the man. His short temper, workaholic attitude, and poor management style, especially concerning the strike in the 40s. Dramatic music plays and they make him out to be a thoughtless jerk. (And TBH, he could have made a few better choices.) But this also needs to be seen in the context of the era he was living in. We can’t compare Hollywood today to Hollywood of the 40s. They’re very different. As of night one, the documentary has not touched on the rumors of racism (which are false), anti-Semitism (which are also false), and communist sympathizing (which also are false) and I really hope they don’t!
Nevertheless, the documentary does at least briefly mention some of these amazing Disney achievements:
- First sound cartoon – Steamboat Willie (1928)
- First color cartoon – Flowers and Trees (1932)
- First use of the multiplane camera – The Old Mill (1937)
- First full-length animated feature – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- First stereophonic sound use – Fantasia (1940)
- First theme park (of its kind) – Disneyland (1955)
- Most Academy Award nominations (59)
- Most Academy Award wins (22)
- Most Academy Awards won in a single year (4)
I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, warts and all, and I look forward to Part 2!