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Theodore Thomas
Janet Lansburgh
Writing Credits:
Theodore Thomas

For ten weeks in 1941, Walt Disney, his wife Lilly, and sixteen colleagues from his studio visited nations in Latin America to gather story material for a series of films with South American themes. The feature documentary film Walt & El Grupo uses this framing device to explore inter-American relations, provide a rare glimpse into the artists who were part of the magic of Disney’s “golden age” and give an unprecedented look at the 39 year-old Walt Disney during one of the most challenging times of his entire life.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$6.059 thousand on 3 screens.
Domestic Gross
$17.635 thousand.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 11/30/2010

• Audio Commentary with Director Theodore Thomas and Historian JB Kaufman
• “Photos in Motion”
• “From the Director’s Cut”
Saludos Amigos Original 1943 Release
• Trailers
• Sneak Peeks
• Collectible Disney Timeline


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Walt & El Grupo: The Untold Adventures (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 7, 2010)

Connected to the Roosevelt administration’s “Good Neighbor Policy”, Walt Disney and various colleagues went to a variety of South American countries. While US desires to shore up relations with southern neighbors – and help fend off communistic or fascistic tendencies – launched this journey, Disney himself agreed partially for financial reasons.

With the advent of World War II in 1939, Disney lost access to the European film market. In need of new avenues, Walt was eager to branch out as much as possible so this South American trek seemed likely to produce new cinematic material for the studio – material that would hopefully appeal to the South American audience.

All of this gets documented in 2010’s Walt & El Grupo, an examination of the trip. It shows the financial pressures on Disney due to the war in Europe and a strike at his studios. It then goes into the decision to take the “goodwill tour” and we follow Disney and his crew as they trek through Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Across the program, we hear from animation historians JB Kaufman and John Canemaker, Disney artist Blaine Gibson, Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller, composer Charles Wolcott’s widow Harriett and daughyers Sheila and Marsha, writer Jim Brodero’s daughter Lydia, animator Frank Thomas’s widow Jeanette, Brazilian historian Leticia Pinheiro, writer Ted Sears’ daughter Cindy, performer Ankito, colleague Harriet Burns, Maria Elisa Byington, composer Braguinha’s daughter Maria Cecilia, composer Ary Barroso’s son Flavio and daughter Mariuzo, producer/director Larry Lansburgh and publicist Janet Martin’s son Brian and granddaughter Janet, Juan Carlos Portas, Alvear Palace Hotel PR rep Mali Legarreta, dancer Miguel “Tachuela” Gramajo, journalist Hugo Rocha, Museum of Caricature curator Marcelo Nino, cartoonist Guillermo Guerrero, Faruk and Cecilia Palacio¸ Miguel and Elizabeth O’Farrell, writer Lee Blair and art supervisor Mary Blair’s son Kevin, history graduate student Juan Carlos Gonzalez, and filmmaker Jorge Delano’s son Jorge.

As a minor Disney buff, I knew a little about this South American jaunt, and I looked forward to the opportunity to get more info about this era. At its start, Grupo shows promise, as it digs into the roots of the project and the impact of the strike. Its format also boasts good potential; we get much of the narration from the letters of the Disney staff, so those provide a “you are there” feel.

If only they had some interesting thoughts to present. For the most part, Grupo feels like a very long travelogue. It takes us around to various locations, as the participants share bland thoughts about their experiences. It seems like they ate, danced and drank a lot, but it’s hard to come up with many real insights.

Perhaps that’s really all there was to the adventure; I don’t mean to imply that Grupo obscures juicy details. Perhaps it does – the show glosses over aspects of the strike – but it’s also possible that there just isn’t a whole lot of interest to say about the South American trip.

This I know to be true: if anything particularly interesting did occur, Grupo doesn’t tell us about it. Actually, that’s a bit unfair, as it occasionally throws out an enjoyable anecdote here or there, and we get some minor basics about influences on later Disney films Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros.

But boy, are these useful tidbits few and far between. It’s only been a few minutes since the film ended, and I’m already finding it difficult to think of fun facts I gleaned from Grupo, at least after its opening. When the film covers the events that led to the trip, it throws out some good material. Once Walt and associates actually leave the US, though, it turns dull.

Parts of its format don’t help, as Grupo makes it a chore to know who the interview subjects are. Oh, it always tells us their names, but it often fails to let us know anything more than that. As I watched, I had to constantly stop the movie to look up the roles of the various participants. The filmmakers either expect that you’ll know who the different people are – or that we’ll just assume identities and that’ll be good enough. It’s not, and it creates a nearly constant level of frustration as we wonder who these folks are.

In truth, Grupo would have been better served as a DVD extra, and one that used a different format. The film comes with lots of intriguing art and stills. If those had appeared as a gallery, they’d be fun to see. Unfortunately, to check them out, we have to sit through a long, not particularly interesting travelogue.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Walt & El Grupo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film came with a decent but not scintillating transfer.

Of course, the nature of the program restricted its visual impact, largely due to the presence of so much archival material. I didn’t factor those elements into my grade, as they were too up and down to become a fair part of the assessment. These components looked acceptable but didn’t show great clarity, and they came with the expected array of flaws.

As for the material shot specifically for Grupo, it looked generally fine but no better. Sharpness seemed adequate. The shots lacked any significant softness, but they also failed to display great clarity. No prominent issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. For the new footage, source flaws failed to become a factor, though some artifacting appeared.

Colors tended to be somewhat dull. The new material used a natural palette, but the hues lacked much life. Skin tones could be a bit pink, and the colors were generally pretty ordinary. Blacks were reasonably dark, while shadows were decent. The transfer seemed acceptable for this kind of film but no better than that.

Similar thoughts greeted the subdued Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of El Grupo. Music dominated the soundscape, as the various South American tunes showed good stereo presence. They also spread to the surrounds in a bubbly manner that opened up the spectrum well. In terms of effects, a few elements such as waves used the five channels, but usually they stayed in the front and focused on general ambience. Music and speech remained the focus of the track.

Audio quality was good. Dialogue seemed concise and natural, with no edginess or other issues. Music appeared peppy and vibrant, while effects demonstrated positive clarity and accuracy, even if they didn’t have much to do. Though low-key, the mix suited the material.

The DVD includes a nice array of extras. We launch with an audio commentary from director Theodore Thomas and historian JB Kaufman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of the film’s creation and the events it depicts.

Like Grupo itself, this never becomes a particularly fascinating piece, but it does help flesh out areas involved in the movie. We get some good historical context, and we learn more about the various participants. The track adds much needed background and allows us to better understand the topics and the people we see. It also gets better as it goes; after a slow start, it turns into a useful exploration of the movie.

A featurette called Photos in Motion goes for two minutes, 45 seconds. Narrated by Theodore Thomas, we see a montage of photos and hear about how they were used in the movie. It becomes a moderately interesting discussion of the flick’s visual techniques and choices.

Cut sequences show up under From the Director’s Cut. This includes three scenes: “Home Movies for the Big Screen” (2:09), “My Father’s Generation” (2:17) and “Artists and Politicians” (3:51). With comments from Kaufman, “Screen” looks at the use of 16mm footage shot by the members of the Disney crew – and the recreation of some elements for Saludos Amigos.

For “Generation”, Cecilia Acle – daughter of a Chilean passenger – and Disney storyman Ted Sears’ daughter Cindy Garcia discuss the boat journey taken by the Disney crew. Finally, “Politicians” looks at arts in Brazil during the period as well as the trip’s impact on Disney; it features Kaufman and conductor/music historian Roberto Gnattali. All three are good clips, and better than much of the material in the final flick. “Screen” seems especially interesting; I don’t know why these failed to make the cut.

Perhaps the best bonus feature provides the original 1943 release of Saludos Amigos. Previously available on its own, here we get the entire movie – including some shots of Goofy that were altered in the 2000 DVD.

Originally, Goofy smoked in one scene; the DVD changed that to eliminate his puffing. The version here restores the Goof’s nicotine fix, and that makes me happy. Saludos is a pretty insubstantial film, but it’s charming enough, and it’s a great addition to this set. It’s certainly nice to finally get an unaltered edition of the film.

The disc opens with promos for The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story and Waking Sleeping Beauty. Under Sneak Peeks, we also get ads for DisneyNature: African Cats, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, D23.com, Bambi, and The Lion King. We also find trailers for Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros.

Finally, the package includes a Collectible Disney Timeline. This foldout insert starts in 1937 and follows the significant events at Disney and during World War II through the August 1942 release of Saludos Amigos. It’s a decent addition to the set.

I hoped – and expected - Walt & El Grupo to tell a fascinating tale of Disney’s South American adventure. Instead, I got a pretty boring travelogue that reveals little in the way of interesting information. The DVD comes with average picture and sound but compensates with a few strong supplements.

Indeed, those bonus materials will likely make Grupo a hot purchase for Disney buffs, as it offers the only DVD release of the unedited Saludos Amigos. If that’s worth the purchase price for you, then go for it; just don’t expect to get much from the main program.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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