Latin Baby ~ Disney’s Latin America Films


Review – “Walt and El Grupo”
April 26, 2008, 6:26 pm
Filed under: fan stuff, reviews/opinions, saludos amigos | Tags: , ,

I was able to see the new documentary about Disney’s trip to South America, Walt and El Grupo, so I decided to record some of my impressions here.

First of all, the fact that someone cared enough to make this film about such an obscure little topic is marvelous. Also, the number of people from that time they were able to contact and talk to is pretty impressive. As I said before, the film had the backing of the Walt Disney Family Foundation.

Unfortunately, the film spends a lot of time zooming in and out of three-dimensionalized photos. Too much time, in fact. While these scenes made use of some of the great music, they were ultimately a little annoying. I feel like even with the paucity of material available to the filmmakers, they were stretching the said material a little too far.  The film spends the entire 2 hours-plus running time discussing only Brazil (and only Rio de Janeiro at that), Argentina, and Chile.  Nothing concerning the trip after Chile is discussed at all; the rest of Latin America, Mexico, and The Three Caballeros are completely ignored.

While it is very interesting to hear the stories of those involved and their descendants, I feel that the film spends too much time on talking-head interviews that could have been done in voiceover and they don’t seem to be edited down enough. As a documentary about the trip itself rather than the films that came out of it, it’s pretty good. However, it fails a little in that regard because it completely excludes the artists’ trip to countries other than the “ABC” (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile). While those three were perhaps the most important to Saludos Amigos, I felt disappointed that nothing was said of Mexico.

Very few clips from the films were also shown. I understand that the filmmakers probably didn’t want to repeat material used in Saludos or the “Disney South of the Border” documentary, but the few segments used were easily one of the best parts of the film.  Not to say that the filmmakers’ original material isn’t good – one scene in particular involving clips from Aquarela do Brasil was incredible: zooming out from a shot of the Urca nightclub, the film cuts to a live-action shot of the nightclub today.  Several shots of the inside of the now-abandoned and decaying Urca follow, a ghostly echo of a samba song playing….we briefly glimpse the filmed performance of “Carnaval Carioca” on stage superimposed on the scene, which disappears into silence as we see the rest of the club.

Despite all these complaints, I learned a few new and interesting facts from the film, got to see what many of the places Disney visited look like today, and saw some WONDERFUL shots of production artwork I’d never seen before.  As a big fan of Mary Blair’s work, I was very pleased to see lots of her and her husband’s drawings, and to learn that this trip was what drew Disney’s attention and made him hire her.  However, even as a HUGE fan of the Latin America films, I felt that this documentary was both incomplete and a bit lengthy.  Nonetheless, I would recommend it for those who really love Saludos Amigos.  If you don’t, or if you’ve never seen the film, don’t watch this movie, I don’t think you would appreciate it without having seen Saludos beforehand.

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