I just saw Ted Thomas’ feature Walt and El Grupo that just had its world premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It is a documentary about Walt and some of his staff on a goodwill tour of South America in 1941 that occurred during the strike at the studio. It provides an excellent account of why the tour happened and what resulted from the adventure. The story is told using interviews of Latin Americans and relatives of the people who went, footage from Disney TV shows about the trip, lots of still photographs, art work created on the trip, 16mm “home movies” shot by the people who went (often hand held footage and probably shot on Kodachrome film so the colors are still excellent), newspaper coverage that sometimes included grim reminders of the coming war on the same page as a photo of Walt, plus lots of modern footage. One nice design element is Ted uses lots of well registered dissolves between modern color and historic b/w photos often set to charming music. John Canemaker and J. B. Kaufman do a valuable job provided historical details/background information. The documentary has some really important material in it, but it does drag at times. I’m not sure of the length, but it seemed like it lasted about 2 hours.
Walt and El Grupo is really is an impressive accomplishment and provides a great deal of information about the trip, plus rarely talked about details about Disney’s studio and Walt before, during and after the strike. The all too brief segment on Mary Blair is one of many excellent highlights. It also has some interesting comments by people in South America about the films that resulted from the trip (mostly favorable, but…). I hope ASIFA-Hollywood can present it with Ted present, and eventually all Cartoon Brew readers can see it soon on a big screen at a film festival. I assume Disney will eventually release it on DVD; Ted’s earlier work includes the important feature length documentary Frank and Ollie.