The fine (and rough) details of Walt Disney’s influential life may still be something of a mystery to even those who recognize him by last name only.

But that could change after a viewing of the two-part, two-day PBS documentary, American Experience: Walt Disney. Premiering tonight and tomorrow night, director Sarah Colt and executive producer Mark Samels’ four-hour examination of The Man — and therefore The Brand — offers rare archival footage alongside the iconic scenes from animated and live-action projects most of us already know well.

American Experience: Walt Disney also features conversations with animators and artists, including Rolly Crump, Ruthie Tompson, Bob Givens, Don Lusk, and Floyd Norman, the latter now the subject of his own documentary, An Animated Life.

In this exclusive clip from the documentary provided to Cartoon Brew, film historians and animation legend Bob Givens discuss the Disney studio’s growth and advances during the production of the 1930s Silly Symphonies series:

The chain-smoking perfectionist’s pioneering construction of Disneyland, and creation of the timeless Mickey Mouse, fall under American Experience’s time-traveling microscope. So too do Disney’s strike-busting and Red-scaring activities, most memorably in his performance before the shameless House Un-American Activities Committee. Those aren’t the strands of Disney’s often checkered past that audiences are going to see in other biographically focused Disney brandings, from big-ticket Disney-produced hagiographies like Saving Mr. Banks to indie soaps like Walt Before Mickey.

Nevertheless, even American Experience’s history lesson has been called inadequately short by animation historian (and Cartoon Brew co-founder) Jerry Beck. “The war, the strike and the South American tour are given the short shrift,” Beck writes, and “there is barely a mention of Dumbo, or of important stepping stone productions in the Silly Symphonies series.”

So now it’s your turn. After you watch the documentary, come back and tell the rest of the animation community how you feel about it? Does the documentary get all its facts right? Do you feel it accurately represents Walt Disney — both the man and the artist? What were your favorite parts and what was left out? Let us know your thoughts!

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