Recently, my sweetheart and I have been on a Disney kick.
Mostly we’ve been visiting the glory days of Walt’s time with films like the original Fantasia, Saludos Amigos, Fun & Fancy Free, Bambi, Melody Time, Mary Poppins, and The Three Caballeros. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the DVD special features, which have all contained a healthy measure of behind-the-scenes materials to fill in the real spirit of the era, living vicariously through the one of the most fertile creative times in film history.
It pains me that I missed all of it.
Walt was gone nearly a decade by the time I hit the world stage, and sure I’ve enjoyed the fruits of those labors since my childhood, but it’s only now that I’m fully appreciating the depth of his accomplishments and what it must have been like to grow up during—or better yet, grow with—the golden age of Disney.
Two recently released documentaries highlight the heyday of the Walt Disney company, and in the past week we have watched them both.
Walt & El Grupo travels with Walt and team as they head to South America on the U.S. dime as part of an outreach goodwill tour during World War II (and just prior to the U.S. entry into the war). The time they spent observing art and culture in countries like Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and others informed much of what they released in the 1940s, but most particularly Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
Flashing ahead twenty years, The Boys chronicles the history of the beloved Sherman brothers, the songwriting team behind so many of Disney’s most beloved songs and films: all of Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, and songs like “It’s A Small World,” and “(There’s A) Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” to name just a few. Their songwriting genius, fueled by Walt’s inspiration and encouragement—and filtered through a dysfunctional brotherly relationship, practically defined the Disney experience for all generations to follow.
The one thing both films have in common is that they effortlessly validate every myth I’ve ever heard about the magical Walt Disney himself. There is little or no direct footage or interviewing with Walt. Instead, he is defined through the eyes of people who worked alongside him or had their lives irrevocably enhanced by whatever chance meetings they had with him.
They speak with utter admiration. They speak with love. They speak with wonder.
There’s no doubt Walt was a savvy businessman—direct when he had to be and hawkish when he needed to be, but his love of art, music, and all creativity was boundless. He was genuinely filled with puckish glee and fed by imaginative ideas; and he built and surrounded himself with a culture that cherished and rewarded all of these things—rare back then, rarer today.
This foray into Disney history has been incredibly inspiring and has driven home the point that I am limited only by my imagination. Truly, everything is possible. For all of us.
We can be more supportive. We can be more encouraging. We can take the time to value more than just our balance statements, our portfolios, our bottom line, our ability to pay the bills. We can change the course of things, with even a single song.
After all, for Walt, it all began with a mouse …