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Sunday, October 26, 2008

At the Rome Film Fest: 'Walt & El Grupo'

I was totally confused about how (and whether) my credentials would allow me to see a movie here in Rome... so I wound up sitting in the rush line for 'Walt & El Grupo,' a documentary about Walt Disney's trip to South America in 1941. After about ten minutes there, a nice fellow came up and handed me an extra ticket, so I went in.

The film was made by Ted Thomas, son of the great Disney animator Frank Thomas, and he was in the house to introduce his film. Last night was its European debut.

What I liked best about the movie was its jaunty Latin American soundtrack and its sense of context: 1941 was a difficult time for Walt and his studio... with war raging in Europe, his income from the continent was sagging...his animators were on strike...and he "partnered" with the U.S. Department of State to go on an all-expenses-paid goodwill tour of South America. The trip was part diplomatic mission (to persuade South American countries to align with the U.S. and not Germany), and part a voyage to collect new material for his cartoons (resulting in 'Saludos Amigos' and 'The Three Caballeros,' among other films).

But the movie ends up feeling too much like an itinerary-based family slide show... "First we went to Argentina, and here's what we did..." Since none of the trip's participants are still alive (or at least none who were interviewed for the film), you never get to know them very well. As a result, the film suffers from a major personality void.

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