Saturday, January 29, 2011

Disney Documentaries Divert the Dream and Delves into Depression

I am a big Disney fan, and love many things that come out of that company: the Parks, the movies, the channel, and other things, too. Recently I heard about three documentaries that were coming out that were about topics not usually discussed among Disney: one was about Walt Disney's goodwill trip to South America in the 1940s, another was about the time in Disney Animation between 1984-1994, and the third was about the life of the Sherman brothers. All three of these were hailed by critics, so that interested me even more. A Disney documentary that was receiving good press like that? I had to check it out.

Luckily all three came out on DVD at the same time in December (and also appeared OnDemand with Comcast), so I was able to watch all three. And man, these are not your normal Disney fluff, that's for sure. This is all about the happy times, but also about the sad times too.

I am happy that people thought these were good topics to present, before it got too far out of people's minds. I say this in particular for the Sherman brothers' story - both of the "Boys" are in their 80s now, and to hear their story out of both of their mouths was amazing.

I enjoyed all these movies, but all three left me with a slightly sour taste. When one feeds on Disney for too long, it is kind of difficult to see that there is reality behind the dreams and fantasy.

Let's start with Waking Sleeping Beauty, which chronicles Disney Animation from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. The Disney movies that came out of this time (especially the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King) really helped shape my childhood. I thought this movie would talk more about how those movies were developed, the voice actors, how the characters were shaped, and so on.

Instead, most of the movie talked about the power struggle between Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy E. Disney. With each triumph, those three had to ruin it with their quest to be top dog in Disney Animation. And left in the wake of their storm was all the poor animators and directors and producers who just wanted to make good movies.

I was really hoping to enjoy this movie - and when the movie focused on the animators and the goofy stuff that happens, it was enjoyable. It was too bad that the height of the animation had to have so much negativity going on in the background.

I watched Walt and El Groupo during Christmas vacation, and that movie had lots of fun aspects. It was fun to watch, especially since I had, in the past eight months, watched Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. They showed how parts of those movies were inspired by the travels that Disney did with his animators.

Yes, the trip was basically a goodwill trip so that South America wouldn't join the Nazis, but it seemed like the welcome parties from all the countries involved were very willing to show Walt and his crew the fantastic parties that they could throw.

I liked listening to the letters that the animators' children read in the documentary, and I also liked seeing the real-life inspirations side-by-side with the animation that was used.

The saddest part was at the end, when it turns out that this big research trip churned out very little results. They set it up for this big triumph, then at the end the South Americans interviewed said that very little of the research was used in the movie.

It was nice seeing lots of video of Walt Disney, though. It made me want a bigger documentary out there featuring just Walt. I'm going to have to look that up...

The final movie I just watched tonight. It's about the Sherman brothers, and it's called The Boys. Out of the three documentaries, this was the best one, in my opinion.

The son of each brother got together and documented the lives of their fathers and their careers spanning their entire lives. Both Dick and Bob Sherman are still alive, and it chronicles how these two men who did so much together now live halfway around the world from each other and don't speak to each other any more.

When they were honored with a window on Main Street in Disneyland last year, I was really confused why only Dick Sherman was at the special ceremony they had. But watching this, it helped me to understand it a little better, but was still sad. To see two brothers feel like they had no connection with each other is very depressing. I have brothers and can't fathom how they would just choose not to be around each other.

That said, the movie is not just about the fall of their relationship. It also shows the thousands of songs that these two brothers wrote together. I had no idea how many songs they wrote for Disney and for other companies, too! They showed clips of the movies, they showed Dick pounding the song on the piano, they showed Bob and Dick kind of "composing" together, and they interviewed singers and other Disney honchos. The mood was far lighter than I thought it was going to be, but still, at the end I was sad.

I am still happy that Disney is willing to put out movies like this that pull back the curtain on what's going on while they're making the magic. To me, it was quite the eye opener. If you are curious about any of the events that are chronicled in these movies, I would urge you strongly to see these movies. They are very well made and have different effects that enhance the movies more than usual.

Just be prepared to suspend your infallible Disney beliefs for a few hours.

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