On November 30th Disney/Buena Vista Entertainment released a trio of documentaries that delved not only into the earliest of Disney’s years but also into the later years that were fret with tension, drama and conflict. Whether it’s Looking at the 80s-90s era Disney with Waking Sleeping Beauty, going back to 1941 with the US asking Walt Disney to be a cultural ambassador to South America in Walt & El Grupo, or moving forward into the 1960’s to see the story of the Sherman Brother’s in The Boys, there’s plenty of history to be drudged up and expounded upon in these documentaries and with each one packing in a great wealth of knowledge, any Disney fan will find themselves with a few less hours left in the day when they get their hands on these documentaries.
Synopsis – Waking Sleeping Beauty
Waking Sleeping Beauty is no fairy tale. It’s a true story about the renaissance that took place between 1984 and 1994 at the fabled Walt Disney Animation Studios and how Disney animation regained its magic with a staggering output of hits including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and more. Available on DVD November 30 from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the 86-minute documentary features the people who were actually there — Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney, John Lasseter and others. Directed by Don Hahn, who produced some of the period’s biggest hits, and produced by Peter Schneider, who led the animation group during this amazing period and later became studio chairman, Waking Sleeping Beauty gives viewers an unprecedented look at the conflict, drama and tension that ushered in a decade of unparalleled Disney creativity.
This documentary is probably the one that hit home most for me, simply because I grew up with the films they talked about in this film. They were and remain today some of my absolute favorite films of all time and watching this documentary reveal all of the tension and turmoil that went on behind the scenes to get these films made was really not only astonishing but highly interesting to me. This second generation of Disney films cranked out some real flops before they got into the groove as the studio was cut up between the newcomers and those that had been there since the early days, creating a bit of tension between the animators at that time. Watching this documentary you realize how many egos and how much self-esteem was gained and destroyed during this time, which makes it all seem so petty—yet at the same time they were generally going directionless without Walt to guide them. It was definitely an interesting time in the company’s life and this documentary paints a very entertaining picture of it all. This is definitely a Recommended documentary to check out.
Synopsis – Walt & El Grupo
Walt & El Grupo: The Untold Adventures — the insightful documentary from Walt Disney Family Foundation Films chronicling a 1941 South American expedition led by Walt Disney and a team of animators, affectionately dubbed “El Grupo” — debuts on DVD November 30 from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Featuring rare candid accounts from the studio’s head and his artists, the documentary illustrates the impact the trip had on American and global culture and brings new perspective to the Disney heritage that continues to inspire the world. In 1941, when the world’s attention was fixed on the growing war, Walt Disney was called upon by the U.S. government to use a film research trip as a way of generating goodwill in South America, a continent the Roosevelt administration was wary of being influenced by Fascism and the Nazis. Walt personally led the expedition, absorbing the culture, befriending local artists and ultimately leading to the production of the classic films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
This film goes down a slightly different route as we’re back to when Walt Disney first began the company. With El Grupo we see Walt actually take on an endeavor himself and the real treat within this documentary is just how much candid and raw footage we see of Walt himself. Whether it’s just the discussion of Walt talking to local artists or merely spreading goodwill, it’s just a really entertaining documentary as it covers the start, duration, and end of the expedition. It’s surprisingly lengthy too at 107 minutes, so there’s plenty of content to watch; sadly it doesn’t have a lot of people directly involved with the expedition itself, although it is directed by the son of one of the “El Grupo” animators that accompanied Walt Disney on the trip. Overall this is a Highly Recommended documentary, both for the subjects as well as the subject matter.
Synopsis – The Boys
November 30 marks the DVD debut of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story, an intriguing documentary about Richard and Robert Sherman, the astoundingly prolific Academy Award®- winning (Mary Poppins, Best Original Song and Best Original Score, 1965) songwriting team. Conceived, produced and directed by two of the songwriters’ sons, the feature-length documentary offers a fascinating and intimate look into the siblings’ relationship throughout much of their unparalleled professional partnership. It also takes audiences behind the scenes of the Hollywood magic factory and offers a rare glimpse of a unique creative process at work. Filmmakers and cousins Gregory V. Sherman and Jeffrey C. Sherman create a unique portrayal of their extremely gifted but very different artist fathers. They explore the brothers’ childhoods, marriages, early careers and close personal and professional relationship with pioneering filmmaker and studio chief Walt Disney.
This one is a bit more disconnected from the Disney’s than the other two as it deals with directly with The Sherman Brothers rather than Walt or Roy. Anyone who has gone over the special features for many of the recent big animated releases have no doubt heard of The Sherman Brothers. While they wrote music for classics like The Jungle Book and Sword in the Stone, they’re best known for the classic songs as sung by Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in the films Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins. This documentary delves into not only their time and life during their tenure working with and at Walt Disney but also goes back into their childhood and marriages. There’s also quite a bit of focus on how Walt himself brought the brothers together closer as he put them together on various projects. All in all this is another Highly Recommended documentary for anyone looking to bone up on Disney lore.
Overall this is a solid and highly entertaining batch of documentaries and you truly cannot go wrong with a single one of them. I’ve been pretty burned out on watching documentaries as of late, but these were so well done and professionally assembled that they were effortless to watch and contained some of the most interesting stories and subject matter I’ve seen in a long time. This is definitely a trio of films not to be missed.
All three films arrive in standard amaray DVD cases with slipcovers adorning the exteriors. Each one of the films contains an exclusive collectible: Waking Sleeping Beauty has “a special replica caricature of a particularly tough Beauty and the Beast story meeting drawn by Kirk Wise,” Walt & El Grupo contains “a historic timeline created by the filmmakers, that parallels key events occurring during World War II and the development of The Walt Disney Studios from 1937 through 1942,” and The Boys has “a replica of the original song sheet for “Tuppence A Bag,” later renamed “Feed the Birds.” This was the first song from Mary Poppins that the Sherman Brothers played for Walt Disney, which became his favorite.”
That’s not all, however—each one of these releases has their own set of extras as well. Starting with Waking Sleeping Beauty:
• Why Wake Sleeping Beauty? Overview featurette
• Deleted Scenes
o Black Friday
o Howard’s Lecture
o Losing Howard
o Recording ‘Part of Your World’
o Research Tips
o To Sir With Love
• The Sailor, the Mountain Climber, the Artist and the Poet – Celebrating Roy Disney, Frank Wells, Joe Ranft and Howard Ashman
• Studio Tours – Personal video footage from animator Randy Cartwright documenting the Animation Studio in 1980, 1983 and 1990
• A Reunion – Rob Minkoff and Kirk Wise
• Walt – What would Walt do? A comparison of Walt’s era and the current era
• Audio Commentary – View the film with commentary by director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider
Next with Walt & El Grupo:
• Audio Commentary — With director Theodore Thomas and historian J.B. Kaufman.
• Photos in Motion — A demonstration showing the technical process of how rare photos from the original trip shared in Walt & El Grupo transcended time and literally came to life for a unique viewing experience.
• From the Director’s Cut
o Home Movies for the Big Screen— The 16mm Kodachrome footage shot by El Grupo was originally intended to be reference material. With the making of Saludos Amigos and The
Three Caballeros after the trip, these “home movies” took on unexpected importance.
o My Father’s Generation— The return voyage from South America on the SS Santa Clara is the setting to understand some of the remarkable qualities of the Disney group and their generation. Cecilia Acle, daughter of a Chilean passenger, and Cindy Garcia, daughter of Disney story man Ted Sears, tell the story.
o Artists and Politicians— In a return to the Urca Casino, conductor and music historian Roberto Gnattali reflects on the golden age of the samba and the Brazilian government at the time.
• SALUDOS AMIGOS —The original release from 1942 is one of the films inspired by Walt & El Grupo’s trip.
• Original Theatrical Trailers
o Saludos Amigos
o The Three Caballeros
And finally The Boys:
• Why They’re “The Boys”—Through interviews with friends and co-workers from throughout the years, learn why Bob and Richard Sherman are called “The Boys.”
• Disney Studios in the ’60’s —Take a look at the era of the legendary studio when the Sherman Brothers were under contract and part of the life and culture of a creative playground of animators, filmmakers and producers.
• Casting Mary Poppins — Learn how Julie Andrews got the part of Mary Poppins from the point of view of Bob and Richard and those who know them.
• The Process — Join Richard Sherman for a look at the Brothers’ song writing process.
• Theme Parks — In addition to composing scores for many classic Disney movies, the Sherman Brothers also wrote many popular songs for Disney theme parks. Learn how they went about composing a song for rides such as “It’s a Small World.”
• Roy Williams — Roy Williams was a Disney animator who had an office right next to the Brothers. Through Roy’s artwork, stories are shared about what it was like to work in the Animation Building in the 1960’s.
• Bob’s Art — In addition to being an amazing lyricist, Bob Sherman’s other passion is painting. Here he shares his inspiration.
• Celebration — A collection of testimonials from celebrities and Hollywood legends who share their experiences about the Sherman Brothers, this piece earned “The Boys” a special honor from the President of the United States.
• Sherman Brothers’ Jukebox — This collection of Sherman Brothers songs — and stories behind the songs — provides a unique look into their extensive careers.
o “Chim Chim Cher-ee”
o “Feed the Birds”
o “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”
o “Jolly Holiday”
o “Up, Down and Touch The Ground”
o “A Spoonful of Sugar,” performed on the guitar by Laurence Juber
o “Ugly Bug Ball”
As clearly evidenced these are certainly not discs that were skimped on—they’re fully loaded and will take you quite a bit of time to finish even after you watch the documentaries the first time around. Each one has a full length commentary and a great multitude of extras on top of that, so not only are the documentaries well worth checking out, so are the extras. I was surprised by how much more I gleaned from the extras; I thought the documentaries were already quite thorough, but I was proven wrong.
All in all this is a Must Own trio of documentaries for any Disney fan. At first I thought I’d only watch them once, but with so many extras it’s kind of hard not to go back and watch it again after you watch everything—there’s a lot of good stuff packed away on these discs and they’ll certainly bring a smile to any Disney fan’s face.
Waking Sleeping Beauty, Walt & El Grupo, and The Boys are now available on DVD.