It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Looking back, Walt Disney felt that 1941 was the worst year of his life. He felt betrayed when his animators went on strike and forced him to shut down the new studio he'd just built with the profits from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio" and "Fantasia." As labor negotiations dragged on, Disney did what no other Hollywood studio chief would have done. He packed his wife and 16 important employees on an airplane and embarked on a goodwill tour of South America.
In large part because of Mickey Mouse, Disney had become the world's most beloved Hollywood moviemaker since Chaplin. He'd been asked to make the tour by President Roosevelt, who, on the brink of war, was alarmed by Nazi inroads on the continent. Walt took the trip partly for patriotic reasons, and partly, I suspect, to get out of Dodge. The employees he took along (dubbed "El Grupo") weren't mostly executives but creative talent; he hoped they'd get ideas for new films while on tour. Included was Frank Thomas, one of "The Nine Old Men" credited with the brilliance of Disney's early animated features. Now, 68 years later, Frank's son Theodore has written and directed this labor of love, "Walt & El Grupo," a documentary about that trip.
No other Hollywood studio has maintained the same corporate continuity since the day it was founded, and Disney is unparalleled in its archives. Long before firm preservation became fashionable, Walt made sure that the studio's work was guarded like the family jewels. The result: No other studio could produce historical treasure like this from its vaults.
To begin with, there is the footage shot on the trip: Black-and-white documentary records of El Grupo undertaking what was then not a commonplace journey (they left Miami by a Pan American seaplane). The continent was all new to them. The costumes, the music, the folklore, the cities, the fabulous nightclub shows of Buenos Aires. In 1941, the globe was still immense, and electronic media hadn't started to shrink it.