So… I watched all four hours of the American Experience: Walt Disney from PBS.
From my perspective, it had a number of issues. Perhaps none more striking than this – You cannot begin to know the man who was Walt Disney in four hours of television. Any more than you can do so in spending a few hours wandering through the galleries of the Walt Disney Family Museum. There is a great deal of information, some of it still coming to light, almost 50 years after the man passed away.
For those of us who admire what this man accomplished, we know this well. Walt had many successes and failures in his life; some more prominent than others. Yet he was always looking for the next challenge. He did not dwell on what happened before. He just moved forward.
Maybe the best illustration of that came from his daughter, Diane. She once shared how during Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary events, Bob Iger was incredibly proud of the return of the Oswald The Lucky Rabbit property to the Walt Disney Company. Diane had no idea what he meant, primarily because Walt had never mentioned Oswald to her. It had a big impact in his life at the time. Yet it was something in his past that he had moved on from and did not dwell on.
Trying to put Walt (or anyone) under the microscope today and analyze his actions of the past through society today is an exercise fraught with peril. The man lived in different times and was shaped by experiences that do not apply now. Perhaps the most telling of anything is that Walt didn’t give up. Many people faced with similar challenges do just that. Some never get over those experiences. But he didn’t. He was always looking ahead.
And that is what I suggest to you. Seek out more about Walt. There are plenty of great stories to be heard. Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum and spend the day moving from gallery to gallery following a story through them. If you want to see a television program, I suggest “Walt Disney: The Man Behind The Myth”. Interviews with people who worked with Walt help offer a good view of who he really was.
And the book that accompanied the video is another great read. As are the books of J.B. Kaufman on the South American trip, the productions of Snow White and Pinocchio. As is Tom Sito’s “Drawing The Line”, for a good look at union’s in film and television animation. (There is a subject worth investigating for an episode of “American Experience”. Union activity in Hollywood wasn’t simple or pretty. And has implications that continue to this day.) Didier Ghez has produced some wonderful books – Walt’s People – with interviews with a great cross section of Disney employees, and he has many other titles that offer subjects worth a read. And there are a great many other books out there by people who knew Walt, such as those by Rolly Crump, Jack Lundquist and Marty Sklar.
Oddly enough, a sentiment from a Disney film may come closest to summing up how I feel about this most recent documentary. “When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.”