Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution
Walt Disney is one of the most iconic figures in the Hollywood’s rich history. His name graces not one but two of America’s most famous and beloved theme parks and one of the most powerful companies in the entertainment world today. A number of biographies have been written about the legendary figure as well. Now PBS has added to that number with its own presentation centered on Disney in the form of American Experience: Walt Disney. Considering all that has been presented both on screen and on the printed page over the years, the obvious question that instantly arises here is that of what makes this presentation stand out. What makes this presentation stand out more than anything else is its overall narrative about Disney from his birth and upbringing to his tumultuous life as the head of his company to his unexpected passing. It presents Walt Disney the man and the man behind the myth warts and all. And despite what some might have viewers believe, those behind the presentation didn’t set out with this video bio to belittle and destroy Walt Disney’s reputation. Rather it was to paint a picture of an imperfect man. It is a picture of a man that was driven but at times maybe too driven for his own good. That should be kept in the front of viewers’ minds in watching this episode of American Experience. It is just one part of what makes the new DVD presentation of American Experience well worth the watch now that it is available on DVD. Its overall structure within the confines of its DVD is another reason that viewers will appreciate its presentation here. Its four-hour run time is broken up into two separate two-hour-long segments. Viewers can either watch each segment all the way through, or they can choose at which point they start watching. It might not seem like much, but a more lengthy discussion later will explain just why it is so important. Last but not least is the material used to help advance the story of Disney’s life. More specifically speaking the collective interviews, vintage footage, and pictures help to paint the picture intended by writer/director Sarah Colt and co-writer Tom Jennings. Those collective elements essentially tell Colt and Jennings’ story. They bring everything full circle in this presentation with the end result being a program that proves to be one more of this year’s best new documentaries if not the best of the year’s best. Regardless of where it ends up on any critic’s list it can be said that this latest take on Walt Disney’s life is one that every lover of the film arts and film history should see and should have in his or her own home DVD library. It is yet more proof of exactly why PBS remains today the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television.
American Experience: Walt Disney is one of this year’s best new documentary presentations if not the best of the year’s best. Even with it coming in at a whopping four hours it still proves from beginning to end to be a rich, thorough examination of the life nad legacy of one of the entertainment’s most iconic figures. It presents not just Walt Disney the grandfatherly figure that the world came to know in his most successful years but the man behind the man, too. There are those out there that would like viewers to believe that writer/director Sarah Colt and co-writer Tom Jennings set out with this presentation to paint a negative picture of Walt Disney. But those that take the time to watch the program in whole will find that quite the opposite is the case. What they set out to do was pay homage to a man who while being perhaps too driven for his own good at times, also became a paradigm for the entertainment industry even now in the twenty-first century thanks to that drive. Audiences will be surprised to learn of Disney’s desire not so much to make cartoons but to make–in his own words–art. He was not the type to sit easily on his own laurels because of his drive. He didn’t want to churn out this movie or that movie or this TV show or that one just for the sake of it. He wanted people to take notice. Considering that, one can’t help but wonder what Mister Disney would think of what has become of his beloved studio. Just as interesting is that viewers are presented with a man who despite his intense drive, was a surprisingly vulnerable man, emotionally speaking. That is exhibited upon the death of two of those closest to him. He held in a lot of emotional pain and interestingly enough used that pain to push himself even more. It’s just one more example of why the portrait painted by Colt and Jennings within this presentation is so important to its overall success. Again, it is a portrait of a man who while perhaps flawed in one way, was just as worthy of applause for that drive. For if not for that drive, some of the advances that the movie and TV world have today might have never happened or might not have happened until years beyond when they happened. To that extent, the portrait painted of Walt Disney in this presentation in this presentation is one that is more positive than negative even showing Walt’s les shiny side. And it makes the documentary in whole all the more interesting for audiences, proving yet again why it is so important to the whole of the program.
The portrait of Walt Disney that is painted in this program is not of the shining, grandfatherly figure that so many Americans came to know over the course of their lives and of his. It is a portrait of a man who despite his drive (and because of it) was then and is even today one of the most important figures in the history of both film and television. It is just one part of the program’s whole that make it such an impactful program. The program’s structure in its DVD presentation is just as important to viewers’ enjoyment as the central story. The four-hour-long program is split, on DVD, into two separate two-hour programs. This allows audiences to choose whether they want to start on Disney’s early life or his later years as in the second part. On a more precise level, both Part 1 and Part 2 are given their own separation points, thus letting audiences choose just how precise they want to be in where they begin and end watching Part 1 or Part 2. On the surface, this doesn’t seem all that important. But the reality is quite different. It gives viewers an option that streaming a program such as this one doesn’t give. If viewers have to stop watching a program online and pick it up later, they have to drag and click to find the precise moment where they left off. What’s more, they have to have that access to begin with that allows for streaming. In watching the program on DVD, viewers can start and stop wherever they want without having to scrub through a timing bar. They can just pick a specific scene and if need be fast forward or back up until they reach the given starting point. On yet another level, by having all of these options on DVD, viewers won’t even have to worry about whether or not the program is still available to stream online. Rather they can watch it any time that they want and as much of it as they want. And as of the time of this review’s posting, only the program’s first half is currently available in full. In regards to its second half, only the first chapter of that half is currently available to stream. The rest of Part 2 is seemingly unavailable now. Now having noted all of that, it should be clear by now why even something as simple as a program’s structure in its main menu is just as important as any other part including the case of this deep presentation.
Both the story presented within American Experience: Walt Disney and the program’s overall structure in its DVD presentation are equally important to the success of the program’s viewing experience in their own right. For all of their importance, they are only two-thirds of the whole of what makes this documentary such an interesting presentation. The collective interviews, vintage footage and photographs used to tell the story of Disney’s life and legacy round out the presentation. Throughout the course of the program audiences get to hear from a handful of former Disney employees as well as Disney biographer Neal Gabler, art historian Carmenita Higginbotham, and a number of other academics and professionals. Each interview builds upon the last throughout the course of the program with the end result being a picture of a man who is not so much a mythical figure but an icon even despite his overpowering drive for success. Adding even more depth to that picture are the vintage film clips and pictures used to illustrate the story of Disney’s life and legacy. Viewers get to see Disney’s change over time through that collection of footage and pictures. Also made clearer to viewers is why he changed and why he did just that. From his personal life to his business life, viewers are presented with both sides of Walt Disney from his childhood to his death. The understanding that the footage and pictures provide to viewers leads to a greater appreciation for just who Walt Disney was and for all that he contributed to the world of movies and television that audiences know today. In gaining that new appreciation, viewers will in turn look back on the whole of American Experience: Walt Disney and agree that this episode of PBS’ hit series is, again, one of the best of this year’s new documentaries if not the best of the year’s best. They will also agree in gaining that appreciation that yet again PBS has proven once more why it remains the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television today.
American Experience: Walt Disney is not the first bio on Walt Disney to ever be released. That aside, it still proves in the end to be one of this year’s best new documentaries if not the best of the year’s new offerings in that category. That is because of the rich, deep profile presented throughout the course of its four-hour run time. This includes the stories presented by the program’s interviewees and the collective vintage footage and pictures used to help illustrate those stories. It is also thanks to the program’s structure in its new DVD release. All things considered here, American Experience: Walt Disney proves in whole that it is more than deserving of being called one of this year’s best new documentaries if not the best of the best. It is available now and can be ordered online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/search/index.jsp?kwCatId=&kw=american%20experience%20walt%20disney&origkw=American+Experience+Walt+Disney&sr=1. Audiences can see a preview of the program online now via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPNOBBoZqIo. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online now at:
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