Monday, January 17, 2011

3 great DVD's for Disney fans and historians

I recently purchased and watched three DVD's on three different times in the history of the Disney Company. In chronological order they are Walt & El Grupo, The Boys - the Sherman brothers' story, and Waking Sleeping Beauty. Anyone interested in the history of the Disney Company will be well served by one or all of these DVD's.

The first of the three is Walt & El Grupo.

In the years before World War II, The Walt Disney Studios was facing a crisis. Union organizer Herb Sorrell was trying to get Walt's employees to unioninze. Though Walt had agreed to allowing a vote, Sorrell insisted that Disney agree to let his artists sign with him - without a vote - or he would call an immediate strike against the studio. Walt refused, and a strike was indeed called. Walt was dispirited and at a low point in his life. He felt betrayed.

At the same point in time, FDR asked Walt if he would undertake a good-will tour of South America, with the purpose of attempting to swing certain countries who might be leaning towards the Nazis into becoming allies of the U.S. in the war that was certain to come.

At first Walt declined the request, but when the government agreed to sponsor it as research for a film project, and then further subsidize the film, guaranteeing the studio a profit, Walt agreed. He took his wife and a collection of artists from the studio, leaving his brother Roy to oversee the settlement of the strike at the studio. Among the talent he brought with him were a number whom we have come to know today as classic Disney artists. Frank Thomas and Mary Blair are two who come to mind. In fact, it is interesting to note that the Mary Blair style that she came to be known for actually developed during this tour.

While in South America they visited Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. In these days before pagers or cell phones, the artists would often sit in the hotel lobby waiting for their assignments for the day. When Walt would call with those assignments, a staff member would go to the lobby and call for "el grupo Disney" which produced the nickname of El Grupo.

The story is told by family members reading from the letters that the members of El Grupo sent home to friends and family, as well as through home movies, Disney produced movie clips, photos, and the sketches made by the artists at the time.

The tour eventually produced two Disney features - Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

In addition to all the usual extras you would expect to find on a DVD of this nature, you also have the original 1943 release of Saludos Amigos.

The next in the trio is The Boys - the Sherman brothers' story.

When you think of Disney music you could think of Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, if you are old enough. If not you may think of Howard Ashman, Alan Menkin, Tim Rice or Phil Collins.

However, the most prolific team when it comes to Disney music is without a doubt The Sherman Brothers, Robert and Richard.

The Boys is a DVD about that duo. Sons of Tin Pan Alley songwriter, Al Sherman, they started writing songs when their dad challenged them to make some money by writing and selling their first song. (It was recorded by Gene Autrey.)

This DVD is not only the history of their partnership, but of their stormy personal relationship. Though they created so many wonderful songs, including the totally ubiquitous It's a Small World, their own relationship with each other was never as close as you may have thought. This DVD explores why and where that relationship has gone.

The bonus features on this DVD are as interesting as the main feature, and includes a "jukebox" of some of their songs in which they talk a bit about the creation of each.

It was produced by Greogory and Jeffrey Sherman, each the son of one of the brothers. It is fascinating viewing.

The final DVD is Waking Sleeping Beauty.
This is the story of how the Disney Animation group was in such disregard by the company at the time Michael Eisner and Frank Wells were brought in to run Disney, that they were kicked out of the Animation Building and the Disney Studio itself and banished to Glendale.

This DVD documents the rise and fall of Jeffrey Katzenberg as on his watch, this almost abandoned part of the Walt Disney company regains its footing and re-establishes itself as the once proud production company that it once was under Walt himself.

We see how the studio went from the disaster that was The Black Cauldron to the successes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Alladin, and the Lion King to regain the prestige that it once had.

But it also shows a bit of the inner workings of the company at the time, and it is not always the nice, sanitized Disney story that we are usually presented.

Anyone interested in Disney history will be well served by this DVD.

All three of these DVD's are available through and can be accessed by clicking the ads which accompany the descriptions. If you decide to purchase any of the DVD's spoken about here, please do so through the above ads and help support this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Those sound awesome! My DH loves stuff like that! Thanks Mark!