In 1941, on the eve of America’s entry into WWII, Franklin Roosevelt asked Walt Disney to embark on a goodwill tour of South America.
Disney spent nine weeks visiting three countries that Adolf Hitler was actively courting, taking a herd of artists and animators (“El Grupo”) along and winning at least a few hearts and minds in every place he visited. In Walt & El Grupo, Theodore Thomas—son of the star Disney animator Frank Thomas—mines a treasure trove or archival footage and retraces the group’s journey, step by fascinating step. The film isn’t exactly hard-hitting: A strike at the Disney studio gets short shrift, and Disney’s ever-present cigarette (which earned this documentary its PG rating) is the most damning thing you’ll see in regard to the man himself. But the footage, the music, and the behind-the-scenes glimpses of Disney at work are extraordinary.
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