Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Disney South of the Border

Not the Co. today, but the Man sixty-eight years ago:.

"Walt & El Grupo" is the best kind of labor of love. A documentary made with affection and intelligence, it looks at a brief episode in the life of a cultural icon and uses it to illuminate what turns out to be a telling moment in time ...

Disney's South American trip turned out to be the rare goodwill tour that actually created goodwill. It's fascinating to see and hear, more than half a century later, how excited everyone was to have him visit, especially the schoolchildren in Uruguay who were given a half day off from school.

Disney's trip not only created time and space to settle the [Disney Studio] strike, it provided inspiration for such films as "Saludos Amigos" and "The Three Caballeros." And it revolutionized the lives of numerous people, including Disney artist Mary Blair, who completely altered her style to great success, and Brazilian composer Ary Barroso, whose career got a huge boost when Disney heard him play and said, "this is the music I want." ...

The '41 trip came along at an opportune time. The studio artists' labor action was dragging on, and the studio was struggling financially because big foreign markets had dried up. (Adolph Hitler had grabbed himself a lot of temporary real estate and put most of Europe out of reach to Disney cartoons,) As Grupo's director Theodore Thomas says:

"There was an awful lot riding on the success of this trip, both in terms of helping Walt find his creative bearings again and also in terms of providing a financial lifeline."

The research trip to Latin America was paid for by the government. Disney's contract also called for the production of 12 short films culled from the trip.

"The finances of the film were the typical go get a loan at the bank ... But the bank was kind of wary of Disney having such a huge debt and then going off to make films about Latin America. The Rockefeller agency said not to worry, if the films don't make back their budget we will guarantee the loan of the banks."

With the world at war and the tail end of the Depression still lashing working stiffs (unemployment hovered at 10%), it was a tough time. Happily, the guvmint was there to assist the Diz Co. in staying afloat until peace and prosperity returned.


Anonymous said...

It's not like Disney had am outrageous sweetheart deal. The guvmint was spending money like crazy in many domestic businesses for the war effort. And it kept them afloat.

That's the stimulus package that finally shooed away the depression and should have been done much earlier to spare a lot of misery.

But I remember reading in someone's book that Disney got a lot of negative PR for wanting to actually collect on some government contract. People thought he should be doing the war work for free.

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