If you’ve ever seen the classic Disney films The Three Caballeros or Saludos Amigos, you undoubtedly recognize them as a marked departure from typical Disney fare. Out of context, they seem like a random foray to South America with Donald Duck acting as a tour guide, but in fact they represented a U.S. Government sponsored goodwill mission which called upon Walt Disney to act as a cultural ambassador to South America. Working with a group of handpicked artists (a.k.a. El Grupo), Disney embarked upon a personal and professional journey that resulted in two classic animated films and something far more important: goodwill in the midst of World War II.
Packed with footage from the 1940s and featuring interviews with El Grupo insiders and Disney family members, Walt & El Grupo is an in-depth look at a fascinating moment in studio history. The documentary serves as a historical slice of life, giving us a glimpse of South America in the 1940s as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes insight into this flurry of creativity and cultural education. It’s interesting fare for what it is, but be forewarned that the content might not be entirely universal. If you have no memory of that time period and little interest in the inner workings of Walt Disney Studios, this may not be the documentary for you.
Extra features include audio commentary with director Theodore Thomas and historian J.B. Kaufman, home movies shot by El Grupo, the original theatrical trailers for Saludos Amigos and Tres Caballeros (as well as Saludos Amigos itself), and the featurettes “Photos in Motion”, “My Father’s Generation”, and “Artists and Politicians”.