Walt Disney: The Man, The Magic, The Movies, The American Experience


As school bells sound the start of the fall semester, I reflect fondly on my recent classroom experience this past summer teaching a class that has become affectionately known as the “Wonderful World of Disney Animated Movies” at La Salle University in Philadelphia.  This class affords me the opportunity to blend my passion for teaching with “all-Disney-all-the-time.”  Mind you I have been teaching this class for a number of years during summer sessions but it was not an easy sell to the administration which thought it was nothing more than “a Mickey Mouse class.” Which proved my point exactly, that it was more than Mickey Mouse, it was about Walt Disney, the man, the magic and the movies.

One of the first things that I find amazing when teaching this class is that many college students are not aware of just who Walt Disney was or his contributions to the entertainment industry and society.  They may have heard the name, seen a Disney movie or paid a visit to Disney World or Disneyland but many admit they do not think that Walt was a real person.  Rather they think of him as a corporate symbol or icon right up there with Ronald Mc Donald, Mr. Clean and the Michelin Man.

So it is a no brainer to incorporate into the class documentaries like “Walt: The Man Behind the Myth” from 2001 and “The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story” from 1999.  It is then they have that “AH-HA” moment when they realize Walt Disney is more than a name of a theme park, a company or a motion picture studio.

For my students and those who are looking to learn more about Walt, hopefully this year and next will offer them the opportunity to see a few new movie projects that will put Walt’s name front and center again.

The first movie “As Dreamers Do,” is an independent dramatic project from Vision Films on the early life of Walt Disney.  The movie had its premiere on May 13th in Franklin, Tennessee and will be available On Demand and Streaming on September 1st and for purchase on DVD on September 16th.

The second film which should get a bit more attention and traction is “Walt Before Mickey” based on the book by the same name by Tim Susanin and forward by Diane Disney Miller.  The flick that covers the early years of Walt Disney’s career is scheduled for release on November 28th of this year.

While these movies cover the beginnings of Walt’s career, look for a four-hour, two-night PBS presentation that explores the life and legacy of Disney.  At this summer’s semi-annual Television Critics Association conference in Beverly Hills, California, PBS and “American Experience” announced the Disney project which is scheduled to air in the fall 2015.

The film will be directed and produced by Sarah Colt and written by Mark Zwonitzer and will feature rare archival footage from the Disney vaults, scenes from Disney movies and interviews with animators and artists who worked on many of the Disney classics as well as those who helped design the Disney theme parks.

“American Experience” executive producer Mark Samuels referred to Walt Disney as “an entrepreneurial and cultural icon” adding that no single figure shaped American culture in the 20th century than Disney.

Known as Uncle Walt to a generation of kids, when he died in 1966, 240 million people saw a Disney movie, 100 million tuned in weekly to a Disney television program, 80 million bought Disney merchandise and close to seven million visited Disneyland.  Nearly 50 years later Disney’s legacy is worldwide as he and his company have a created a tradition that surpasses American life and pop culture.

If you can’t wait for either one of these movies or until 2015, if you visit Disney Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World resort you can always pay a visit to “One Man’s Dream,” a multimedia gallery exhibit of rare artifacts and a 15-minute film on the life of Walt Disney narrated by Julie Andrews.  In Chicago, “Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives” are on display at the Museum of Science and Industry and in San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum will satisfy your quest for all things Walt Disney with an immersive experience.

While Walt might be a bit embarrassed by all the attention given to him, he would likely remind us “that we don’t lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse.”