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PBS and ‘American Experience’ to air Walt Disney biography in 2015

PBS and the "American Exerience" will produce a biography of Walt Disney. It will premiere in fall 2015.
PBS and the "American Exerience" will produce a biography of Walt Disney. It will premiere in fall 2015.
Photo courtesy of Disneyland, used with permission.

At the Television Critics Association conference on July 22, PBS and “American Experience" announced it will produce and broadcast a new biography focused on Walt Disney. “Walt Disney” will be a four-hour, two-night film focused on the life of the American icon. The biography will premiere in fall 2015.

“Walt Disney” will incorporate rare archival footage from the Disney values, scenes from some of Disney’s movies, and include interviews from artists and animators who worked on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Disney’s first feature-length animated film, and Imagineers who helped design Disneyland, the Anaheim, California, theme park.

The biopic will be written by Mark Zwonitzer (“JFK,” “Triangle Fire”) and directed and produced by Sarah Colt (“Henry Ford,” “RFK").

Walt Disney, who died in 1966, was an entrepreneur and innovator. He influenced and, through his company, continues to influence popular culture in a variety of ways: Hollywood animation, television, anthropomorphized nature documentaries and theme parks, to name but a few examples.

The year Walt Disney died, 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. Upon his passing, CBS television commentator Eric Sevareid offered an on-air tribute that said in part: "He was an original. Not just an American original, but an original. Period.”

While PBS acknowledged Walt Disney could be a “polarizing figure,” something those familiar with his history would also knowledge, the announcement largely suggests the biographical film will be positive.

“For many Americans — and for me — the twinkle and swish of the Sunday night Disney logo was pure magic. It was an invitation to a special event,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Officer and General Manager, General Audience Programming for PBS said in a press release. “For my kids, introducing them to animated Disney movies from Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King brought us great joy and taught them life lessons. Now viewers of all ages can learn about the life and legacy of the man behind the magic and his continuing impact on our lives and culture.”

“Walt Disney is an entrepreneurial and cultural icon,” said “American Experience” executive producer Mark Samels. “No single figure shaped American culture in the 20th century more than he.”

The announcement also notes the number of “true believers” – a term that isn’t entirely clear – outnumber the man’s critics, and tends to prair his accomplishments. In addition to the above, PBS notes these include Walt Disney’s creation of Mickey Mouse, his use use of synergy, the integration of media and marketing with branded products, and Walt’s interest in “a lifelong desire to create a world unto itself.”

It should be noted that the announcement does not mention whether the “Walt Disney” film will address projects in development but not completed before Walt Disney passed away, such as Walt Disney World.

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