Perhaps it is a generational thing but I am always surprised when you talk to young people today, and I am not referring to eight or nine year-olds but rather college-aged students to those in their 30’s, that many of them are not aware of Walt Disney. Sure they know of Walt Disney World and Disneyland as well as the company that holds his name. But many admit they do not think that Walt was a real person. Rather they think of him as just a corporate symbol or icon ranking up there with Ronald McDonald, Mr. Clean and the Michelin Man.
As I start my “Wonderful World of Disney Animated Movies” class at La Salle University in Philadelphia one of the first questions I ask students is “who was Walt Disney?” And most of them admit they do not think he was a real person. After I show them a few documentaries like “Walt: The Man Behind the Myth” from 2001 and “The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story” from 1999 they finally come to appreciate the fact that Walt Disney is more than a name of a theme park, a company or a motion picture studio.
For my students and others not aware of Walt Disney, hopefully that will change this year and in 2015 with a few movie projects in the pipeline that will put Walt’s name front and center again.
The first movie “As Dreamers Do,” is an independent project from Vision Films on the early life of Walt Disney. The movie had its premiere on May 13th in Franklin, Tennessee but little information is available on when the project will be rolled out into other theaters or whether it will be available for download or DVD release.
The second movie that should get a bit more attention and traction is “Walt Before Mickey” based on the book by the same name. 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 the 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.
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.”