What a brilliant move on the part of newly installed Disney/Pixar Chief Creative headmaster John Lasseter to start rebuilding the Disney brand he’s suddenly in charge of by unveiling a series of well-received documentaries that celebrate the glory days (and some embarrassing warts) of the brand, reminding people why they love Disney in the first place. Releasing them on DVD on the same day was a small but masterful maneuver. But to time them with the release of Disney’s brilliant new fairy tale princess film Tangled, and on the heels of the possible Oscar contender Toy Story 3 ... well, that’s truly Walt-esque.
Gregory V. Sherman and Jeff Sherman direct a documentary about their respective fathers, dark and broody Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, the lively McCartney of the pair. As a songwriting duo, the two brothers rose from privileged Beverly Hills brats (their father was Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman) to magic makers extraordinaire, penning Disney classics such as “It’s a Small World” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” This film explores not only their careers and songwriting style, but how and why the brothers have not spoken in decades. What makes The Boys stand out above the other Disney docs is their tender, father-son relationship with Walt Disney. Entire generations after his passing, both Shermans can agree on one thing: Walt meant the world to them. (available now)
Special Features: Featurettes
One of the best documentaries of the year, this look at the tumultuous time at Disney that saw a changing of the guard – the “Nine Old Men” gang of O.G. animators vs. their forebears, including Lasseter and outcast Tim Burton – and a new low in company morale is an eye-opening peek behind the curtain. From worries of CG takeovers to the Black Cauldron fiasco, all seems lost for animated features until Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and, most crucially, songwriter Alan Menken, swoops in to save the day with The Little Mermaid, thus ushering in the revival Disney needed. (available now)
Special Features: Featurettes, webisodes, gallery
Certainly the driest of the three, Walt & El Grupo is a suspiciously paved-over love letter to Walt Disney, who in 1941 took then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt up on his offer to spend a couple months in Latin America to generate Allied goodwill. Of course, the very setup gets the mind working: How will the film address Walt’s long-rumored anti-Semitism or his film Dumbo’s now-shocking jabs at the union labor forces that were striking at the Disney offices at the time? Unfortunately, Walt & El Grupo doesn’t examine any of this, or even how the trip affected the group of animators (“El Grupo”) that Walt brought along, favoring instead photographs of the jet-setting Walt and clips of his letters home read aloud. Still, as a snapshot of a time when worldview was seen as synonymous with creativity, one can’t help but feel the love. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, original Saludos Amigos film
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