The Making of 'Mary Poppins
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“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one”.
Walt Before Mickey (2015)
Released just one year after As Dreamers Do, Walt Before Mickey covers much the same territory, albeit with professional actors and a slightly bigger budget. Yet to say this biopic benefits from such advantages would be an overstatement, for the resulting film remains very much an amateurish production.
Monotone narration accompanied by a seemingly endless soundtrack spell out Walt’s early career from supplying cartoons to a local theatre through to his success with the Laugh-O-Grams and Alice Comedies. Helping Walt along the way were friend Ub Iwerks and brother Roy Disney, whose diverse talents allow Walt to focus on running the fledgling business. Not so rewarding for the biopic is its focus on the business side of Walt’s early career.
The depiction of these pioneering days of animation is devoid of any sense of wonder, with most scenes involving artists sitting at their desks while Walt barks orders. Instead of a sense of camaraderie that surely must have existed, we are treated to squabbling over bounced cheques, evictions and Walt rummaging through bins to find his next meal.
The only fleeting glimpse of the workings of animation is when Walt demonstrates a bat hitting a ball to budding animator Rudy Ising. As he flicks through the pages of the company’s ledger, the drawings seem to come to life until Walt reaches the last page detailing the precarious state of the company’s finances. Despite their low-budgets, it is likewise doubtful that either Walt biopic saw much of return on either investment.
as Walt Disney
as Roy Disney
as Ub Iwerks
as Friz Freleng
Though Fred Harman worked with Walt at the Kaycee Studio, he did not come out to Hollywood to work at the Disney Studios.
Friz Freleng did not work at Laugh-o-Gram studio in Kansas City. He joined the Disney Studios in California late in 1927. Futhermore, Freleng never quit Disney because he wasn’t being paid. He was fired by Walt for phoning in sick when Walt felt he wasn’t.
Ub Iwerks did not come out to Hollywood by train. As explained in his grand-daughter's excellent documentary The Hand Behind the Mouse, Ub drove from Kansas City with his mother. It was a seven day trip.
Charles Mintz did not force Disney to replace Virginia Davis as Alice. Virginia was replaced because her mother objected to the Disney Brothers paying her for just the days she worked.
Walt did not break into his office to steal the film can with Alice’s Wonderland. It was part of the bankruptcy settlement that he could take the film to use as a sample reel for potential employment.
Though biopic features actual footage of some of Disney’s earliest cartoons, including Alice’s Wonderland and Plane Crazy, little is shown of how the animations were made. Instead the film provides generic depictions of Walt filming the live-action portions of the Alice Comedies.