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Written by: Theodore Thomas
Directed by: Theodore Thomas
MPAA Rating: PG for historical smoking
Running Time: 106
Date: 04/26/2008

Walt & El Grupo (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hi, Hi Brazil!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1941, Walt Disney and a band of animators, writers and other artists -- which came to be known as "El Grupo" -- journeyed to South America on a Goodwill tour. This documentary, co-directed by the son of one of the voyagers, gathers up some wonderful photos and home movies and a dazzling collection of drawings and cartoon clips to re-create the trip. The trouble is that there's no real drama here; Walt is painted as a kind, benevolent soul whose very presence gave a lift to the poor citizens and their dreary lives below the equator. Anything bad that happens (a strike, the death of his father, etc.) is shown as beyond his control. Co-directors Ted Thomas and Kuniko Okubo divide up the interviews between countries, but their view is as sharply Eurocentric as was Walt's when he made his initial, resulting cartoons, starting with the amazing Saludos Amigos (1942). (Reported from the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival.)

Disney released the DVD in late 2010, along with DVDs of the documentaries Waking Sleeping Beauty and The Boys. The DVD comes with a commentary track, several featurettes, "photos in motion," extra footage, and trailers. The real bonus is an uncut version of Saludos Amigos that features Goofy smoking tobacco (the scene has been cut from all subsequent versions). The box contains a fold-out "Disney timeline."

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