In the 1940s, Walt Disney and a group of animators, musicians and others headed to Latin and South America as part of a US government funded trip to help recruit allies ahead of direct American involvement in World War II. The 2008 documentary “Walt and El Grupo” takes a closer look at that trip as part of the “Good Neighbor” policy of the United States that led to two Walt Disney Animation Studios features, “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros.”

This is an interesting documentary, but it didn’t hold my attention too much. I prefer documentaries with narration and there’s no narrator for this film. It was easy enough to follow, but it took me several sittings to get through the whole documentary because my mind started to wander. That being said, the concept is amazing. World War II is one of the most divisive times in our world’s history and it’s really cool to see how one of the foremost moviemakers of the time set about trying to help his government as it was preparing for less indirect involvement and more direct involvement. We can debate whether the US should have sent anyone to Latin and South America during this time, but the “Good Neighbor” policy got some results.

I’ve always had a fascination with Latin American culture, music and food, so I loved seeing the looks at the countries the group visited. Brazil, Chile and Argentina are all very interesting places that I love to learn more about, so I was intrigued to see their reactions to the arrival of the man who created Mickey Mouse. While I enjoyed the sights and sounds of Latin and South America present in this documentary, I didn’t care about the human aspect being presented. I understand many who went on the trip missed their families. I can appreciate that fact, but it didn’t tug at my heartstrings the way it was intended. For me, it was just a small part of the documentary that didn’t keep me invested.

It was really interesting to see how the work of this trip contributed to the production of “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros.” I saw “The Three Caballeros” as a kid and it was one that kept my attention the entire time. Despite having no real established narrative, the shorts in that film were wonderful. I didn’t see “Saludos Amigos” until I was an adult and that film left a lot to be desired for me. It was interesting, but not surprising, to learn when creators had to blend the Latin and South American cultures with the culture in the United States, the animators home cultures wound up taking over the films. I would love to see these films remade with more of a focus on the Latin and South American cultures.

Overall, the film is interesting and I’m glad it was made. I’m glad I took the time to watch it, but this is not a documentary I will be revisiting. I will be more likely to throw on “The Three Caballeros” rather than this film, but I hope others who saw it enjoy it more than I did.

Ranking: 2 stars out of 5

What did you think of “Walt and El Grupo?”

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Jeremy Brown

Jeremy has been a big Disney fan since he was a kid growing up during the Disney Renaissance. One day he hopes to go to every Disney Park in the world.

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