Sunday, June 28, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Adventure Thru the Walt Disney Archives (2020)

Yesterday I enjoyed the streaming premiere of a new Disney documentary, ADVENTURE THRU THE WALT DISNEY ARCHIVES (2020).

The film was the first-ever documentary produced by the Walt Disney Archives and was made in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Archives being founded by the late Dave Smith in 1970. The trailer can be seen on YouTube.

The documentary was hosted by Disney producer-director Don Hahn, who is not only a key Disney filmmaker, he's also a bona fide "Disney geek." Hahn's 2017 book YESTERDAY'S TOMORROW: DISNEY'S MAGICAL MID-CENTURY is one of the treasures of my Disney book collection.

My oldest daughter and I had the opportunity to meet Hahn at a screening of his documentary WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY (2010) on the Disney lot a decade ago, and he couldn't have been nicer. It was a joy to thank him for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) and share the special memory of taking our daughter to see it -- her very first Disney film -- when she was three years old.

ADVENTURE THRU THE WALT DISNEY ARCHIVES acknowledges taking some of its inspiration from the live-action sequences in THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941), in which Robert Benchley visited various departments on the Disney Studios lot. In this film, Hahn visits different areas of the Walt Disney Archives, including the photo library, warehouses filled with cases of matte paintings, Disneyland ride vehicles, and movie props, and ultimately Walt's restored offices. There's also a visit to Disneyland! Current Walt Disney Archives head Becky Cline, whom I've had the honor of hearing speak on numerous occasions, is prominently featured.

The film provides a marvelous look at Disney treasures, some of which I've been fortunate to see in person, such as the jewelled book from the opening of SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) or carousel horses and a matte painting from MARY POPPINS (1964). The photos from the documentary seen in this review are screenshots taken by me.

The only archival scenes which fell a bit flat for me were a couple sequences showing materials Disney acquired with the purchase of 20th Century-Fox. Costumes from MOULIN ROUGE (2001) and CAN-CAN (1960) and some random posters for that studio's films held no Disney magic, and I felt they weren't even from particularly notable films likely to be of interest to Disney audiences.

The subject of the 20th Century-Fox acquisition was only momentarily glanced over. I would have saved those items for a separate documentary or spent more time explaining why Disney is now responsible for the other studio's archives. Additionally, when Mark Hamill appears, it would have been interesting to connect the dots and note that his STAR WARS films were originally from Lucasfilm and 20th Century-Fox, which have both been acquired by Disney.

One of the most fascinating sequences was a visit to the home on Woking Way where Walt and his family lived from 1933 to 1950. The playhouse Walt had built for his daughters Sharon and Diane is still in the backyard! It's now a private home, but the new owner obviously respects its heritage, with Disney artwork visible throughout the house. Part of the tour included showing the doorway where Walt took a now-iconic photograph, with the shadow of Mickey Mouse on the wall.

The film also provides an excellent look at the exteriors of the compact Disney Studios lot, which has changed very little over the decades. Thanks to being a member of D23, I've been privileged to visit multiple times in the past decade, including for a special RELUCTANT DRAGON anniversary celebration and most recently for the Mostly Ghostly Halloween event last October. It's always special to be there, and I loved revisiting the lot "virtually" thanks to the documentary.

The documentary includes special appearances by composer Richard Sherman, Kurt Russell, animator Floyd Norman, and Kathryn Beaumont (the voice of "Alice" and "Wendy"), as well as brief comments by Disney historian Leonard Maltin. I'd like to note here that Mr. Maltin has a wonderful article paying tribute to the Archives in the Summer 2020 edition of the Disney twenty-three magazine.

The film was directed by John Gleim. I don't currently have a running time for the film but will watch for that info.

Since D23 is unable to host any in-person events this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, offering free streaming of the documentary on its premiere date was quite a nice membership benefit. I assume that eventually the film will make its way to the Disney+ streaming service but have not read confirmation of that.

Wherever it turns up in the future, ADVENTURES THRU THE WALT DISNEY ARCHIVES is an entertaining and valuable chronicle of the important role played by the Walt Disney Archives in preserving the studio's fabled history. It's recommended viewing for Disney enthusiasts.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

It may be lack of sleep talking, but I got weepy reading about the treasures on display and all the beautiful memories Disney has given our family.

PS: Don't let me forget that I want the Hahn book for Christmas. I tend to draw a blank when someone asks me what I would like.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

My daughter and I call that kind of teariness "having a Disney moment." I've very prone to getting teary over Disney history myself! I hope you'll have the opportunity to watch this.

I will try to remind you about that Disney MID-CENTURY book -- it is *amazing*. Guaranteed enjoyment!!

Best wishes,

7:01 PM  

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