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Walt Before Mickey DVD Review

Walt Before Mickey (2015) movie poster Walt Before Mickey

Theatrical Release: August 14, 2015 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Khoa Le / Writers: Arthur L. Bernstein, Armando Gutierrez (screenplay); Timothy Susanin (book); Diane Disney Miller (book "forward"); Frank Licari (additional writing)

Cast: Thomas Ian Nicholas (Walt Disney), Jon Heder (Roy Disney), Armando Gutierrez (Ub Iwerks), David Henrie (Rudy Ising), Jodie Sweetin (Charlotte Disney), Taylor Gray (Friz Freleng), Kate Katzman (Lillian Disney), Conor Dublin (Charles Mintz), Hunter Gomez (Hugh Harman), Timothy Neil Williams (Fred Harman), Ayla Kell (Bridget), Arthur L. Bernstein (Frank Newman), Frank Licari (George Winkler), Flora Bonfanti (Margaret Winkler), Natasha Sherritt (Edna Disney), Sheena Colette (Dessie), Owen Teague (Young Walt Disney)

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Even if Hollywood wasn't so interested in telling stories about itself, Walt Disney would seem to warrant a biopic. Few individuals have made as wide and deep an impact on the world as Walt did in his 65 years. The thing is Walt co-founded what remains to this day one of the biggest entertainment corporations in the world.
That divides potential biopics into two large groups: those made by The Walt Disney Company and those made by another film studio that inevitably celebrates the namesake of a competitor. If Disney were to tell Walt's story, as they have repeatedly in documentary form, said biopic would be a hagiography free of controversy and criticism. The closest the company has come is Saving Mr. Banks, 2013's thoroughly enjoyable and not terribly whitewashed drama about the film adaptation of P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins books, which featured Tom Hanks as Walt.

Now, here is Walt Before Mickey, an actual biopic about the media mogul's humble beginnings in animation. It is not made by the Walt Disney Company, nor by any of the other major studios, which explains why it arrives on DVD this week virtually unknown and largely unscreened in theaters.

It's not exactly the Ron Howard-directed Ryan Gosling as Walt movie envisioned by an April Fool's Day poster, but despite a shoestring budget reportedly just $568,000, this independent production from director Khoa Le, making his feature debut, does include a few actors you are sure to recognize in its cast. Thomas Ian Nicholas, best known from the American Pie series and twenty years removed from starring in Disney's A Kid in King Arthur's Court, plays Walt. Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder, his career having stalled since 2007's Blades of Glory, plays company co-founder Roy Disney, Walt's older brother. Seasoned young TV veterans David Henrie ("Wizards of Waverly Place") and Jodie Sweetin ("Full House") play animator Rudy Ising and Walt's aunt Charlotte Disney, respectively. There is even a brief appearance made by Hardy Rawls, the father from Nickelodeon's '90s comedy "The Adventures of Pete & Pete", picking up his first screen credit in ages.

Thomas Ian Nicholas stars as Walt Disney in the low-budget 2015 biopic "Walt Before Mickey."

Walt Before Mickey tells the story of a persistent dreamer. Walt is a visionary without much business acumen. He sets up a deal with a studio to sell them cartoons at cost, forgetting to factor in profit. After getting laid off, Walt and Ub Iwerks (Armando Gutierrez, the film's primary producer and one of two credited screenwriters), a "wild"-haired, mild-mannered workaholic, go off to make their own studio in a barn, with Iwerks having to use a broken desk.

As you fear, given the lack of experienced behind-the-camera talent and major studio backing, this is an amateurish production. You recognize that much in the opening credits, which cite Walt's daughter Diane Disney Miller for the "forward" of the 2011 Timothy Susanin book on which the film is based. The lack of proven personnel is evident in everything from the underwhelming sets to the erratic sound mixing.
The acting is generally underwhelming too, which is not too surprising since the cast seems to have been assembled for the most affordable names people would recognize.

Nicholas, more of a musician than actor of late, at least resembles a young Walt and far more so than Tom Hanks looked like the older Walt. But even the leading man contributes to the high volume of information relayed without believable emotion. The overdramatic score doesn't help matters. One of the only touches lending credibility is the use of excerpts from the real work, the Laugh-O-Grams and mixed medium Alice shorts, that is occupying Walt and his tireless staff. Other incidents dramatized include Walt's hiring of Lillian (Kate Katzman), the secretary who would become his wife. There is also the business with producer Charles Mintz (Conor Dublin), in which Walt and Ub's first successful creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, is pulled out from under them, as allowed by their contracts.

Gosh, that's Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder playing Walt's older brother Roy Disney, the business-minded co-founder of the Disney empire.

At its most harmless, Walt Before Mickey is corny and historically inaccurate (a theater full of moviegoers screens Mickey's short Plane Crazy on its own, as they never would have).
At other times, it's just plain ridiculous, as in scenes in which Walt befriends a little mouse he keeps in his shirt pocket and with whom he shares a sandwich found in a dumpster. At least this Walt smokes on screen, something current Disney policy prevented from occurring in Saving Mr. Banks.

Following random and limited theatrical release in late summer and early fall, Walt Before Mickey hits DVD either late this week or next Tuesday, deliberately timed to what would have been Walt's 114th birthday.

Walt Before Mickey DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.39:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 5, 2015
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The technical shortcomings I noticed on the watermarked screener I was initially sent do not disappear on the final DVD. The 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is not terribly sharp or detailed and there isn't much to marvel about in the mise-en-scθne. The English soundtrack is offered in Dolby Stereo 2.0 by default, but a full Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also provided and so are English subtitles of the SDH variety.

On DVD, "Walt Before Mickey" is divided into six chapter stops.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Though the case doesn't mention it, the DVD does include Walt Before Mickey's trailer (2:37), which I've embedded below. Sadly, that's it in the way of bonus features.

Watch the Walt Before Mickey trailer:

The DVD opens with trailers for the sentimental no-budget dramas Anything Is Possible, A Gift Horse, and Hamlet & Hutch with Burt Reynolds.

The disc, whose full-color label adapts the copyright-respecting Mickey head in the clouds of the cover and poster art, is unaccompanied by inserts in the unslipcovered black keepcase.

The main menu subtly animates the clouds in that cover shot, while looping a short excerpt of Julie Zorrilla's original song "Just a Wish." Submenus feature the same music and surprisingly more animation.

Walt Disney (Thomas Ian Nicholas) smiles at the sight of his old mouse friend following a "Plane Crazy" screening at the end of "Walt Before Mickey."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Walt Before Mickey is about what you'd expect of a very low-budgeted Walt Disney biopic made by novices without the cooperation of the corporation bearing his name. It's poorly acted, amateurish in every way, and not even all that interesting. There's definitely a great biopic to be made on this man, but this is certainly not it. The only reason to check this out would be if both the trailer and my review have not already drove you away.

Buy Walt Before Mickey on DVD at Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Good Dinosaur • The Peanuts Movie • Victor Frankenstein • Creed • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
Saving Mr. Banks • Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities • Vintage Mickey • Tomorrowland • Walt: The Man Behind the Myth • Walt & El Grupo
New to DVD: Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow

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Reviewed November 29, 2015 / Updated with DVD Review December 5, 2015.



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