There`s not a single person reading this piece who can honestly say that their life has not in some way been touched by the magic of a certain Mr. Walter Disney. The characters of Disney studios are instantly recognizable to us all, we`ve each shed a tear or two at one film or another, and have undoubtedly visited one of the many Disney parks across the globe at some time in our lives. Indeed, with their recent acquisitions of the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, it is clear that Disney have pretty much conquered the cinematic world.
But this was not always the case for young Walt. In his new film Walt Before Mickey (based on Timothy Susanin`s book of the same name), Khoa Le explores the early days of the man who would one day create the greatest fairytale empire the world has ever known.
From his humble beginnings as a Missouri farm boy, young Walt (Thomas Ian Nicholas – American Pie`s Kevin) determines to make a career out of animation, moving to the city and setting up his own studio, much to his family`s chagrin. What follows is a series of ups and downs as Walt and his team of eager young animators find themselves bankrupted, befriending flee-ridden mice, taken advantage of by unscrupulous movie producers and eating out of bins before the inevitable success that we all know is coming.
It would have been easy to make a great biopic of Disney`s early life; show the darkness, the desperation of a man who is determined to see his dreams come to life, no matter what is thrown at him. Unfortunately, however, Le`s film falls far short of the mark. Everything is so utterly sugarcoated and saccharine that any sympathy for Walt`s plight is lost, and the bizarre irony is that despite all the fairydust, there is no sparkle to the tale.
Nicholas` performance as Walt is listless, and given the caliber of young actors in supporting roles in the film, one does have to question the casting director`s choices. Having an actor with such effervescent charm as David Henrie (Wizards of Waverley Place) in a rather limited bit part (which he delivers with aplomb) instead of giving him the title character seems rather ludicrous. At least Henrie would have given a little bit more charm and passion to our dreamer.
The drive and desperation are the real missing features here. Considering we all know that things are eventually going to work out fine for young Walt, Bernstein and Gutierez`s script should really have made us feel the struggles of his early years. The nineteen twenties mentalities of racism and sexism, along with Walt`s adverse poverty after his first bankruptcy, are touched on so very lightly and then discarded that they may as well have been left out and replaced with a musical number and some dancing penguins. But at least Mary Poppins tackled some real issues amidst its fantasies. Walt Before Mickey feels like a biopic written by a team too scared to actually explore the man`s life and times. `Cause things were pretty awful back then!
It`s a shame that Walt Before Mickey isn`t better than it is. There was a great deal of potential, all of which seems to have been squandered in fear of offending anyone. I`d like to see Steven Soderbergh takes this one on.
Dir: Khoa Le
Scr: Arthur L. Bernstein, Armando Gutierrez
Prd: Arthur L. Bernstein, Armando Gutierrez
DOP: Ian Dudley
Music: Jeremy Rubolino
Run Time: 120mins
Walt Before Mickey is out now on DVD and Blu-ray