The name Walt Disney conjures up images of a man who worked for the title of animator, visionary, creator, and dreamer. When thinking of Walt people immediately think of the empire of theme parks and animated films which, as Disney himself often recalled, “It was all started by a mouse.” With his success and failures, trials and tribulations, and aid in the advancement of entertainment and society, Walter Elias Disney lived enough for a hundred lifetimes. Unfortunately, aside from the die hard Disney fans, Walt’s life as a struggling heroic idealist remains little known to most people. Now Disney fans who know all or little can gather together to watch his early life play out in the 2015 independent film, “Walt Before Mickey”, now on Netflix.
Based on the book Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919–1928 by Timothy S. Susanin ‘Walt Before Mickey’ tells the story of young Walt as he struggles to follow his dream of getting into the world of animation. It’s an inspiring story and shows the hard facts about Walt’s exertion with finances and the cold business world. The film, directed by Khoa Lee and staring Thomas Ian Nicholas, from the “American Pie” series, as Walt Disney, Jon Heder, from “Napoleon Dynamite” as Roy Disney, and Armando Gutierrez as the loyal and amazing animator Ub Iwerks. The film also guest stars Jodie Sweetin from “Fuller House” and David Henrie from “Little Boy”.
While the film is fascinating to watch in terms of witnessing Disney fail again and again and never giving up, the film feels very rushed, almost as if it were just the high lights of Walt’s early life. Granted there is stories upon stories to tell, but everything that happens to Walt happens so quickly and the story moves onto the next moment. Important life altering events are pushed through, Walt meeing Lillian his future wife, the success of each project, and viewers do not even get to witness the actual wedding of Walt and Lillian who stayed married until the end. While the facts are in place, the film almost feels cold, as if it is missing the same imagination and heart that the main character tries to live by. A lot of that falls upon the first time director Khoa Lee, who had very little cognizance about the man the film was about. It shows in the film that he may very well respected Disney, but he did not the hero like so many in the world do. The film very simply states here is the story of what he went through, and that’s enough.
Other major problems help hurt the film including the very low budget. When viewing the film it’s frustrating to view the cheap sets used and amateurish filming. The telling of this story shouldn’t have been forced to hold back as much as it does. The acting in ‘Walt Before Mickey’ unfortunately doesn’t rise above substandard. Every actor tries hard but the relationships just don’t feel genuine and the dialogue doesn’t feel natural. While Thomas Ian Nichloas appears as if he understands what his performance represents, you are constantly waiting to feel more emotion from both heartache and happiness.
As a period piece the clothing and cars are amazing looking. The story, although rushed, still fascinates and inspires. Sadly, with out the affection for the subject of the film, ‘Walt Before Mickey’ feels like a second rate highlight reel of an innovator who changed the world. There are many lessons to be learned from Walt Disney’s life, and this film is worth viewing just to see the early years unfold, even if the life of Disney deserves more respect, and more time.