West Hollywood, CA 90069
A screening and discussion of Walt & El Grupo as part of How to Read El Pato Pascual: Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney
About the film, (Running time: 1hr 26min)
“Walt Disney goes South American,” proclaimed the lobby poster for the 1942 film Saludos Amigos. Just 42 minutes long, the film consisted of four cartoons joined together with live action footage of the research trip the Disney team had made the year before. Viewed today, the film seems a minor entry in the legendary producer’s body of work, and gives little clue of the turbulent times in which it was born or its lasting significance.
It was an era when Washington called on Hollywood to help shore up relations between the Americas, and, in 1941, Disney and a handpicked mini-studio that became known as “El Grupo” visited Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and other nations of the region at the request of the U.S. government.
The trip remains a little-known chapter in the life of a very famous man, one that Disney would later recall as “the toughest period I’ve had in my whole life.” It came at a time when Disney’s own studio was going through great difficulties, the Roosevelt administration had growing concerns about Nazi and Fascist influence in Latin America, and the entire world was slipping further into war. In stark contrast to this gloomy picture, Disney and his artists were a lively and colorful group that specialized in humor, beauty, and imagination. Even so, the creative band was saddled with an unusual burden – while gathering story material, befriending local artists, meeting political leaders and attending countless functions, their journey was also a de facto diplomatic mission, and Saludos Amigos carried the expectation of being an offering of inter-American friendship. (Among other accomplishments, the film popularized the song Aquarela do Brasil, commonly known by its English title Brazil).
More than anything, it was a time of change, change as intimate as an artist developing an original voice, and as momentous as relations shifting between nations. By the time El Grupo returned home, the studio that had made Snow White would no longer exist, and, soon, the rest of the world would change forever, too.
Shot on film in five countries, Walt & El Grupo is directed and produced by the filmmaking team of Ted Thomas and Kuniko Okubo, features the cinematography of Shana Hagan, editing by Lisa Palatella and Beth Spiegel, a score by James Wesley Stemple, and vocal performances by Luciana Souza, Mercedes Sosa, and Mart’nália.
At turns beautiful, humorous, poignant and elegiac, Walt & El Grupo time travels in the filmmakers’ footsteps to reveal an intertwined story of art and politics, and of Walt Disney at a critical juncture in his life.