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New Release Review - WALT BEFORE MICKEY (DVD)

A look at the early career of Walt Disney.


Review by Joshua Mitchell (@jlfm97)

Directed by: Khoa Le

Starring: Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jon Heder, Armando Gutierrez, David Henrie, Jodie Sweetin, Kate Katzman


Khoa Le's biopic is a disastrously tone-deaf "tribute", turning one of Hollywood's greatest underdog stories into a terminally dull affair that lacks the genuine emotion and passion that is so effortlessly integrated in Disney's own work.



Walt Before Mickey feels more like a homework assignment than a meaningful film. Based on the early career of one of history's great visionaries, Walt Disney, Khoa Le's 2015 biopic is a disastrously tone-deaf "tribute." Le and writers Arthur L. Bernstein and Armando Gutierrez have succeeded in turning one of Hollywood's greatest underdog stories into a terminally dull affair that lacks the genuine emotion and passion that is so effortlessly integrated in Disney's own work.
Before he became the most famous filmmaker of all time and the father of an enormous animation empire, Walt Disney faced a lot of opposition. He was rarely taken seriously by theatre managers or studio heads. But he's passionate. So he sets out to start an animation house on his own. Why? Because he's passionate. He hires staff, knowing he can't afford to pay them, but does his best to inspire them anyway. Why? Because he's passionate. 
And if the spoon-feeding screenplay didn't inform the audience of Disney's passion every other minute, one may not have noticed. This is a classic case of a film "telling and not showing." The audience never gets a real sense of Disney's love for the art form. He feels more desperate than devoted. And that's only a single problem.
Walt Before Mickey feels amateurish. Every scene feels horribly staged, with contrived ways of working in supposedly notable animators who never make any kind of impact on film. It quickly becomes clear that nobody involved knows what they're doing. The tone is overly saccharine in its opening, only to mope around in Disney's failures for almost the entire runtime. There are far too many scenes where characters discuss the same problems over and over. The animators are getting restless, the pay isn't enough, etc. And when Disney finally starts to become successful, his triumph is totally glossed over in under five minutes with a tacky written epilogue abruptly ending the feature.
Thomas Ian Nicholas as Walt Disney is the only cast member who manages to elevate the terrible screenplay at all, but even then, his performance is only somewhat less wooden than the other actors. Jon Heder is the worst of a very bad cast. The other actors aren't even worth mentioning.
Walt Before Mickey reads like a fifth grade essay and feels like a high school play. The film is clearly designed for the very, very young (a point brought home when the characters literally explain what kind of rights women had in the '20s, clearly for the sake of children attendees), though even then, some of Disney's onscreen tantrums may seem somewhat intense for wee ones. Kids interested in animation and Disney himself would be better off watching his actual cartoons and animated features, for at least those provide a genuine sense of artistry that better represents the man behind the mouse. Otherwise, seek out 2013's Saving Mr. Banks, which does more justice to Disney in a supporting role than Walt Before Mickey manages in two hours.
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