Walt Before Mickey Review

Walt_Before_MickeySo today was looking at my local theater line-up and I notice a film called Walt Before Mickey.  What is this? How as a Disney aficionado have I never heard of this film about the big man himself, Walt Disney?  I had a little bit of time tonight so I figured I’d go check it out.  I mean my blog has Disney in the name so I think I’m obligated to do so.

Well, my friends there is a reason I hadn’t heard of Walt Before Mickey.  I can confidently say the only encouragement I can give you to see this film is if you like inadvertently funny ‘so bad it’s good’ type of entertainment. That’s right, Walt Before Mickey, had me in stitches but not in the way they intended it too.

It’s really bad.

That’s not to say they don’t try to make a good movie but the script is so bad there were times I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

walt before mickeyAs the title suggests, Walt Before Mickey is about the mostly business life of Walt Disney before he created Mickey Mouse.  It begins with some of Walt’s early life drawing horses for his neighbor.  We will occasionally flashback to these scenes and in one scene it seems like Walt is terrified of his father and in another he loves and adores him.  While that may be partly true it feels inconsistent and random here.  Most of the time he is giving out great wisdom but then out of nowhere he will be harsh and cruel.

Eventually we get up to him as a young adult played by Thomas Ian Nicholas .  After working for a local advertising agency Disney meets Ub Iwerks played by director Armando Gutierrez.  We also meet Rudy Ising (David Henrie) who evidently answered an ad for a Cartoonist but has never heard of animation before and has to be shown a flipbook…

A lot of this is true as far as names and faces but it is handled with such dew filled sepia lighting its tough to take seriously.  It feels like a movie we’d see in Sunday School class not a feature film.

And then the script just piles it on.  Like we get lines such as

“This story is drawn in my own blood!”


“You will never be a failure Walt!  You have too much goodness inside of you”


“I wished upon a star and look what it gave me!”

If you aren’t laughing at those lines than you have a higher tolerance for cheese than I do.

One of the most insane scenes I wish I had a picture of is Walt after Laugh-o-grams is closed down he becomes friendly with a a mouse that he starts to carry in his shirt pocket.  He even dives in the dumpster to get food for the mouse and when it scurries away he goes into full-on meltdown mode.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.   This isn’t just a subtle hint at a friendship with a mice.  This is whole on Cinderella talking too and interacting with him in multiple scenes. It makes you wonder why it took him so long to come up with Mickey!

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The acting isn’t that bad.  Even Jon Heder from my favorite Napoleon Dynamite, is fine. It also looks nice as far as sets and costuming but I promise you Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep and Marlon Brando could not have saved this script.

walt before mickey5Another laughable character or caricature I should say is Conor Dubin playing Charles Mintz.  This is the greedy Jewish guy who is counting his money and scheming to thwart the talented white guy you used to see in movies from the 40s.  I felt embarrassed for everyone involved whenever his character was on screen.

Walt Before Mickey is really on the Unauthorized True Story level Lifetime has been churning out for the likes of Saved by the Bell or 90210.  It’s hero main flaw is not being able to pay people because he dreams too big.

Evidently there were a lot of problems in the making of the film.  One report I read crew members were walking off set, actors didn’t get paid and they had to finda  new director after starting filming.  There are times when you can’t hear characters and editing and focus will be sloppy.

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The editing was also badly done.  In one scene Walt’s boys will pay his rent and practically lay down in traffic for him and then minutes later he is storming into the office throwing things off of desks and making a mess (the bad movie sign of stress).  All of the characters are inconsistent like that and despite the best efforts by the actors it ends up feeling embarrassing.

There’s another movie coming out this year about young Walt called As Dreamers Do and that looks equally cringe-worthy and he’s talking to a mouse in that one as well!

I loved Saving Mr Banks so there is proof a Disney bio pic could be good but they have to be actual films and not visuals for the Walt Disney Sunday School course.  The great man certainly deserves better that is for sure.

Here is a trailer to Walt Before Mickey if you want to get more of an idea.

Overall Score- D-


Bonus Review: Saving Mr Banks

saving mr banksJust for fun I thought I would share my thoughts on a recent live action Disney film, Saving Mr Banks.  For some reason I waited to see the movie even though it stars my favorite living actress Emma Thompson and an actor I really like in Tom Hanks, and it is about the making of one of my favorite movies Mary Poppins.  I guess sometimes you don’t want the illusion to be spoiled by a behind the scenes look, so I waited until it came out on DVD and watched it.  I was blown away. It rapidly ascended the ranks to a top 10 favorite movie ever list.

Saving Mr Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith that had been floating around Hollywood for a long time.    Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  We also see Paul Giamatti in a wonderful, subtle performance as a the chauffeur Collin Farrel as Travers’ father, and Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and BJ Novak as the Sherman Brothers and team.  Everyone is great in this film.

The story centers around Travers, an insufferable curmudgeon,,  and Disney, the master of whimsey, as Travers is forced to relinquish the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins.  She hates the idea of everything Disney stands for.  He is childish is and stupid and he wants to turn her masterpiece into a joke.

They do not pull any punches with Travers.  She is a jerk to the 9th degree and normally this wouldn’t work so well but with Emma Thompson’s warmth and her back-story along the way I totally bought it.  I was actually glad they didn’t soften her edges but had the guts to make a lead character so unlikable.  It made her change and the ending so profound.

Hanks is great as Disney.  I have no idea if it captures the man but even little details like the fact he had a nervous twitch from constantly smoking is integrated into the performance.  He seems like someone who would be almost impossible to resist, which is a perfect contrast to Thompson’s Travers.

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So like I said Travers is incredibly resistant to the idea of her beloved Mary Poppins (never just Mary) dancing about in one of his cartoons. Why?  Why?  Well, we learn about her father who was a whimsical man, much like Disney.   I won’t give it all away but he disappoints Travers, wounds her and she is never the same.  In fact, she becomes an entirely new person, accent and all.  Collin Farrell is excellent in the flashback scenes as her father.

Colin-Ferrell-in-Saving-Mr.-Banks-2013An aunt comes into Travers life at a moment of crisis and she is inherently practical which is what she needed to get by.  So Travers became practical and created a character that could rescue people in the same way her aunt had rescued her.  That’s why it meant so much to her.

But it is not a morbid or solemn film, much of it is spent on the mechanics of working over the script with the producer and the Sherman Brothers.  Travers has opinions on everything from the house, to whether Mr Banks has a beard.  She is absolutely against using music or animation (we all know how she came out on that debate!).  She doesn’t like Dick van Dyke as a choice (hard to believe but true).  She even at one point criticizes one of the Sherman brothers and says he earned his limp in the war.

At least to me this banter and back and forth never got too heavy or drawn out because it was interrupted with the scenes from Travers life.  The pacing works perfectly. A lot of that also goes to Thomas Newman who wrote a fabulous score- one of the best I’ve heard in many years.

So great performances, beautiful music and cinematography, engaging premise- all part of why Saving Mr Banks is special but there was something else that made it a top 10 all time favorite.  At the end Tom Hanks flies to London and talks to PL about forgiveness and it deeply moved me.  It captures the profound idea that every person has a moment where childhood is over, and most of us spend the rest of our lives either resenting who gave us that moment or trying to recreate the innocence we lost.  In the case of PL Travers she rejected the whimsey of her father to deal with the pain, in Disney’s case he embraced it so they are the ultimate contrast.  I bawl whenever I see that scene.  It profoundly moved me.

I have my moment where childhood was done.  I wasn’t the most whimsical kid to start with, far from it.  But one day at the apex of being bullied I was thrown into the drinking fountain with a line of children and my dress was put over my head so everyone could see my underwear.  All of this within a teacher’s observation.  I remember looking at her and all the kids and realizing they weren’t going to help me.  I don’t resent those kids/teachers but I do wish I could have that moment back.  Maybe that’s why I like animation and children’s movies so much?  Characters like Ariel and Belle gave me confidence to stand up for myself and find my own version of happiness.


I know Saving Mr Banks isn’t a perfect movie but that scene in London was perfect to me.  I also love the behind the scenes of how a movie is conceptualized and developed.  It’s interesting that we never see a set or backdrop or anything like that.  It is all at the script, storyboard stage.  I loved the actors who played the Sherman Brothers.  They are just trying to do their jobs and make their employer happy, and Travers is making it very tough on them.


I also loved Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur.  He is subtle and their friendship felt authentic.  I’m surprised a big name like Giamatti would take such a small part but I’m glad he did.

It is also true the film is fan fiction and PL Travers hated the movie and wouldn’t give any rights to anything after the experience.  She cries at the premiere and you feel for her.  For her work and all that it meant to her.  It is not a tidy explanation no matter how technically inaccurate it might be.

So, I loved Saving Mr Banks.  I loved performances, music, story, cinematography, and the message of forgiveness.  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do!

Content Grade- A-      Overall Grade- A+