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James J  Cremin Written by James J Cremin
Sep. 9, 2009 | 11:13 PM

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Panel discussion of WALT AND EL GRUPO

On September 8, 2009, there was a special member event that featured a panel discussion of the making of “Walt and El Grupo”, an upcoming documentary of the travels and discoveries of Walt Disney and seventeen others that were to be known as El Grupo, followed by a rare theatre screening of “Saludos Amigos” (1942), that was last screened in a theatre in 1949.

Moderated by former Disney animator Tom Sito, an in depth look was provided by Writer/Director Ted Thomas, Producer Kuniko Okubo, Composer James Stemple and Director of Photography Shana Hagan.

First a bit of background was provided.  Walt Disney built his Burbank studio from the earnings of 1938’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” a hit so major that it made more than the rest of the movies released that year combined.  His next two feature length cartoons, “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” weren’t quite as financially successful.  In 1941, a lot of the foreign market was drying up due to the Second World War.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted a “Good Neighbor Policy” that truthfully was needed to protect our interests in South America, especially Argentina, Brazil and Chile, who may get sympathetic to the Germans.  Walt and El Grupo left Burbank on September 8, 1941, exactly sixty-eight years ago, for Miami.  From there, they would take a three day flight to Rio de Janeiro.

The panel would stop and show footage of Rio in 1941 and their most recent footage taken of three different trips between 2005 and 2007 and match those locations as best they could.  Also, Stemple was given the task to incorporate the music of the country, which in this case Brazil is very famous for.

From there, El Grupo flew the Buenos Aires with field trips to the Pampas.  They even went to Northern Argentina and matched the actual roof top that was used to film the Argentine tango dancers and even found a surviving member of the dance troop.

From there, El Grupo split up.  Some went to the Andes, the mountain range that separates Chile and Argentina while others went to Peru and Lake Titicaca.  Special mention was given to Mary Blair, story and sketch artist, who really found her style during this trip.

Also, the lone animator of El Grupo was Frank Thomas, Ted’s father and the excellent cameramen Lee Blair and Herb Ryman.  In fact, all eighteen were top notch and all are identified in the website

The documentary begins a limited release on September 11, 2009.


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