Indie Film Review “Walt Before Mickey”

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First, the Recap:

When we see someone whose dreams have become true, gone stellar with success, changing the face of an industry, marveling at how incredible their accomplishments are, do we ever stop to actually realize that it all didn’t just happen? It took an idea, a vision, a coming to awareness that sparked the grander picture and potential future. Those very first moments of wondering what the possibilities could be, and then the fortitude to pursue it all, no matter what it takes.  For a young Missouri farm boy named Walter Disney (Demitri Vardoulias/Owen Teague), this began when sketching pictures on notepads and the family’s barn walls, much to the annoyance and non-understanding of his father. Yet, Walter’s pursuit of entertainment would not be thwarted.

Once grown to adulthood, Walt (Thomas Ian Nicholas) finds a way, thanks to assistance from his older brother Roy (John Heder), to move to Kansas City where he starts his first animation company, comprised of himself and artists Rudy Ising (David Henrie) and Ub Iwerks (Armando Gutierrez), to moderate success.  However, forced to close those doors, Walt chooses to move to Los Angeles, ultimately getting back his original team of artists, plus Fred & Hugh Harman (Timothy Neil Williams & Hunter Gomez) and Friz Freleng (Taylor Gray), making new animations for distributor Margaret Winkler (Flora Bonfanti).  But, as more success arises, so does conflict with Winkler’s husband, Charles Mintz (Conor Dubin), and the rights to Disney’s material. Broken but still not dissuaded, Walt makes the final choice to take charge of his own work that leads to an iconic creation and the start of a new age in entertainment.

Next, my Mind:

Video and short film producer/director Khoa Le takes on his first major independent film effort with “Walt Before Mickey” and suffice it to say, he has a solid career ahead of him in this medium, as yet again, the beauty of indie cinema successfully shines through via this origin tale of one of the true legends in entertainment. Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Susanin, the film briskly takes the viewer through the humbled beginnings of Walt Disney, his ambitions to be an animator, and all the myriad of obstacles that stood in his way, which could have crushed him, but instead drove him even harder to succeed. The fresh cinematography takes you back to that early 1900’s era, showcasing some classic moments in animated cartoons both of Disney’s creation and others known at that time.

In such a character-based and straight-forward effort, Thomas Ian Nicholas does a solid job and playing this pre-success Walt, infusing him with the passion, drive, and dogged determination that one would have expected from a soon-to-be industry giant.  But what also reflects is the true heart and concern Disney had for those in his employ, not the least of which for one that became his wife, Lillian, played by Kate Katzman. Jon Heder takes a break from zany comedy and turns in a dramatic turn as older brother Roy Disney, while the rest of the cast does well to round out the narrative. Giving a viewpoint of industry politics, it also becomes extremely clear why Disney ultimately chose to take the reins of his own work, surround himself with those he trusted, and move forward into success.

Overall, “Walt Before Mickey” stands as a heartfelt, sincere, and earnest indie effort that illustrates the simple fact that beginnings may start small, but that doesn’t prevent the dreams from being big or coming true.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!


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