Video: The Secret Life Of Walt Disney


Last week, we called your attention to Fletcher Markle’s Walt Disney Interview, a film shot for Canadian television in 1963. Thanks to Walt’s candid answers – and the filmmakers’ bare-bones “no cutaways” approach, which keeps the camera focused on Disney for long, uninterrupted stretches throughout the half-hour interview -it’s a great portrait. Disney is gracious, self-effacing, unselfconscious and enthusiastic.

Those of you who loved that video… will hate this one. Fair warning.

It is an episode of a British TV series titled Secret Lives, the premise of which seems to be: “…find fifty minutes worth of dirt on a well-known personality most people tend to like, and then assassinate that person’s character.”

The accuracy of the information presented in Secret Lives is almost beside the point; we know that Disney had flaws, made mistakes, and was mean-spirited on occasion.

Secret Lives presents Walt’s career and reputation as conspiracy, and it is not very subtle in that mission.

When the first scene appears – footage of the young Walt at his desk in Kansas City – it is accompanied by ominously unsettling music that might have been appropriate… had Disney been at work designing a bomb. And it’s downhill from there.

The first interview clip comes from animator/director/producer Bill Melendez, who, with Lee Mendelson, created the critically acclaimed and universally beloved Peanuts TV specials. Melendez passed away last year at 91, and I don’t doubt that he was a sensitive, compassionate individual.

But boy, how much did he hate his ex-boss Walt Disney? He’s positively gleeful as he punches huge holes in the public’s perception of “Uncle Walt.”

Melendez is the most severe critic. As such, the program comes back to him again and again. But animators, authors and even an ex-”ink and paint girl” all take their best shots.

We hear from Marc Eliot, author of Walt Disney, Hollywood’s Dark Prince (“A rare tour through Disney’s World – an empire of power and vengeance… now updated with new FBI information”). This is the book which animation historian (and Disney biographer) Michael Barrier termed “…a Disney biography unparalleled for sheer awfulness… packed with errors and distortions.”

We hear from Richard Schickel, author of The Disney Version, a critical biography published only a couple of years after Walt’s death, which Disney fans didn’t take to very kindly.

And we see some pretty remarkable footage, not only newsreel shots of the studio before, during and after the strike, but also carefully selected “damning excerpts” from the Disney films themselves. The producers must have had a huge budget for stock footage, since they couldn’t reasonably claim “fair use.”

If this program is used as a guide, Disney’s “Secret Life” ended in 1947 with his HUAC testimony. Everything that happened in the nearly twenty years after that date is summarized in little more than a sentence. Then – bam – we’ve hit the end credits.

Secret Lives seeks sensation more than truth; if it happens to find both, so much the better. But it tips its hand and agenda in its title, opening credits, and marvelously mismatched music that suggests that Kansas City Walt – that reprehensible rascal and robber baron-to-be, the guy who would later create that ridiculous Fantasia movie during the tiny amount of time he had available after washing his hands thirty times per day – was plotting world animation domination through deception from day one.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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