Walt Before Mickey (2015) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

WALT BEFORE MICKEY

Director: Khoa Le
Writers: Arthur L. Bernstein, Armando Gutierrez
Stars: Jon Heder, Jodie Sweetin, Thomas Ian Nicholas

It’s hard to imagine a world without the name Disney. From those early animations to full blown cinematic releases like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book or Alice in Wonderland. Today’s generation link the name Disney now to the massive franchises of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and the rebirth of the Star Wars Galaxy.

Having watched “Walt Before Mickey” I must admit to having mixed feelings about the movie. Although I enjoyed the storyline and the setting the scene I felt parts of the story where rushed to reach the conclusion as soon as possible and part of me feels the movie didn’t reach it’s full potential.

Thomas Ian Nicholas as Disney is a good choice and there is a likeness to the actor and the man he is portraying. He carries the film along as the main character and shows a broad range in the movie from a man of optimism, to doubting himself and showing belief in his portrayal as Disney did in his integrity.

When tackling a story like Walt Disney’s you have to remember that there are big players who contributed to the Rise of the Disney name. Without his Brother Roy, Ub Iwerks, Rudy Ising and Fred Harman to name a few, you don’t get anywhere. I felt the movie although introduced us to these names I felt they served the scene to a point but not the storyline in an in-depth way. Although having said that Jon Heder’s portrayal of Walt’s older brother Roy was probably the stand out performance as the long suffering (with illness) rock that Walt could go to in times of trouble. Heder portrayed the role brilliantly as the more mature one of the two and was a great supporting actor to Thomas Ian Nicholas (Walt Disney)

It should be said too that although now recognised as just as an important key to the success of Disney. Roy took a backstep in the creation of Walt Disney Studios and even had his name removed from the original “Disney Brothers” title. He also help finance the studio in the early days without any guarantees that Walt’s plans would all work out.

This is the basis of this movie and although there are parts that appear to me to be a bit far fetched (I can’t confirm whether or not they are or not) It’s all about Walt Disney’s dream of creating an animation studio with complete control on their content and who they could distribute their early work to. I have to admit, the subject here is what interested me to have a look at this movie. “Walt before Mickey” is about overcoming the odds and inspiring people to never give up. Walt’s support came from his brother rather than his father who was by all accounts a lot stricter that the movie portrays him and was never one to encourage his children to pursue their dreams.
Anyone who hasn’t watched this movie yet, although it’s biopic i’m not going to reveal too much of the story but I will mention that perhaps the movie does focus a little too much on the financial difficulties of running a studio and where i mentioned earlier about the supporting characters not having enough to do this is where I found the movie a little unbalanced.

Timothy Neil Williams as Harman is great as the sensible one but is mostly used in the filming process of one of their first live action projects “Alice” and we never learn too much about him or his life at this point.

Frank Licari as George Winkler should have been in this movie a lot more as his scenes in the later part of the movie are key to how the story will go and Licari is excellent as the quiet but manipulative Winkler and is the important factor on how the other players careers would pan out within Disney and outwith Disney.

David Henrie as Rudy Ising was 26 at the time of filming and shows great maturity in the role as Isling who showed great faith and friendship in Walt and it’s actually quite sad how he finally breaks and how his relationship goes with him. Henrie to me wasn’t in the movie enough and again the writing of the character was a missed opportunity in the writers development and I felt that because most of these characters where real people. I feel the writers didn’t feel they had to invest too much time in them which I felt was a pity.

Armando Gutierrez as Ub Iwerks is probably the most developed character outside Walt and Roy and although he had more screen time than Isling, Winkler or Harman I felt it was strange that he wasn’t on par with Walt Disney. Although Walt created Mickey Mouse it was Iwerks’ design that to this day is the face of Walt Disney Studios.

Just as an important player as Ub Iwerks was Kate Katzman’s portrayal of Lillian Disney (Walt’s Wife) Katzman’s screen time very early on was limited but by the last third comes into her own and just like Iwerks contributions to the character of Mickey Mouse were important. Lillian Disney helped change Walt’s original “Mortimer Mouse” idea into something more positive and friendly and came up with the name “Mickey”

Walt Disney’s struggle to maintain control and integrity when under pressure to sign their rights way cannot be ignored as he was under pressure from one of the leading distributors at the time by the name of Charles Mintz

“Walt Before Mickey” for most of it is an interesting enough film and perhaps is one you could go back to if you are looking for inspiration. For me I felt there was too much emphasis on Walt’s battle with the studios and the finances than on the characters. The acting was very good and the script and storyline did go along at a good pace. The feel and look of the movie should also be commended as Director Khoa Le appears to go for details and in every small way. Subtle touches like Walt always having a cigarette in his hand shows this.

Overall “Walt Before Mickey” is a decent film and should be enjoyable enough to view even if you aren’t a massive Walt Disney fan, you cannot deny the impact the name has had on this world since “It all started with a Mouse”.

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