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Heading South

South the Border with Disney

For about a week now I’ve been immersed in the world of 1941 thanks to J.B. Kaufman’s excellent new book South of the Border with Disney: Walt Disney and the Good Neighbor Program 1941-1948. I had hoped to have a full interview ready by today, when the book arrives in stores, but my little danse macabre with the flu kept me in bed for about three days and I’m a little behind schedule on everything. I thought about rushing through the rest of the book to meet deadline, but figured that you guys can wait because I’m savoring this one.

Long story short, and I can tell you this without having finished, is that my recommendation is going to be a strong “must-buy”. Kaufman is an expert on Disney’s early career, and pushes into the studio’s so-called Golden Age to bring us the tale of Walt’s 1941 trip to South America with a group of his artists and story men. He also gives thorough coverage of the films that resulted from these efforts, including those that never made it off the drawing boards.

I’m going to stop now lest I plow ahead and write my review right here, but I cannot recommend enough that you go ahead and pick up a copy, or help Progress City out and order online. Even if you’re more a fan of the parks than of animation, the book is a fantastic window into a time when the studio was at the peak of its artistic and cultural power. It also provides a wonderfully human look at these artists who time has turned into legendary figures. The only criticism I can extend so far is that I want more – of everything! – but Kaufman can hardly be blamed for that considering the book’s already sizable length.

For a little more on “El Grupo” and their adventures in South America, while you wait for my full review, Alain Littaye has helpfully pulled a series of photographs documenting the trip from LIFE Magazine’s online archive. There are some great snapshots of Walt, and artists such as Mary and Lee Blair, Herbie Ryman, Norm Ferguson and a very young Frank Thomas. For more on the films that the trip inspired, I recommend checking out Foxx’s archives at Passport to Dreams, and this great article by Jeff Pepper about an unfinished short starring Donald Duck and Jose Carioca.

I have one last note, for our readers in North Carolina and southern Virginia. Some of us in the area are looking for a local theater that is willing to screen Ted Thomas’s Walt and El Grupo. So far, the closest engagements have been in Washington, D.C., but the filmmakers would love to get it in a wider release. As the best independent theatre in the area is the Carolina Theatre in Durham, we thought we’d focus our efforts there. If anyone reading this is in the region and is interested, please drop the theater a call or an email and ask them to book the film!

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3 comments to Heading South

  • Another Voice

    Is there any connection between the book and the movie? It seems rather strange there are two significant projects on such an obscure topic at the same time.

  • You know, that’s an excellent question and I don’t have a definite answer as to how the projects got started. They do have a connection, though. Both bear the involvement of the Walt Disney Family Foundation – the film was produced by WDFF and although the book was published by Disney Editions, it also bears the imprint of WDFF and D23 (!). There was also some obvious collaboration – the book cites the film several times. Also notable is the fact that at D23, author JB Kaufman and director Ted Thomas sat on the El Grupo panel together. I’ll try and find out more…

  • Another Voice

    The Disney Family Foundation makes sense. The opening of the museum is probably the first time a lot of material about the trip was assembled in one spot.

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