Review of Walt Disney: An American Experience


The PBS American Experience Walt Disney documentary portrays the life and achievement of Walt Disney. This four-hour documentary shows footage of his life with commentaries of historians who have studied him. It shows a deep knowledge of the life of Walt Disney. However, it is not hard to understand. The documentary can be viewed for free at

Walter Alias Disney was born in Illinois before moving to Marceline, Missouri where he spent most of his childhood. In Marceline, he developed a love of drawing even though his family opposed it. He later moved to Kansas City to draw for a local newspaper. The historians portray an understanding of his life even at a young age. Walt, his brother Roy, and some friends from the Kansas newspaper went on to develop their own company. The Disney Brothers developed a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit based off of a famous cartoon character, Felix the Cat. A New York cartoon company gave them a paycheck to broadcast Oswald. However, because Oswald wasn’t copyrighted, the company began producing their own shorts. Walt then rode with his wife to Los Angeles after Oswald the Lucky Rabbit failed. On the train ride, Walt developed a mouse, which he planned to call Mortimer. His wife said she liked the name Mickey better so he changed the name. The historians exquisitely described his initial sketches on Mickey Mouse during this part of the documentary. In Los Angeles, he produced several Mickey shorts. These were the first movies ever with sound! Audiences all over the world loved these shorts. Walt then went on to produce the first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White had another major advance in technology, the addition of color. Disney used meticulous precision making this movie. He measured the way dresses crinkled when ladies were walking and the movements of mouths while saying certain words. He even went so far to see how glass shattered! This movie made millions of dollars and Disney became famous all over the world. Snow White is still the third best selling movie ever in the country!

Because of Snow White’s success, Disney could afford a mansion for himself and his brother Roy. He also bought a studio in Burbank and employed hundreds of artists. With his new studio, Disney produced another movie, Pinocchio. Unlike the success of Snow White, critics scorned Pinocchio and Disney lost money. Determined to make a comeback, Disney came out with another movie, Bambi. Bambi also lost money for Disney. After that, he produced Song of the South, a short length film using cheaper materials like a cartoon background with people as actors. This also lost massive amounts of money. Many trusted employees rebelled with low-pay workers. One of these employees was Art Babbitt. Even though he had been with Disney for many years and created Goofy, he was fired for his actions. Because he was fired, the employees and workers at Disney started striking. Disney also testified to Congress that some of his workers were communist. The documentary displayed much footage of Disney’s workers striking. Disney discovered what he needed was a break. He flew to South America where he was treated like a nobleman. However, in America, people hated his movies and his company. When Disney returned to Los Angeles, he found that Roy had settled the strike.

Disney created a few very successful films. Disney worked on a short series of Davy Crockett films. Even though only three of them were created, loads of merchandise were sold throughout the world. Disney was able to earn huge profits from the sale of the merchandise. Disney completed Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins was the only movie that Disney created that won an Academy Award for best picture. All of his other famous movies got honorable mentions. To explain the success of these movies, the documentary shows clips of the most famous, favorite, or important scenes.

Disney starting loving trains. He spent many hours with his model train, which was an exact replica of a real train engine. Disney then went on a train trip around the country, one of the stops being Marceline, Missouri. This made him think about a new project, Disneyland. He thought of the idea when he went to carnivals so his daughters could have fun. The carnivals were junky and dirty so Walt decided to make a park called Disneyland. Instead of the normal carnival where it is all about thrill, Walt wanted to make a park based on the visitors’ experience inside the park. Walt first purchased land in Anaheim, California. In order to raise money for Disneyland, Walt created a new movie, Cinderella. Cinderella was a massive box office success and provided Disney with the money to make an amusement park. Walt and his brother Roy had an argument over Disneyland. Roy thought that nobody would want to pay lots of money just for the experience in a park. In the end, Walt ended up winning. He made a TV program which made everyone anticipate the opening of Disneyland. At the grand opening, people started to line up as early as 2:00 a.m. to be the first ones through the gates. The line also wrapped around more than 1/2 of the park! Disney generated huge profits from the park and used the money for later productions.

When Walt started getting older, he had a personal doctor around him at all times. Even during his old age, he still worked hard with Disney. Walt purchased a massive amount of land in Florida. Instead of the many parks it is today, Walt envisioned the whole land as EPCOT, the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. He would have a small downtown in the center, several parks circling it, and an even bigger circle of residential areas. Several highways would radiate from the center of the city. However, he was not able to complete this idea because of his health problems. Because of his death, workers could not build the whole city. Disney mainly kept his ideas to himself. Instead, Roy finished completion of several parks under the name Walt Disney World.

The American Experience documentary was extremely well done. It mixed the facts of his life with the opinions of historians.