A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Walt Before Disney is a biographical drama about the early stages of Walt Disney's career, starring Thomas Ian Nicholas (American Pie) as the legendary animator in the years before he created Mickey Mouse. There's nothing really iffy except for a fair bit of smoking, which is historically accurate given Disney's documented cigarette habit. Disney also almost gets into a fist fight with animators, and there's some flirting and a couple of kisses, but otherwise this is fine for older tweens who might be curious about the early failures of arguably the most visionary filmmaker in Hollywood history.
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What's the story?
WALT BEFORE DISNEY chronicles the early stages of animator Walt Disney's (Thomas Ian Nicholas) career. The movie briefly shows him as a child on his father's Missouri farm but then fast forwards to his first job at a Kansas City art studio, where 18-year-old Walt first meets cartoonist Ubbe ("Ub") Iwerks (Armando Gutierrez). They eventually form a company, and Walt starts to focus on animation and hires more cartoonists specializing in the emerging art form. He also enlists help from supportive big brother Roy Disney (Jon Heder). Despite several setbacks, bailouts, and failures, Disney remains single-mindedly focused on building a successful animation company.
Is it any good?
Few visionaries are as fascinating as Walt Disney, so it's particularly frustrating that this drama is so uninspired. It seems more like an adaptation of a student's book report than a compelling look at one of the most influential men of the 20th century. Remember the annual Hallmark movies of the week that used to air on network television during sweeps? This is even tamer and more vanilla than those, with absolutely none of the fire and ambition that it's attempting to capture about Disney's quest.
Although Nicholas and Heder (as well as Gutierrez and David Henrie as animator Rudy Ising) are clearly making an effort, several of the supporting characters are played in a laughable, amateurish manner. Except for the accurate depiction of Disney as a chain smoker, Walt Before Mickey is so squeaky clean that it's hard to believe that it's about an actual person, much less someone as equally beloved and derided as Disney. The movie's only tension seems to be about money -- and how Disney's lack of it tanked a few of his early endeavors. But since there's no real depth to the way Disney is characterized, it devolves into a soporific, overly earnest bore of a film that Disney himself never would have approved. If there's one thing Disney wanted above all else, it was to entertain -- something this movie does not.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of biopics. Why are stories about real people so compelling?
Do you prefer biographical dramas that chronicle an entire life or career, or slice-of-life ones like Walt Before Mickey that focus on a short time in a person's life?
What did you learn from the movie about Disney's life? Does the movie make you more interested in him and his work?
How does the movie portray smoking? Is it all presented in the name of historical accuracy, or is it glamorized at all?
- In theaters: August 7, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: December 8, 2015
- Cast: Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jon Heder, David Henrie
- Directors: Khoa Le, Ari Taub
- Studio: Voltage Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: period smoking throughout, mild thematic elements and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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