I wanted to love “Walt Before Mickey” because of its content. I walked in with a low expectation but the film still managed to underwhelm me. The story is incredible but it is told through wooden acting and a weak script. To be blunt, this film feels like it had a lower budget than the animated shorts that put Walt’s first business into bankruptcy. Walt Disney’s name is synonymous with the most well-known franchise worldwide, one of the most successful businesses in history, and the greatest innovator of animation ever to live; however, “Walt Before Mickey” tells a very different story. The first half of Walt’s life was filled with rejection, financial failure, and the deceitful distribution deal that stole Walt’s rights to the characters that he created. It certainly builds an appreciation for what Walt Disney would eventually accomplish after such a rough start. It is magic to see the Alice cartoons being brought to life as well as the opportunity to observe his interactions with historical figures Ub Iwerks, Friz Freleng, Rudy Ising, his future wife Lilly, and his brother, Roy. The film also contains a unique piece of Disney trivia. Most people believe that “Steamboat Willie” was the first Mickey Mouse film because it was the first one released in theaters, but “Plane Crazy” (which was drawn completely by Iwerks) was the first Mickey film ever drawn and shown to a test audience. Unfortunately, the cool historical characters and interesting story are negated by bad acting and a weak script. The accents feel forced, Jon Heder delivers his lines as if he is still playing Napoleon Dynamite, Thomas Ian Nicholas doesn’t display enough emotion, and Jodie Sweetin is one of the highest billed actors but is in the film for less than five minutes. The actors that I did like (particularly Kate Katzman as Lilly) were underutilized. On the writing side of things, maybe the dialogue seems bad because of the acting but there are definite issues with the storytelling. For example, it seems like Roy is married to Edna for the entire film, then Roy suddenly refers to Walt as his best man. Walt and Lilly discuss the wedding in the next scene but we never see the wedding, perhaps due to budget constraints, and it seems like it shouldn’t have been mentioned at all. What left me more perplexed is that we have to assume that Walt and Lilly got married at some point during the film but it is never even addressed. I love that this film is a tribute to the hardships faced by Disney and his never-give-up attitude, but I wish that it didn’t have such poor acting and scream “Low Budget!’ It is worth seeing “Walt Before Mickey” to absorb its historically accurate story, as long as your expectations are properly in place.
[Pictured: It's magic to see these famed characters portrayed at a young age, even if the acting leaves something to be desired]
Check out my review of Alice’s Wonderland for a YouTube link of this completely mind-boggling technical achievement in the 1920’s - http://jonnysdailymoviereview.blogspot.com/2012/04/alices-wonderland-1923-8-stars-out-of.html