Any Walt Disney fan should already be aware of this, but in case you’re not, here’s your notice to set you DVR or other video-recording device to record this upcoming PBS special.
“Walt Disney,” a new four-hour, two-night film that explores the life and legacy of one of America’s most enduring and influential storytellers, will premiere Monday and Tuesday, September 14-15, 2015, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).
Directed and produced by Sarah Colt and written by Mark Zwonitzer, the film features rare archival footage from the Disney vaults, scenes from some of his greatest films, and includes interviews with animators and artists who worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Imagineers who helped design Disneyland.
“For many Americans — and for me — the twinkle and swish of the Sunday night Disney logo was pure magic. It was an invitation to a special event,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Officer and General Manager, General Audience Programming for PBS. “For my kids, introducing them to animated Disney movies from Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King brought us great joy and taught them life lessons. Now viewers of all ages can learn about the life and legacy of the man behind the magic and his continuing impact on our lives and culture.”
“Walt Disney is an entrepreneurial and cultural icon,” said AMERICAN EXPERIENCE executive producer Mark Samels. “No single figure shaped American culture in the 20th century more than he.”
In 1966, the year Walt Disney died, 240 million people saw a Disney movie, 100 million tuned in weekly to a Disney television program, 80 million bought Disney merchandise, and close to seven million visited Disneyland. Nearly fifty years later, his reach remains enormous. Few creative figures before or since have held such a long-lasting place in American life and popular culture.
Disney’s movies grew out of his own life experiences. He told stories of outsiders struggling for acceptance and belonging while questioning the conventions of class and authority. As Disney rose to prominence and gained financial security, his work was increasingly celebratory of the American way of life that made his unlikely success possible.
Yet despite the success he achieved, he was driven and restless, a demanding perfectionist on whom decades of relentless work and chain-smoking would take their toll. He wanted his films to make people feel deeply, yet often buried his own emotions. Aspiring to create great artistic films, he felt he wasn’t taken seriously by the movie industry, and was stung when critics panned his productions. Never satisfied with his previous efforts, he always pushed forward to a “new adventure,” but his attention to detail and quest for innovation frequently meant delays and cost overruns. When his employees organized and went on strike, Disney felt betrayed, not able to understand how people who worked for him could be unhappy; years later he called them “communists” before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
A polarizing figure — though true believers vastly outnumber his critics — Disney’s achievements are indisputable. He created one of the most beloved cartoon characters in history, Mickey Mouse; conceived the first ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; pioneered the integration of media and marketing with thousands of branded products; invented the anthropomorphic wildlife documentary; and conceived Disneyland, the world’s first theme park and the fulfillment of a lifelong desire to create a world unto itself.