“Walt Before Mickey is an ideal biopic”
Walt Disney is one of the biggest enigmas ever bestowed upon cinema. Many know his name, but few know his personal story or his personal struggle to get to be the renowned, billion dollar entity that he is currently seen as today. Because of that, Walt Before Mickey is an ideal biopic, telling us the story of Walt Disney well before Mickey Mouse was even a thought in his mind. Presumably, it’d be a film that would not only demystify a man, but an empire, and give us a more intimate glimpse at someone who has been ritualistically accepted the unmatched soul of animated creativity.
“Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” is the moral of Walt Before Mickey, which, other than one strong thematic point it chooses to emphasize quite regularly, is an overwrought and cheesy biopic, brimful of oversimplifications and embellished emotions. Walt Disney is played by Thomas Ian Nicholas of American Pie fame, an actor with a lot of attractiveness, but no discernible soul or personality he’s willing to etch into the role. The film concerns Walt Disney’s humble beginnings as a local farm boy, strictly dictated by his father and misunderstood by his whole family. Ever since his youth, he has dreamt of being a cartoonist, to the point where he has drawn random, animated animals on the walls of his father’s barn in order to fulfill his desires for creative expression.
Walt Before Mickey focuses on Walt’s struggle to prove himself a gifted animator in a money driven world, as well as his fight the restrictive and debilitating copyright laws that allow studios to own the rights of the animators’ work without any question. Such fundamental ideas would be instrumental to a great film if Khoa Le’s project wasn’t more intent on inciting an emotional response than it was one would that would impact its audience on a level they’d remember in the long term.
The problem with Walt Before Mickey is it chooses to embellish its subjects in an emotionally manipulative sense, or one that sacrifices their humanity in favor of cheap pathos. As a result, the film suffers from not only being a believable project, but one that has any other intention aside from capitalizing off of the recognizable qualities and the enigma behind Walt Disney’s name.
Le and screenwriters Arthur L. Bernstein and Armando Gutierrez do capitalize on Walt’s intention to be entirely full of integrity and good will, never making him out to be an entirely greedy soul nor one concerned with immediate monetary compensation. In fact, it’s quite admirable how Bernstein and Gutierrez take Walt’s story and emphasize fundamental elements about an artist staying true to himself and the repeated failures many will have to go through in order to obtain noteworthy, if any, success. Most of this compelling subtext, however, is undercut, by the film’s need to emphasize every emotional occurrence in the film in a boisterous and overwrought manner that does nothing for the film as a whole aside from bring down its thematic credibility.
Walt Before Mickey, through its directorial and narrative woodenness that would make contemporary independent Christian cinema seem like believable fare in the modern day, makes soap operas pragmatic in the kind of drama and incredulous circumstances most of them conjure up. It’s a film intent on embellishing every emotional circumstance and not thinking twice about constructing a scene that isn’t built off of dimestore pathos nor incredulous circumstances. It’s one of the year’s most glaring missed opportunities, as it turns a story of incredible significance into a cheap and forgettable trite in an independent film that bites off far more than it can chew.