This very weird yet very enjoyable (and family-appropriate) musical special is essentially an infomercial for the Disney empire in general and EPCOT Centre in particular. It pretends to be a retrospective of Walt Disney's life and achievements, yet there are constant references to the Disney corporation's latest biggest newest enterprises (especially EPCOT), and the whole thing has the air of a sales pitch rather than pure entertainment. Fortunately, Walt Disney's very real sense of showmanship has been retained by his corporate successors, and this infomercial is still quite enjoyable on several different levels, so that kids and adults will have a good time watching it.
Various celebrities (some of whom worked with Disney, most of whom didn't) take it in turns to narrate different phases of Disney's life, punctuated by some very pleasant original songs. Although Walt Disney was born in Chicago, he and his family spent his formative years in the small town of Marceline, Missouri. This musical special asserts that everything Walt Disney ever became had its seeds in his small-town boyhood. This is the cue for Michael Landon to ride a bicycle through a very unconvincing set, representing a small town, while he sings a very enjoyable song: "Marceline ... all roads lead back to Marceline...".
I always enjoy watching Dick Van Dyke, especially when he's performing a song-and-dance turn. Here, he leads a bunch of dancers through a very energetic number called "We Can Do It" that isn't especially good, but he gives it some solid professionalism. We also see a couple of half-hearted dramatisations of incidents from Disney's childhood.
Unfortunately, Carl Reiner has been lumbered with some incredibly bad material here. While the narrators are ticking off Disney's various productions, the camera keeps cutting back to a POV shot of Reiner sitting behind a desk, brandishing a cigar. Reiner is apparently portraying some sort of Hollywood banker-cum-"expert", who keeps talking directly to the camera (as if it were the unseen Walt Disney) and gleefully predicting that Walt's latest endeavour can't possibly succeed. Walt wants to make a movie about MICE? Reiner gleefully says it can't possibly make money. (But it does; cut back to Reiner looking dumbfounded.) Next round: Walt wants to make a movie about DWARFS? Reiner gleefully predicts it can't possibly make money. (But it does; cut back to Reiner looking dumbfounded.) Eventually, they vary this formula slightly. When Walt Disney wants to make his experimental movie 'Fantasia', Reiner once again predicts that it will lose money ... and this time he's right; as this special freely admits, 'Fantasia' was a box-office flop on its original release. Cue a close-up of Reiner smugly saying "Told ya!". But then Dick Van Dyke informs us that, upon re-release, "Fantasia" has made back its original costs many times over. (He neglects to mention that this was after "Fantasia" became a cult-movie hit for pot-smoking hippies back in the 1960s.)
It would have been nice if this special had squarely addressed -- and denied -- some of the bizarre rumours about Walt Disney and his empire, such as the (untrue) urban legend that Disney's corpse is frozen someplace, to be thawed out eventually.
This special also serves the useful purpose of proving that Michael Landon and Mac Davis aren't really the same person. My rating: 7 out of 10, but this special is unlikely to teach you anything about Walt Disney that you didn't already know.
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