By Andrea Karen Hammer
Walt Before Mickey, based on the true life and novel about the legendary Walt Disney, is an extraordinary film about overcoming several bouts with adversity and achieving major success.
Playing the driven artist and animator early in his life and career, Thomas Ian Nicholas captures the exuberance of an entrepreneur determined to persevere against all the odds. After launching his first animation company Laugh-O-Gram, Walt Disney (Thomas Ian Nicholas) hires his “Dream Team” including Ub Iwerks (Armando Gutierrez, also the writer and presenter of this film with Arthur L. Bernstein who plays Frank L Newman). When Walt falls behind paying his rent and is locked out of his apartment and then his office, Thomas Ian Nicholas conveys the anguish of a stymied creator who hits rock bottom.
Loyal Supporters and Malevolent Adversaries Quickly Revealed
During these crises, Disney’s faithful supporters and quick-to-jump-ship as well as malevolent take-him-down adversaries are quickly revealed. Even though he can’t deliver scheduled funds to his animators, Ub Iwerks (Armando Gutierrez) and Rudy Ising (David Henrie) are both fast to step forward, offer loans to their boss and stand by his side during some of the most uplifting moments in the film. On the opposite end of the spectrum, deeply troubling scenes include episodes with competitors stealing the copyright on Disney’s work, along with some of the more easily swayed employees.
As Walt’s brother Roy, Jon Heder provides an important reminder about the critical role of objective business assessments and decisions in any creative enterprise. Kate Katzman, as Walt’s wife Lillian, delivers a charming and powerful performance rising from unwavering loyalty and the belief in true talent–even when all the chips appear to be down.
Inspiration for Road Back to Success Appears Unexpectedly
Scenes with the true-life inspiration for Mickey the Mouse are unsettling and difficult to watch. Nonetheless, these heart-breaking moments show that inspiration for the road back to major success may appear unexpectedly when someone is literally sitting on the ground.
Like Walt Disney, who managed to get up off his knees and retrieve his original artwork, this film is a testament to fortitude and resilience. With themes that reflect our current times, Walt Before Mickey is a remarkable, astonishing and vital one to watch.