Your Host, Walt Disney
I loved Your Host, Walt Disney, but I watched it with an odd combination of nostalgia and detachment. I've learned a lot about Walt since seeing The Wonderful World of Color as a kid, so although watching these early episodes (and hearing Dick Wesson's great voice over the opening credits) gives me a tingle from fond memories, I can't help but study Walt as the master showman and pitchman--Disney not as the "Uncle Walt" we grew up with, but as a product part and parcel with his movies, TV shows and theme parks. Watch the great interview with his daughter Diane on the DVD. Even she (consciously or not) refers to her father as "Walt," separating the televised public persona from the man she knew as Dad.
There are plenty of gems on the DVD. "Kodak Presents Disneyland '59" is by far the best. Thought to be lost in the years since its TV debut, it was cobbled together from original kinescopes and film footage buried in the Disney archives for presentation on the DVD. The christening of the Submarine fleet, the launching of the first Monorail (with then Vice President Richard Nixon), and the opening of the Matterhorn are all seminal moments in Disneyland history and a joy to watch. It's also a pleasure to see Art Linkletter return as co-host after the rocky Disneyland grand opening broadcast in 1955. Much had been learned about doing live television in those four years and Linkletter (despite a few minor continuity glitches) pulled it off like a pro.
The one segment I could do without is the "Backstage Party" episode, a cloying and gratuitous promotion of Disney's 1961 pic Babes in Toyland. Featuring much of the cast (Ray Bolger, Annette Funicello, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn and others), it supposedly takes place at a wrap party for the movie with Walt holding court. It's so staged and the actor's performances so forced, however, it's positively painful to watch.
Still, nostalgia eventually wins out when watching this DVD. Seeing Walt Disney gush over his theme park when it was still new with so much yet to come will put a lump in any Disney geek's throat.
Don't forget, Your Host, Walt Disney is one of four new "Disney Treasures" 2-DVD sets released today. The rest include More Silly Symphonies (worth it for the shorts "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" and "Three Orphan Kittens" alone--plus some great commentary tracks), The Hardy Boys (Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine as the original Joe and Frank on The Mickey Mouse Club), and The Complete Pluto, Volume Two.