The 2008 documentary “Walt & El Grupo” from Walt Disney Films was written and directed by Theodore Thomas. Starring: Walt Disney and Janet Lansburgh. This documentary that tells a story that shows a period in Walt Disney’s life and career that is both fascinating and revealing. Director Theodore Thomas weaves together the insider details of the making of the 1942 film “Saludos Amigos” which starred Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Walt Disney, Norman Ferguson, Frank Graham and Frank Thomas as themselves with Pinto Colvig as the voice of Goofy, Clarence Nash as the voice of Donald Duck, José Oliveira as the voice of José Carioca with narration provided by Fred Shields.
Hollywood was asked to help shore up relations between the Americas, and the film was the outcome of a trip Disney and a handpicked mini-studio made to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and other nations of the region at the request of the Roosevelt administration. It was the looming threat of war that drove Washington to turn to Hollywood for assistance in representing the United States to recognize the value of Latin America’s friendship.
Headlined by the slogan “Walt Disney Goes South American” the lobby poster for the 1942 film delivered a subtle, but powerful message to the World. This production took place during a time when the threat of war was the main topic of discussion.
Before the United States entered into World War II, Walt Disney was commissioned by the United States Department of State to perform a goodwill tour of South America. The idea was to create a movie from their experiences that would be used as part of the “Good Neighbor” policy shown to audiences in Central and South America. It was due to the popularity of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters in Latin America that led to Disney being chosen to act as goodwill ambassador and in the process, serve as a means to counteract the ties that several Latin American governments had formed with Nazi Germany.
The film was also given federal loan guarantees to offset the losses Disney had suffered as the result of his studios in Europe being closed by the war, while also struggling with labor issues at home. In fact, when Disney began this goodwill tour, a labor strike at his company was in progress. Disney along with a select group of composers, artists and technicians traveled from the Disney studio to capture the essence of South American life from an upbeat, positive perspective.