Walt & El Grupo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film came with a decent but not scintillating transfer.
Of course, the nature of the program restricted its visual impact, largely due to the presence of so much archival material. I didn’t factor those elements into my grade, as they were too up and down to become a fair part of the assessment. These components looked acceptable but didn’t show great clarity, and they came with the expected array of flaws.
As for the material shot specifically for Grupo, it looked generally fine but no better. Sharpness seemed adequate. The shots lacked any significant softness, but they also failed to display great clarity. No prominent issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. For the new footage, source flaws failed to become a factor, though some artifacting appeared.
Colors tended to be somewhat dull. The new material used a natural palette, but the hues lacked much life. Skin tones could be a bit pink, and the colors were generally pretty ordinary. Blacks were reasonably dark, while shadows were decent. The transfer seemed acceptable for this kind of film but no better than that.
Similar thoughts greeted the subdued Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of El Grupo. Music dominated the soundscape, as the various South American tunes showed good stereo presence. They also spread to the surrounds in a bubbly manner that opened up the spectrum well. In terms of effects, a few elements such as waves used the five channels, but usually they stayed in the front and focused on general ambience. Music and speech remained the focus of the track.
Audio quality was good. Dialogue seemed concise and natural, with no edginess or other issues. Music appeared peppy and vibrant, while effects demonstrated positive clarity and accuracy, even if they didn’t have much to do. Though low-key, the mix suited the material.
The DVD includes a nice array of extras. We launch with an audio commentary from director Theodore Thomas and historian JB Kaufman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of the film’s creation and the events it depicts.
Like Grupo itself, this never becomes a particularly fascinating piece, but it does help flesh out areas involved in the movie. We get some good historical context, and we learn more about the various participants. The track adds much needed background and allows us to better understand the topics and the people we see. It also gets better as it goes; after a slow start, it turns into a useful exploration of the movie.
A featurette called Photos in Motion goes for two minutes, 45 seconds. Narrated by Theodore Thomas, we see a montage of photos and hear about how they were used in the movie. It becomes a moderately interesting discussion of the flick’s visual techniques and choices.
Cut sequences show up under From the Director’s Cut. This includes three scenes: “Home Movies for the Big Screen” (2:09), “My Father’s Generation” (2:17) and “Artists and Politicians” (3:51). With comments from Kaufman, “Screen” looks at the use of 16mm footage shot by the members of the Disney crew – and the recreation of some elements for Saludos Amigos.
For “Generation”, Cecilia Acle – daughter of a Chilean passenger – and Disney storyman Ted Sears’ daughter Cindy Garcia discuss the boat journey taken by the Disney crew. Finally, “Politicians” looks at arts in Brazil during the period as well as the trip’s impact on Disney; it features Kaufman and conductor/music historian Roberto Gnattali. All three are good clips, and better than much of the material in the final flick. “Screen” seems especially interesting; I don’t know why these failed to make the cut.
Perhaps the best bonus feature provides the original 1943 release of Saludos Amigos. Previously available on its own, here we get the entire movie – including some shots of Goofy that were altered in the 2000 DVD.
Originally, Goofy smoked in one scene; the DVD changed that to eliminate his puffing. The version here restores the Goof’s nicotine fix, and that makes me happy. Saludos is a pretty insubstantial film, but it’s charming enough, and it’s a great addition to this set. It’s certainly nice to finally get an unaltered edition of the film.
The disc opens with promos for The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story and Waking Sleeping Beauty. Under Sneak Peeks, we also get ads for DisneyNature: African Cats, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, D23.com, Bambi, and The Lion King. We also find trailers for Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros.
Finally, the package includes a Collectible Disney Timeline. This foldout insert starts in 1937 and follows the significant events at Disney and during World War II through the August 1942 release of Saludos Amigos. It’s a decent addition to the set.
I hoped – and expected - Walt & El Grupo to tell a fascinating tale of Disney’s South American adventure. Instead, I got a pretty boring travelogue that reveals little in the way of interesting information. The DVD comes with average picture and sound but compensates with a few strong supplements.
Indeed, those bonus materials will likely make Grupo a hot purchase for Disney buffs, as it offers the only DVD release of the unedited Saludos Amigos. If that’s worth the purchase price for you, then go for it; just don’t expect to get much from the main program.