The Missing Disney Uncovered in El Grupo
TT: I think that included film budgets too. And that's where it came in the most help because years later Walt was very careful to point out that these were loan guarantees for the films, they were not actually bankrolled. He made a big point of the fact that Saludos Amigos made its money back and then some and Three Caballeros also. But FDR got what he wanted from the trip.
BD: Right, they were trying to make sure that Hitler didn't have too much influence in the region.
TT: Very much so. Academics told me that there wasn't actually a government yet that was teetering on the edge but there were politicians within each government who had very strong ties or sympathies with the Axis. And the feeling was, if they're going to throw their weight around in South America, then we'd better do the same thing. Once the war breaks out, it would not be a good idea if there was a weak flank in that region.
BD: So, what were some of the main challenges?
TT: Well, it was definitely the kind of film that evolved as you made it, because so much of it was informed by what you uncovered and who you met. I'd say the big challenge was figuring out how to integrate all of these various elements. That was also the most fun. Clearly we had the films to work with and we found these outtakes and, boy, they were a jumble. Some are only a few frames long. And we stretched them out to make shots. We had to figure out where they were and whatever kind of photographic reinforcement there was, and then we had to figure out if there was a people story to tell, either from the El Grupo side or the side of the hosts.
BD: That's really the heart of it, isn't it?
TT: Yeah, the families and the families, and, in the end, the film is very much about family: how we create them and rub up against each other and the way we influence and affect each other. Certainly meeting the descendents of the people who were involved in this trip felt like a great, big family reunion after a while because certainly the children of El Grupo were eager to have the story told, and when we found someone in Latin America they were equally interested in talking about the experience and the stories that they had heard, and the impact that this cultural exchange had on their families.
BD: Speaking of family, where did your financing come from?
TT: It came fully from the Walt Disney Family Foundation. So that call from Diane Disney Miller got the project started but it certainly didn't ensure it. Basically it was an invitation to do research and whether there was a film to be made and then whether the foundation wanted to support it.
BD: What were some of the biggest revelations?
TT: I don't think that I was as aware how devastating a period the strike was, or the extent to which it changed the financial problems and the reorganization of the studio. I came to feel that it really was a different place up until April 1941 and then a different place again after August 1941. It was still a fascinating place, but it was not the place that had made Snow White.
BD: You really get the sense of the strike and the war really soured Walt.