“Christmas with Walt Disney” is a heartwarming documentary that gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at Walt Disney’s love of the Christmas season and holiday traditions. Originally debuting in 2009 at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, the film is now available to stream on Disney+ for the first time this holiday season. Directed by Disney legend Don Hahn, “Christmas with Walt Disney” incorporates vintage films, classic footage of Disneyland, and Disney family home movies to showcase Walt’s joyful spirit during Christmastime. The documentary is just under an hour long and is narrated by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller.
Plot and Storyline
The overarching plot of “Christmas with Walt Disney” centers around Walt’s daughter Diane reminiscing about Christmas memories with her father while vintage clips and home movies play. The storyline follows a loose chronological order, starting with Walt and his brother Roy decorating their family home for Christmas as young boys. It then transitions to the early years of the Disney company, showing Walt leading his animators in festive singalongs and parties. The documentary highlights Walt’s childlike wonder during the holidays, like when he surprised his wife Lillian with an extravagant train set one Christmas morning.
Intimate home videos capture the Disney family celebrating together over the years, opening presents, and spending quality time together. The climax of the film comes when Walt decides to bring his family Christmas traditions to Disneyland. Vintage footage shows Walt decking the halls of Main Street USA and later introducing the public to the Disneyland Christmas parade, fireworks, and more holiday magic. The storyline comes full circle, with Diane fondly recalling Christmas Eve dinners in Walt’s apartment above the fire station on Main Street.
Music and Songs
A key highlight of “Christmas with Walt Disney” is the music and songs featured throughout. In the early years of the Disney company, Walt leads animators and staff in singing Christmas carols together to get in the holiday spirit. Classic Disney songs like “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” can be heard as Walt organizes Christmas parties and celebrations. The documentary incorporates music and songs from various Disney films that contain Christmas scenes, like “Lady and the Tramp” and “Babes in Toyland”.
Snippets of festive tunes from movies like “Swiss Family Robinson” play as Diane narrates memories of watching Disney holiday films every year. When Walt brings Christmas to Disneyland, familiar Disneyland rides like “It’s a Small World” can be heard in the background. The Disneyland Christmas parade is set to instrumental medleys of holiday tunes. The film ends with Diane reminiscing about Christmas Eve on Main Street as “Silent Night” plays.
Visual Effects and Animation
As a documentary produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, the visual effects and animation in “Christmas with Walt Disney” are top-notch. Throughout the film, Don Hahn seamlessly blends vintage footage, home movies, and classic Disney animated clips. The old films have been carefully restored, colorized, and enhanced. The home movies have a nostalgic vintage look, transporting viewers back in time. And the animated clips from Disney films preserve the classic hand-drawn art.
Whimsical animations transition between segments, with Santa and his reindeer flying over London, just like in Disney’s animated “A Christmas Carol”. Artfully designed title cards help set the time periods and mood. And delicate snowfall overlays add a magical touch. When showcasing the Disneyland Christmas events, parades, and fireworks, the documentary displays the retro theme park attractions in their full holiday splendor. Overall, the visual effects and animation create a heartwarming, nostalgic viewing experience that complements the storyline perfectly.
Walt Disney’s Christmas Spirit and Traditions
At its core, “Christmas with Walt Disney” is a celebration of Walt’s lively Christmas spirit and the many traditions he inspired. As Diane notes, “Christmas was a special time of year for Dad”. Throughout the documentary, Walt’s childlike excitement about the holidays shines through. According to Diane, Walt always insisted on real Christmas trees to get their home in the holiday spirit. He would dress up as Santa to surprise his daughters on Christmas morning. And he made sure the family attended Christmas Eve candlelight services together. Walt was all about bringing joy, imagination, and togetherness to the Christmas season.
At the Disney studios, he organized elaborate holiday parties and gave thoughtful gifts to his staff. And later at Disneyland, Walt went all out with decorations, music, parades, and fireworks to help guests experience the magic of Christmas. Above all, it’s clear from the documentary that Walt cherished Christmas as a time to make lasting memories with loved ones. The holiday season brought out his creativity, generosity, and inner child. As Diane reflects, “That was the real gift that Dad gave us – a sense of family”.
Significance of the Documentary’s Disney+ Release
“Christmas with Walt Disney” holds special nostalgic significance, since it provides a rare intimate glimpse into Walt’s private family holiday traditions. Before its Disney+ release, the documentary could only be viewed at the Walt Disney Family Museum’s physical location. Now, the Disney+ streaming release allows fans, families, and a new generation of viewers to enjoy the documentary from the comfort of home during the holidays. As Disney continues to unlock its vault of archival films and footage, “Christmas with Walt Disney” represents a truly special treat for the holidays.
The documentary’s unique perspective on Walt’s Christmas spirit adds a new dimension to viewers’ understanding of the legendary Disney creator. While Walt brought joy to families through his films, theme parks, and characters, this documentary shows his own joyful spirit during his favorite time of year. Overall, “Christmas with Walt Disney” is a priceless gift to fans this holiday season. It offers a nostalgic lens into Walt’s life and the magical Disney holiday traditions that families now look forward to year after year. After watching this documentary, the Disney Christmas spirit is sure to fill viewers’ hearts and homes.