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Walt Disney Company Documentaries: The Complete List and Guide to What to Watch

The following is a complete list of every Walt Disney and Disney Company documentary that has ever been produced with a brief description of each (and in some cases, a brief review). There are currently 25 Walt Disney and related documentaries on this list with 4 having reviews and recommendations. This is the most complete list of Disney-related documentaries on the internet. If you know of any Walt Disney or Disney Company documentaries I am missing on this list, feel free to let me know in the comments section (or contact us) and I will make sure to add it to the list. This list will be updated whenever there is a new title to add or I have watched and reviewed another documentary on the list. Note: This list does not include Disneynature films or any other Disney produced documentaries that aren’t about the company or Walt Disney himself. Those documentaries will be included on separate lists in the future. For more comprehensive lists of films, check out our list of lists.

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American Experience: Walt Disney – He Made Believe (2015, 221 Minutes, TV-PG, Directed by Sarah Colt)

Synopsis: At a run time of almost four hours long, Walt Disney: He Made Believe is probably the most in-depth documentary on this list. It covers Walt Disney’s entire life from his early short films to the creation of Disneyland and ultimately his death. Walt Disney: He Made Believe even touches on some of Disney’s shortcomings (especially his hatred of unions and “communists” and occasionally being an overbearing boss). This documentary aired on PBS in 2015 as part of the American Experience series.

Review: Of the Walt Disney documentaries I have seen so far, Walt Disney: He Made Believe is definitely the best one. This is mainly due to the longer run time, which allowed the filmmakers a chance to dive deeper into Disney’s life. Even if you somehow aren’t a fan of Disney, you have to admit that he was an interesting figure whose life story deserves more than a typical 90-minute documentary. I actually think an even longer documentary (a four or five-parter) could have worked. Regardless, this is a great documentary that is absolutely worth watching.

Walt Disney: He Made Believe includes a lot of great archive material from early sketches of Mickey Mouse to behind-the-scenes footage of the production of Snow White (they even brought a real horse into the studio for the animators to study). One of the best examples of the great archive material in this documentary is the scene of Walt Disney happily riding his model railroad he had in his backyard (which helped inspire him to create Disneyland). There is a lot of great stuff in this documentary and Disney fans will love this cornucopia of rare footage.

This documentary also covers some of the things that a lot of documentaries about Walt Disney leave out. As noted earlier, it covers his faults like his absolute hatred for unions (he even fired Goofy creator Art Babbitt because he became one of the strike leaders) and how he refused to listen to the African American leaders he consulted for Song of the South (which resulted in an extremely controversial film). I think these criticisms are fair and help make the documentary more balanced. Nobody’s perfect after all, not even Walt Disney. The documentary also makes sure to point out that Walt wasn’t the only reason for the success of the business, giving Roy O. Disney a generous amount of praise. Roy isn’t even mentioned in some of these documentaries so it is nice that Walt Disney: He Made Believe gave him some credit.

Even though this documentary is almost four hours long, the pacing is very good. I’m sure a lot of you are probably thinking a biographical documentary that long has to be boring, at least some of the time. However, I didn’t find any part of the documentary to be boring. In fact, I thought it was interesting throughout. It helps that the documentary covers both the animation and theme park parts of Disney’s life, instead of focusing on just one or the other. Part one is mostly about Walt’s early life and animation work while the second half is mostly about the parks.

Recommendation: If you are at all interested in Disney or biographical documentaries, Walt Disney: He Made Believe is definitely worth a watch. I would actually say that for Disney fans, it is a must-watch and probably the best documentary on this list. However, if you are looking for a sugary-sweet Walt Disney documentary that overlooks his shortcomings, this probably isn’t the documentary for you because it does actually call out his character flaws. For everyone else though, this documentary is highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5 (Highly Recommended)

How You Can Watch It: DVD, Amazon Video


The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (2009, 101 Minutes, PG, Directed by Gregory V. Sherman and Jeff Sherman)

Synopsis: Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, better known as the Sherman Brothers, were the composing team that helped create many of Walt Disney’s musical scores from the ’60s and ’70s (and a few more after that). Some of their works include Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (that’s just a small sampling). The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story takes a look at their careers and includes interviews with family members, other film composers, and famous actors like Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. While this documentary isn’t completely about the Disney company, the Sherman Brothers certainly played an important part in its success.

How You Can Watch It: DVD, Amazon Video


The Dark Side of Disney (2015, 90 Minutes, Directed by Philip Swift)

Synopsis: Not surprisingly, The Dark Side of Disney is an unauthorized documentary about people who refuse to follow the rules of Disney parks. Things like urban exploration, “drinking around the world,” and scattering ashes in the parks are covered in this 90-minute documentary. I will admit this is an odd addition to this list but it is about the Disney parks so it makes the list.

How You Can Watch It: Amazon Video


Disney Parks: Where Dreams Come True (2010, 308 Minutes)

Synopsis: Disney Parks: Where Dreams Come True is a travelogue/informative Blu-ray and DVD set from Questar Video that has six main features: Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes, Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes, Ultimate Walt Disney World, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney Cruise Line, and Undiscovered Disney Parks. Extras include a look at Walt Disney’s apartment in Disneyland, a virtual ride on the Disney Dream cruise ship, and looks at newer additions to the Disney parks.

How You Can Watch It: Blu-ray (Missing some of the content the DVD has), DVD


Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, & Magic (2007, 332 Minutes, Directed by Bob Garner and Pete Schuermann)

Synopsis: Unlike Disney Parks: Where Dreams Come True, this was actually produced by Disney and released as part of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series (which also means it is hard to find and goes for a lot of money online nowadays). The main feature is Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, and Magic but the DVD release also includes People and Places: Disneyland U.S.A., Operation Disneyland, Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair, Disneyland: Around the Season, and Building Walt’s Dream: Disneyland Under Construction. Many of these videos aired as part of Walt Disney’s Disneyland TV series (the series that eventually became The Wonderful World of Disney).

How You Can Watch It: DVD


Dream on Silly Dreamer (2005, 39 Minutes, Directed by Dan Lund)

Synopsis: This short documentary was directed by Dan Lund, a former Disney animator. It is about the rise and fall of traditional animation at Disney and its eventual replacement by computer-generated animation. The documentary was created shortly after Disney eliminated over 1,000 traditional animation jobs and even includes interviews recorded seconds after employees were notified of their termination.

How You Can Watch It: DVD


The Dreamfinders (2016, 67 Minutes, Directed by Anthony Cortese)

Synopsis: The Dreamfinders is a documentary about Disney Parks fans who have made a career from their passions (via websites, podcasts, and other methods). The six main interviewees are John Saccheri (owner of BigFatPanda.com), JeniLynn Knopp (content developer at The DIS), Ricky Brigante (owner of InsideTheMagic.net), Lou Mongello (author of several Disney books and host of WDWRadio.com), Corinne Andersson (owner of DisneyLifeStylers.com), and Ron Schneider (former Disney Parks performer and the original Dreamfinder).

Review: The Dreamfinders is a decent documentary, but not because it accomplished its main purpose. The real reason why The Dreamfinders might be worth watching (as long as you are a big Walt Disney World fan) is due to its huge quantity of footage of the parks (which also happens to be very high quality). One of the coolest parts of the documentary is being able to see Walt Disney World from new and interesting ways. For example, The Dreamfinders starts off with a stunning time lapse of Disney World turning from night to day from the air. This is some gorgeous cinematography that I absolutely had to mention. This documentary also has a lot of other high quality footage you don’t often see in random Disney World YouTube videos.

However, showing off the beauty of Walt Disney World was not the main goal of this documentary. The main purpose was to document people who have found a way to make a living visiting the Disney theme parks and showcase the community of Disney parks fans. In this area, The Dreamfinders somewhat fails. While all of the main interviewees seem like nice people (especially the very funny John Saccheri), there isn’t really a lot of insight into what its like to make a living writing and talking about your passions. Instead, we just get a lot of scenes of them meeting fans, talking about how great their jobs are (instead of showing it), and one particularly bad Periscope scene where three of the interviewees compete to get the most viewers on their video streams. These types of scenes wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t go on for so long and take up the majority of the documentary. Even though The Dreamfinders is only 67 minutes long it still could have used some pruning to get it down to a 45-50 run time if this was all they were going to document. If they could have gotten interviews with some more former Disney employees (especially an Imagineer) or went more in-depth into other parts of the Disney Parks fandom, 67 minutes would have been an acceptable run time. However, it isn’t for such a limited documentary like this.

Recommendation: While I don’t think The Dreamfinders did a great job of accomplishing its main goal, I do think the likeable personalities of the interviewees and the often amazing Disney Parks footage makes it worth a watch for Walt Disney World fans. Outside of the biggest Disney World fans, I’m not sure if it is worth purchasing but the director has also made it available for free on his YouTube channel so if you have any interest you might as well give it a try.

Rating: 3/5 (Average)

How You Can Watch It: Amazon Video, YouTube



Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016, 94 Minutes, Directed by Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey)

Synopsis: Floyd Norman was the first African-American animator at Disney. This documentary is about his life as an animator, story man, and self-proclaimed “troublemaker.”

Review: Floyd Norman: An Animated Life isn’t a perfect documentary (it is a bit too long and spends too much time on ageism) but Norman is such a likeable and entertaining subject that he helps cover up some of the documentary’s faults. None of the negatives are that major, for example the documentary is only about 15 minutes too long (and even then it just drags a little bit too much for my liking).

Norman has had a pretty interesting life from becoming the first black employee at Disney to leaving the company to make his own African-American history film studio to returning to Disney, getting fired, returning again (this time to draw Mickey Mouse cartoons for Disney Publishing), joining Pixar for Toy Story 2, and finally being forced to retire at 65. He is also very interesting to listen to and you can definitely see his passion for animation, even at the age of 80. One of the things I really look for in a good documentary is whether or not I can feel the subject’s passion for their craft. With Floyd Norman, it is very easy to sense. His stories are also quite funny and the documentary ingeniously hired some up-and-coming animators to create some amusing short animations of them. While the animations are short, they are definitely a highlight of the documentary.

However, there are some problems with Floyd Norman: An Animated Life. First of all, it is a very interview-heavy documentary. It has some archive photos and videos but the majority of the documentary is composed of interviews. Unfortunately, the documentary is also a little bit too long, I think it could have been cut down to approximately a 75-minute run time. These negatives shouldn’t be considered deal-breakers, they just make the recommended audience for this documentary a little smaller.

Recommendation: While Floyd Norman: An Animated Life is a pretty good documentary and I certainly enjoyed watching it, I don’t think it will unanimously appeal to all audiences. Norman is a very interesting person but the documentary is a little on the long side and I would say it is more for hardcore Disney fans. However, Disney freaks will probably love this look at one of the most important Disney animators in the studio’s history.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Recommended)

How You Can Watch It: Blu-ray, Amazon Video


Frank and Ollie (1995, 89 Minutes, PG, Directed by Theodore Thomas)

Synopsis: Frank and Ollie is a documentary about two chief animators (Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston) at Walt Disney Animation Studios who worked there from the company’s early years to their retirement in the late 1970s. Directed by Frank Thomas’ son Theodore, this documentary includes interviews with Thomas and Johnston, contemporary Disney animators, and historians. Frank and Ollie is supposedly a great documentary for aspiring animators to watch as it includes lots of great anecdotes on how animation should be done.

How You Can Watch It: DVD, Amazon Video


Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: The Futurism of Walt Disney (2016, 101 Minutes, Directed by Christian Moran)

Synopsis: Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: The Futurism of Walt Disney is a documentary which focuses on the technologies Walt Disney used and developed throughout his career (sync sound animation, the concept of E.P.C.O.T., etc.). The documentary is available for free on YouTube.

How You Can Watch It: YouTube


The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story (1999, 90 Minutes, G, Directed by Leslie Iwerks)

Synopsis: The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story is yet another documentary about a Disney animator. This one is about the man who helped Walt Disney create Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse (he helped design the final version of the character). Iwerks was also widely considered to be Walt Disney’s oldest friend. Unlike several of the documentaries on this list, The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story was actually produced by Walt Disney Pictures so there should be a lot of great archive material included.

How You Can Watch It: Amazon Video, VHS


The Imagineering Story (Upcoming Documentary, Directed by Leslie Iwerks)

Synopsis: The Imagineering Story has been in production since 2013. Not much is known about the documentary except that it is about the history of Walt Disney Imagineering and is directed by Leslie Iwerks (who has also directed Disney documentaries The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story and The Pixar Story).

How You Can Watch It: Not Yet Available


It All Started with a Mouse: The Disney Story (1989 TV Movie, 60 Minutes, Directed by Alan Benson)

Synopsis: One of the oldest documentaries about Walt Disney, It All Started with a Mouse: The Disney Story has yet to be released on home video or on any streaming site. It is unfortunate that this Disney biographical documentary isn’t available to be watched but there are plenty of newer and more readily available documentaries about Walt Disney on this list. I would especially recommend American Experience: Walt Disney – He Made Believe.

How You Can Watch It: Not Yet Available


Life, Animated (2016, 92 Minutes, PG, Directed by Roger Ross Williams)

Synopsis: Life, Animated is an Oscar-nominated documentary about a boy with autism who learned how to communicate via Disney films. According to the director, this film even made Disney’s lawyers cry.

How You Can Watch It: DVD, Amazon Video



Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World (2005 TV Episode, 89 Minutes, TV-PG)

Synopsis: This double-length episode of Modern Marvels is an in-depth look at Walt Disney World’s infrastructure (including the famous utilidors), the “brains” that make their attractions work, and other behind-the-scenes locations. All four parks are covered (as well as the monorail) during the 89-minute episode.

Review: Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World is quite old and outdated (it aired in 2005) but there is still a lot to like here. In particular, the behind-the scenes footage of places you can’t exactly waltz into (utilidors, attraction control panels, etc.), the archive material, and prototypes of attractions (like Mark Sumner’s erector set version of Soarin’). However, be aware that there are some “naked” animatronics that are possible nightmare fuel or at the very least extremely creepy. The program also includes interviews with some Disney employees and experts as well. I’m a pretty big Disney parks fan but even I hadn’t heard some of the interesting tidbits brought up throughout this documentary (some of the content is pretty common knowledge though).

Most of the negatives are due to the program’s age. First of all, the DVD’s video quality is really bad and has a terrible aspect ratio for today’s viewers. While neither is particularly surprising for something that aired in 2005, it is disappointing since Disney World is such a beautiful place and the video quality fails to showcase it. Also, the program focuses way too much on the newer attractions at the time it was made. One of the biggest problems with this is that one of the attractions has already closed (Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show) and a lot of time was spent on it. However, as Modern Marvels is a technology/engineering series, showing off the latest attractions makes perfect sense. I just wish they would have spent a little more time on the older, more classic rides.

Recommendation: While Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World is pretty outdated at this point (and has very poor video quality), it is still an interesting look at the behind-the-scenes elements of the parks. The positives more than make up for the problems. Disney parks fans and people who love finding out how things work should definitely give it a watch.

Rating: 3.5 (Recommended)

How You Can Watch It: DVD


The Pixar Story (2007, 87 Minutes, G, Directed by Leslie Iwerks)

Synopsis: From director Leslie Iwerks (who also directed The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story), The Pixar Story unsurprisingly is about the history of Pixar Animation Studio. Also covered in the documentary is the rise of computer animation and the decline of 2D animation.

How You Can Watch It: Wall-E Special Edition Blu-ray and DVD, Amazon Video


Richard M. Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime (2015, 60 Minutes, G, Directed by Don Hahn)

Synopsis: This PBS documentary is about Richard Sherman, one of the famous Sherman Brothers (who were also featured in another documentary called The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story). In addition to celebrating and chronicling his life, new performances of songs from Mary Poppins, Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and more are included (performed by contemporary artists).

How You Can Watch It: DVD, Amazon Video


Secret Lives: Walt Disney (1995 TV Episode, 60 Minutes, Directed by Joseph Bullman)

Synopsis: Probably the only documentary on this list to take a more “negative” look at Walt Disney, this episode of Secret Lives takes a look at Disney’s supposed racism, misogyny, and his hatred of “communists.” This documentary doesn’t appear to be available to watch in any legal way but American Experience: Walt Disney – He Made Believe does cover some of Disney’s shortcomings (though much more briefly).

How You Can Watch It: Not Yet Available


The Sweatbox (2002, 95 Minutes, PG-13, Directed by John-Paul Davidson and Trudie Styler)

Synopsis: The Sweatbox is a documentary about the troubled production of Kingdom of the Sun, the movie which would eventually transform into The Emperor’s New Groove. One of the major themes of the documentary is the conflict between creatives and studio bigwigs. The Sweatbox also has a pretty interesting history. Trudie Styler was allowed to document the production of the film as part of the deal to bring her husband Sting to the project. This allowed her to record the troubled production (including the removal of Sting’s songs). Disney owns the rights to the documentary, meaning it has never been released on home video or digitally (and probably never will be). It had only been shown at a few film festivals until it was leaked online in 2012.

How You Can Watch It: Not Yet Available (Legally at least)


Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009, 86 Minutes, PG, Directed by Don Hahn)

Synopsis: Most of the documentaries on this list take a general look at the history of Walt Disney Company. However, Waking Sleeping Beauty is just about Disney in the ’80s and ’90s (specifically 1984-1994), when it returned to greatness with films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The documentary includes no new interviews, instead it is made completely out of archival interviews and personal videos by employees.

How You Can Watch It: DVD, Amazon Video


Walt & El Grupo (2008, 106 Minutes, PG, Directed by Theodore Thomas)

Synopsis: Walt & El Grupo is a documentary solely about Walt Disney’s 1941 trip to South America, which helped inspire Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

How You Can Watch It: DVD, Amazon Video


The Walt Disney Story (1973 Short Film, 23 Minutes)

Synopsis: This short documentary was actually part of an attraction of the same name at Disneyland. It temporarily replaced Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln before merging with it until it was eventually retired in 2000. A similar version of the attraction was also in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom from 1973 to 1992.

How You Can Watch It: Not Yet Available


Walt Disney World: A Dream Come True (1986 TV Movie, 68 Minutes)

Synopsis: This documentary aired on the Disney Channel in 1986 to mark the 15th anniversary of Walt Disney World. While you can find it through less legal methods, Walt Disney World: A Dream Come True has never been released on home video or digitally.

How You Can Watch It: Not Yet Available


Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color: The Story of the Animated Drawing (1955 TV Episode, 68 Minutes, Directed by William Beaudine and Wilfred Jackson)

Synopsis: The oldest documentary on this list, The Story of the Animated Drawing aired as part of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. In the documentary, Walt Disney discusses the history of animation from pioneers like J. Stuart Blackton and Max Fleischer to his own works.

How You Can Watch It: Amazon Video


Walt: The Man Behind the Myth (2001, 87 Minutes, TV-G, Directed by Jean-Pierre Isbouts)

Synopsis: Airing as part of The Wonderful World of Disney in 2001, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth is yet another biographical documentary about Walt Disney.

How You Can Watch It: DVD

2 thoughts on “Walt Disney Company Documentaries: The Complete List and Guide to What to Watch

  • November 16, 2018 at 7:11 pm
    Permalink

    I contacted 89 year old cinematographer, producer and filmmaker Fred R. Krug by phone and ask him about the documentary of The Proud Bird From Shanghai premiered December 16, 1973 on Walt Disney NBC. MR. Fred Krug masterminded this documentary but has no clue if it’s available. Please tell me if you have access to this documentary.

    Thank you,

    Philip Jones

    Reply

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