The slender length and initially limited exposure of “Christmas With Walt Disney” belie the rather wonderful archival materials encased in this charming compilation of Yuletide-related materials from throughout the founder’s lifespan as studio chief. Commissioned by the Walt Disney Family Foundation and playing an exclusive world-premiere engagement through the holidays at the recently christened Walt Disney Family Museum in San Franciscio’s Presidio, the docu could easily be expanded for DVD or modest further theatrical rollout, though its current shape ensures annual broadcast viability.
Directed by latter-day Disney honcho Don Hahn, producer on “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” “Christmas” consists entirely of astutely assembled vintage clips, along with reminiscing narration by Walt’s eldest daughter, Diane Disney Miller.
The clips run a wide gamut. Cartoon excerpts include well-remembered bits from “Lady and the Tramp” and “Fantasia,” but are often too briefly glimpsed, especially those from lesser-known shorts.
Live-action features are represented by sentimental Christmassy sequences in 1960s live-action features “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Those Calloways,” “Babes in Toyland” and “The Happiest Millionaire.”
There are also diverse bits from Disney TV programs, not just “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “Mickey Mouse Club” but also kitschy early-1950s specials featuring odd commercials (“Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, the most trusted name in surgical dressings and baby products!”).
We see footage of the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley (the first Games to be broadcast live), whose pageantry aspects Disney was invited to produce. A long montage of Disneyland Christmas Day parades features both “It’s a Small World” internationalism and some unhappily dragged-along exotic animals. Walt’s frequent, genial presence in the telecast sequences remind how high-profile a figure he once cut in American culture — not just as a brand, but as a fatherly public personality.
Pushing 80 but sounding very spry, Disney Miller has plentiful homemovies backing up her claim, “He was a wonderful dad.” She and sis Sharon appear to have had a very fortunate but not overspoiled childhood — reflecting the studio’s own equal-but-separate relationship with the rest of Hollywood, where glamour, ambition, indulgence, pressure and other factors often made for less healthy child-rearing circumstances.
Of more immediate interest to nostalgic adults (and film geeks) than children who enjoy today’s Disney product, “Christmas” is deftly edited, but perhaps underestimates its own appeal — it could easily have been drawn out to feature length. As usual with Disney historical digs, all archival materials are in terrific condition.