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Thomas Ian Nichols (right) as young Walt Disney

Thomas Ian Nichols (right) as young Walt Disney

“WALT BEFORE MICKEY”  My rating: C- 

120 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Factually dense and dramatically anemic, “Walt Before Mickey” is an ultra-low-budget look at the life of the great Walt Disney in the years before his big breakthrough with Mickey Mouse.

Written by Arthur L. Bernstein and Armando Gutierrez (adapting Timothy Susanin‘s non-fiction book) and directed by first-time feature helmer Khoa Le, the film opens  with the Disney family leaving their farm in Marceline MO to move to Kansas City.

The bulk of the film covers 1918 to 1928, when Mickey made his first appearance on the big screen and made Disney a household word. Those years saw Walt found his Laugh-O-gram animation studio in KC, where he recruited young artists who would become the backbone of the future Hollywood animation industry.

It was in this Midwestern city where Disney — not yet old enough to vote — struggled for financial success and recognition and, failing to achieve either, moved on to Los Angeles. But not before sharing a period of impoverishment with a pet mouse Walt adopted in his studio…a mouse who a few years down the road would inspire big things.

In L.A. there were more humiliating failures before the creation of Walt’s famous cartoon rodent would turn everything around.

“Walt Before Mickey” gets high marks for intentions. The filmmakers obviously see in Disney’s story a lesson for all entrepreneurs — that success is rarely comes overnight and is often preceded by debilitating setbacks.

And, given the usual license at work in film biographies, the movie is astonishingly accurate in its narrative. (I can say that, having co-written a book about Disney’s early years.)

Oh, there are some lapses and incongruities. Walt’s father Elias, a skinny wraith of a man, is portrayed by a beefy actor. Here Walt’s first studio is in the loft of a rural barn (in fact, he and partner Ub Iwerks set up shop in a bathroom in a downtown office building). And screenwriters Bernstein and Gutierrez seem to be unaware that Walt’s Kansas City was in Missouri, not Kansas.

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