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Walt Disney’s covert mission in Latin America.

Walt Disney’s covert mission in Latin America. (photo)

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Last week’s purchase of Marvel Entertainment signified the start of a new era at Disney, but the studio has quietly spent much of this year commemorating their past with a series of feature documentaries that have not only provided insight into the nooks and crannies behind the Mouse House, but have been among the year’s most compelling docs, period.

This week is a particularly notable one for documentary fans, Disney devotees, and history buffs in general with the release of “Walt and El Grupo,” a recreation of Walt Disney’s trip to South America in 1941 when the U.S. government asked the animator to serve as a goodwill ambassador who could possibly stem the tide of Nazism that was beginning to creep into such countries as Argentina and Chile during World War II. The trip couldn’t have come at a more convenient time for Disney, who was facing a war at home — his animators went on a five-week strike for their right to unionize — and was unable to make the features he wanted at that time.

But despite the rough patch in history, director Theodore Thomas’ chronicle of this period unfolds as elegantly as Disney’s finest animation, with the film unspooling present-day footage of South America that is fleshed out further by the letters written home by the animators who traveled with Disney (nicknamed “El Grupo” after constant calls from the bellhops). As anyone who has seen the Latin-flavored “Saludos Amigos” knows, the diplomatic trip provided a creative jolt to those 18 animators, but more importantly achieved what is only imagined by Quentin Tarantino in “Inglourious Basterds”: cinema saving the world. (“Walt and El Grupo” will open on Friday in New York and Los Angeles and a full schedule can be found here. Jim Hill Media has also compiled the many events planned to coincide with the release.)

And lest one think that Disney is burnishing its history with those bloodless, self-congratulatory docs that usually emerge when Hollywood history is retold on film, they simply haven’t been paying attention. Earlier this year, the studio put out “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story,” a criminally underseen doc about the fraternal songwriters behind such joyful classics as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” who were such rivals that they refused to let their families meet each other, despite living blocks apart in the same city. Likewise, the Toronto Film Fest will soon play host to “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” a more recent history of how the studio fell on hard times during the mid-1980s and rebounded with a string of hits like “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” but not before driving off such talents as Tim Burton and John Lasseter. (A sneak preview in Telluride provided positive notices from /Film and

It’s not surprising to learn via Thompson on Hollywood that Dick Cook, the current chairman of Walt Disney Studios who rose from humble beginnings as a monorail operator at Disneyland, has been supportive of these docs as a way of preserving the studio’s rich history, but the real credit belongs to “Walt and El Grupo” director Thomas (son of legendary animator Frank Thomas), “The Boys” co-directors Jeffrey and Gregory Sherman (the sons of Bob and Dick Sherman, respectively), and longtime Disney producer and “Waking Sleeping Beauty” director Don Hahn, who have traded on their insider status to peek behind the curtain, revealing Disney’s evolution, warts and all. For film fans, that can only be good news.

[Photo: “Walt and El Grupo,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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