On Friday, we'll see the debut of Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2, a new documentary series that will take viewers inside the last year of production on what would become the highest grossing animated movie ever made (unless you count the Lion King remake). If you're even a little bit a fan of Frozen II or animated movies in general, it's a series that needs to be seen. It's a documentary with at least as much drama as the movie itself. It's a remarkable peek behind the curtain of Disney, but it's far from the only great documentary about the Mouse House to be found on Disney+.
The history of the Walt Disney Company is as fascinating as any piece of media or theme park attraction the company has produced. While Walt Disney himself was certainly the key to it all, he's definitely not the only genius who helped make Disney the company it is today. Here are five more documentaries you'll want to check out if you want to learn more about how Disney has become the company that it is, and the people that left their mark along the way.
Waking Sleeping Beauty
Michael Eisner called the 1990s "The Disney Decade," and at the center of that decade was what came to be known as the Disney Renaissance, a second great era in Disney Animation. Waking Sleeping Beauty tells the story of Walt Disney Animation in the years leading up to, and during that rebirth. You get an unvarnished look at the problems that led to the near closure of the animation studio, and the way that a number of talented directors, animators and songwriters turned things around. While the end result was often something magical, the reality of making those movies happen was much more gritty, and Waking Sleeping Beauty is an honest depiction of the reality of it all. Most importantly, you see how the end of the Disney Renaissance may have been entirely due to the death of Howard Ashman.
What to Watch When It's Over: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story
It is literally impossible to understate the importance of Robert and Richard Sherman to the history of Walt Disney Studios, and movies in general. The duo were an absolutely magical pair of songwriters who produced some of the most memorable, and catchy, tunes of their day. From the Oscar-winning soundtrack to Mary Poppins to every tune that gets stuck in your head at Disneyland (yes including that one), the brothers' music touched every corner of Disney and beyond. However, The Boys reveals so much more than just how the songs we love came about. While the Sherman Brothers may have worked side-by-side for decades, their relationship was rougher than you might expect, and this documentary shows us that reality. It's honestly a bit heartbreaking, and yet, it makes the fact that they made so many people happy that much more impressive.
What to Watch When It's Over: Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks
Frank & Ollie
While The Sherman Brothers might not have gotten along, Frank & Ollie is a Disney documentary about two people who really were as close as they appeared to be. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson were two of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men, the group of core animators that helped define the Disney style. The duo worked on everything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Fox and the Hound. Frank and Ollie met at Stanford and remained close friends for the rest of their lives; even, as the film shows, living next door to each other. These two clearly just had fun being together, and that feeling is infectious throughout the film. Frank & Ollie is less a deep exploration of Disney history than a fun time spent with a couple of nice guys, but sometimes that's what you need.
What to Watch When It's Over: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan
Walt And El Grupo
One of the most fascinating events in Disney history, which a lot of people aren't that familiar with, is the Disney trip to South America in 1941. Asked by the U.S. government to do a sort of "goodwill tour" of the region, in order to keep major South American countries like Argentina, Brazil and Chile from aligning with the Axis during World War II, Walt Disney and a chosen group of animators and others spent three months touring the continent looking for ideas that would eventually be turned into Disney movies. Set against the backdrop of another major moment in Disney history, the animator's strike at the Disney Studios, this one film covers some of the most important events in the history of Disney.
What to Watch When It's Over: Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros.
The Imagineering Story
While other entries on this list are documentary films, it's impossible to put together a reasonable list of Disney+ documentaries without mentioning The Imagineering Story. It's a six-episode series on the history of Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney theme parks around the world. Of course, it gets to go more in-depth because of its longer length, but it still only feels like its scratching the surface. The creativity on display here is second to none, and seeing the history behind so many different iconic attractions and theme parks is as magical as any animated film.
What to Watch When It's Over: Disneyland: Around the Seasons
Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2 will be a welcome addition to these great documentaries, and even more are on the way. Word is that Howard, Don Hahn's follow up to Making Sleeping Beauty about the life of the great Howard Ashman will be hitting Disney+ at some point this year, and the team behind the Mr. Rogers documentary Won'y You Be My Neighbor is working on a film about the history and impact of Mickey Mouse. Behind our favorite stories are even more great stories, and Disney+ has some great opportunities to learn about your favorite parts of Disney from every angle.