The film covers Walt Disney's early years in business, during which he started various businesses including Laugh-O-Gram Studio and The Walt Disney Company with fellow animator Ub Iwerks and Roy Disney.
Walt Before Mickey is about Walt Disney (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and his early beginnings in Marceline, Missouri. The story follows his poor beginnings and eventual move, after wartime service, to Kansas City, where he created his first animation studio Laugh-O-Gram Studio. There he hired Rudy Ising (David Henrie) and Ub Iwerks (Armando Gutierrez) to help start his business. Walt had various minor successes. Frank Newman (Arthur L. Bernstein) promoted Walt's animations as Newman Laugh-O-Grams, which were an instant success. However, due to Disney's carelessness in selling the animations at cost (with no profit), he was forced to have Laugh-O-Gram file for bankruptcy, leaving him homeless. Iwerks then gave Walt his camera which he later sold to purchase a train ticket to Los Angeles.
Walt Disney moved to Los Angeles and began working as an extra on various movies. Later he convinced his brother Roy Disney (Jon Heder) to help fund his new company, Disney Brothers. Disney Brothers quickly sold an animation called Alice Comedies to a distributor named Margaret Winkler (Flora Bonfanti). The animation provided the Disney brothers with minor success. Walt then rehired his original team of animators which included Ub Iwerks, Fred Harmon, Rudy Ising, Hugh Harman (Hunter Gomez), and Friz Freleng (Taylor Gray). The Disney brothers then began work on both the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for their distributor Margaret Winkler. The company shortly thereafter began having disagreements with its distributor and lost the rights to both the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Various employees left Disney Brothers except for Ub Iwerks.
Walt Disney visited New York in an attempt to secure a deal for his company, but failed. On a train ride back with his wife Lillian Disney he created the concept of a mouse named Mortimer, which would become Mickey Mouse. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Walt Disney gave the draft to Ub Iwerks who then completed the design for Mickey Mouse.
The film concludes with the premiere of Plane Crazy and with Walt Disney, Roy Disney, and Ub Iwerks leaving the movie premiere of their creation.
The majority of the filming took place in DeLand and Orlando, Florida. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, director Khoa Le talked about the challenges of the project, having been hired at the last minute to direct and having little familiarity with Disney himself. He mentioned, '“I came from a short film background, indie stuff, so I knew how to work efficiently,” Le said. “I’m an editor, too, so I was shooting to edit. For most scenes the actors got only two takes. I had to go back to my grassroots of guerrilla filmmaking."'
The song "Just a Wish" was written and recorded especially for the film. It appears at the end of the film and over the credits, sung by Julie Zorrilla, American Idol finalist and written by Andrew Capra, Rob Graves and Jeremy Rubolino. It was released as an iTunes and digital single August 12, 2015.
The film premiered at AMC Theatres Downtown Disney in Orlando and continued its nationwide release in AMC, Cobb, Harkins, Marcus, Logan, and other theatre chains.
Cameron Meier of the Orlando Weekly gave the film one out of five stars, praising the filmmakers' intentions, but criticized the production's rather low budget and execution, remarking, '... (the film is) conceived nobly but executed poorly by people who fell short of their dream.' Scott Renshaw of the Salt Lake City Weekly gave the film one and a half stars, criticizing the creative team for 'the decision to douse everything in a twinkly, romanticized tone that probably struck the filmmakers as apropos for Disney's life, but in fact loses all that was spiky and determined about the man'.
Common Sense Media gave the film two stars, remarking that, 'Few visionaries are as fascinating as Walt Disney, so it's particularly frustrating that this drama is so uninspired. It seems more like an adaptation of a student's book report than a compelling look at one of the most influential men of the 20th century.' One of the rare positive reviews came from pop culture site NukeTheFridge, which gave it an 8/10 rating and proclaimed, 'Where this film does great at is the fact that it’s relatable. Let’s face it, most or none of us have our own billion dollar companies but the fact that Walt and his animators struggled financially and failed to have others believe in their dream, is something we can all relate to.'