July 9, 2018  (Web Review)

Tyrus

(2017) 80 min. DVD: $24.99. PBS Video (avail. from most distributors). SDH captioned. ISBN: 978-1-5317-0312-7.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

In the early 20th century, Chinese Americans seeking employment were often limited to work as domestics, waiters, and laundry workers. Tyrus Wong (1910-2016) was brought to the “golden mountain” of California by his father. Early on, Wong exhibited a natural talent for drawing, but his ambitions were blocked by racial prejudice and a lack of money. Filmmaker Pamela Tom’s PBS-aired American Masters documentary serves up a tale of determination. Driven by the need to support his family, Wong became one of the very few Asian Americans to find work at a Hollywood studio, in his case the Walt Disney film factory. His simple style informed landscapes and the overall signature look for the Disney classic Bambi, which proved to be a big hit. But the animation department was considered an “old boys club,” and a bitter labor dispute at Disney in 1941 divided workers and almost shut down the studio. Wong didn’t join the strikers, and was shunned after the settlement, leaving the studio after only two years. He then supported himself by designing Hallmark greeting cards and dinnerware. Wong returned to filmmaking as an “inspirational sketch artist” at Warner Bros., helping to create the look and make storyboards for such diverse films as Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild Bunch, and in later life he made and flew intricately crafted kites. In interviews, Wong talks about his career, long marriage, love of calligraphy, and legacy, while family members, critics, and Disney historians offer tribute. Extras include bonus featurettes. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (S. Rees)