In 1928, when the world first met a mouse named Mickey, no one could have predicted the ways in which Walt Disney would change the world. Walt built not just an animation studio that produced movies entwined with the childhood of millions around the world, but an entertainment empire encompassing films, television, theme parks, hotels, cruise ships and record labels.
Walt was not only the original voice of Mickey, but also the face of the Disney company. He came into the living rooms of countless Americans every week through Walt Disney Presents. It’s difficult for me to imagine a time when Walt Disney himself was promoting the newest animation and walking the streets of Disneyland. He has become a legend, a myth. To many, he’s the visionary genius who set the bar so high that Disney’s competitors have always been playing catch up. To others, he was a relentless task master who expected his employees to go above and beyond.
This December, Walt makes his return to the big screen. It’s not cryogenics that brings Disney’s Big Cheese back to life, but rather Tom Hanks. This weekend, I watched the trailer for Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks.” I had heard last year that Hanks had been tapped for the part and thought, “Hmm, that could be interesting.” I didn’t know the direction the movie was taking. I at first thought it was going to be a biography of Walt’s life. However, this film focuses on the production of “Mary Poppins.”
After watching the trailer twice, I of course, had to immediately research the subject matter. The tension between Disney and Poppins author P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) is the center of the film. I had no idea the story behind this beloved classic was not exactly a spoonful of sugar. In fact, the real life Travers fought for nearly two decades and several studios before agreeing to have her nanny adapted for the silver screen. In addition to the $100,000 payday, Travers also received final say on the script. This was an unprecedented move for someone working with Disney.
Hanks seems to have captured Disney’s charm, attempting to persuade Thompson’s Travers to trust the studio. Travers, on the other hand, is concerned about the way her beloved character is rendered on screen. She is insistent on having no animation in the film. She doesn’t like the music composed by the golden duo the Sherman Brothers (who penned some of Disney’s most well-known tunes). In real life, she was adamantly against Dick Van Dyke as Bert and thought Julie Andrews was far too pretty to play the no-nonsense caretaker.
I’m curious to see the approach Disney will take to Disney. It marks the first time someone portraying Walt Disney is a starring character in a Disney movie. I wonder if Disney will skip over some of the dicier points of the tiff. For instance, Travers wasn’t initially invited to the Poppins premiere and had to beg Disney to let her come.
After seeing the finished film (complete with dancing animated penguins), Travers was devastated and wept with disappointment in the theater while other movie-goers gave it a standing ovation. She demanded Disney strike the animation from the movie, to which he replied, “Pamela, that ship has sailed.”
“Saving Mr. Banks” sails into theaters nationwide on December 20.