Note: I was invited to LA on an expense-paid press trip by Disney, which included access to lots of behind-the-scenes information about Saving Mr. Banks. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
In celebration of the limited opening of Saving Mr. Banks TODAY (December 13, 2013) and throughout the US next week (December 20, 2013), I wanted to share these fun facts about the movie as well as a FREE eBook on iTunes. And a new Saving Mr. Banks featurette about the music of Mary Poppins/Saving Mr. Banks:
Saving Mr. Banks Fun Facts:
• Walt Disney began his quest to get the rights to P.L. Travers’ book “Mary Poppins” in the early 1940s. Although it took nearly 20 years to obtain the rights, when “Mary Poppins” was finally made, it won five awards of its 13 Academy Award® nominations: Best Actress (Julie Andrews), Best Effects, Best Film Editing, Original Score and Original Song. Among the nominations were Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film also won a technical Oscar® for Petro Vlahos, Wadsworth Pohl and Ub Iwerks for conception and perfection of techniques of color traveling matte composite cinematography.
• Richard and Robert Sherman composed the original score and wrote the 1964 Oscar®-winning song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” They are portrayed in the film by Jason Schwartzman (Richard) and B.J. Novak (Robert).
• “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers’ father, Travers Goff, was a banker and is the basis for the “Mary Poppins” story’s patriarch, Mr. Banks—the character in the book whom the famous fictional nanny comes to aid.
• “Saving Mr. Banks” is the first feature-length, theatrical drama to depict the iconic entrepreneur Walt Disney, with two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”) stepping into the major role.
• In order to achieve an authentic look for her portrayal of “Mary Poppins” author, P. L. Travers, Emma Thompson chose to have her own hair permed in tight curls for the film and did not don a wig. Tom Hanks also grew his own mustache to match Walt Disney’s.
• Actor Jason Schwartzman, at 32, is the same age as his character, songwriter Richard Sherman, was when this story takes place in 1961; and, actor B.J. Novak, at 34, is the same age as his character, sibling songwriter Robert Sherman, was at the time.
• “Saving Mr. Banks” marks the first time that paternal half-brothers John (director of photography) and actor Jason Schwartzman (playing composer Richard Sherman) have ever worked together. The offspring of industry lawyer and producer Jack Schwartzman, Jason’s mom is Oscar®-nominated actress Talia Shire (“Godfather,” “Rocky”), making Shire John’s stepmom (and making both guys nephews of Francis Ford Coppola).
• Director John Lee Hancock needed a vast landscape of rolling hills and shrubbery to duplicate the remote Australian outback of a century ago. Veteran location manager Andrew Ullman found sites at the 10,000-acre Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, Calif., that were so impressive that young Australian actress Annie Buckley’s father, Dean, thought he was actually back in his homeland.
• During casting trips to Australia, director John Lee Hancock and producer Alison Owen went to Maryborough, Queensland, to get a firsthand look at where P.L. Travers had once lived as a child.
• The filmmakers were able to access a wonderful resource in making “Saving Mr. Banks”: The Walt Disney Family Museum in The Presidio of San Francisco. Opened in October 2009, the museum was co-founded by Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and grandson, Walter E.D. Miller, and is owned and operated by the nonprofit Walt Disney Family Foundation. The 40,000 square foot exhibition facility features the newest technology and historic materials and artifacts to bring Disney’s achievements to life.
• Before filming the Australian flashback scenes, actor Colin Farrell, who plays P.L. Travers’ father, realized he would not get a chance to meet the other cast members who populated the 1961 portion of the story. Since Farrell admired the work of his fellow cast members, he hosted a dinner at his Hollywood home that included a screening of “Mary Poppins” as well. About 25 people showed up and had a fun evening getting to know each other and watching the timeless film.
• In the film, P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson, opens her hotel suite door in Beverly Hills to find her room cluttered with Disney memorabilia (courtesy of set decorator Susan Benjamin, who stuffed the suite with everything from a six-foot stuffed Mickey Mouse to balloons). Disney’s current president of production, veteran filmmaker and executive Sean Bailey, was inspired to turn the tables on Emma Thompson. He decorated Thompson’s hotel room in Los Angeles with as much Disney memorabilia as he could fit into her room. About a week later, Bailey received a note of thanks from Thompson, in which she asked if they had a video camera planted somewhere in her suite to capture her reaction!
• Richard Sherman, who with his brother Robert, wrote the now-classic songs for ‘Mary Poppins,” was a consultant on “Saving Mr. Banks” and his insights into the era and his engaging anecdotes were highly regarded by cast and crew alike. He recalls that Walt Disney was very fond of the song “Feed the Birds,” which apparently touched him with its message that it doesn’t take much to give love. Disney would call the Sherman Brothers up and ask them to come play the song, so they would go to Disney’s office and play it for him. It became a regular almost-every-Friday ritual.
• As the 150 or so cast-and-crew members gathered around when production wound down in the Rehearsal Studio set, Richard Sherman, unbeknownst to most everyone gathered, took a seat at the piano and began playing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” asking everyone there to join in a sing-a-long. Instantaneously, dozens grabbed their cell phones and began recording this spontaneous music video—a once-in-a-lifetime moment in the presence of a living legend.
• The Walt Disney Archives provided the actors and production team with more than six hours of audio recordings from story meetings between P.L. Travers and the original “Mary Poppins” creative team. In the recordings, taped at the insistence of Travers between April 5 and 10, 1961, we hear the author share her strong opinions and suggestions with the Disney staff: songwriters Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, writer Don DaGradi, and story department head Bill Dover (who also served as Travers’ host during her visit).
• In order to match Richard Sherman’s unique style of playing piano, Jason Schwartzman was provided with close-up footage of Richard’s hands playing the keys of Walt Disney’s office piano—the same instrument on which the Sherman Brothers played “Feed the Birds” for Disney a half-century earlier. Schwartzman also spent countless hours at Richard Sherman’s house learning the proper techniques and enjoying the company of the venerable composer.
• In order to visually recreate the Disney Studio lot, Disneyland® Park, and the “Mary Poppins” premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre as they appeared in the early 1960s, the “Saving Mr. Banks” production team examined more than 500 photographs from the Disney Photo Library collection (part of the Walt Disney Archives), including images of Studio building hallways and offices, Disneyland storefront windows and aerial photography.
• The “Saving Mr. Banks” art department was invited to “D23 Presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum,” where Walt Disney’s actual formal office furnishings were on display. The art department team measured and photographed original objects and furniture pieces from the office for reproduction, including Walt Disney’s desk, side tables and shelf units. The Archives staff even provided era-appropriate signage from the Disney Studio’s Animation Building, which the art department referenced when recreating the building hallways.
• In the Archives, the “Saving Mr. Banks” art department studied detailed photographs of Walt Disney’s formal and working offices as they appeared in the late 1960s, when Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith took measurements and a detailed inventory of the historic offices.
• The Walt Disney Archives digitized more than 150 pieces of ephemera, including era-appropriate Disneyland souvenir guides, postcards, posters, merchandise catalogs, memo paper and premiere invitations for use by the filmmakers.
• The Archives supplied actor Tom Hanks with reference footage of Walt Disney, including a 1963 interview with Fletcher Markle for the Canadian Broadcast Company. The interview is arguably one of the most accurate depictions of Walt Disney describing his work and philosophy.
FREE Saving Mr. Banks e-Book
Available for free on iTunes – SAVING MR. BANKS: The Official Multi-touch Book, based on Disney’s film “Saving Mr. Banks,” in theaters December 20, 2013 (opening December 13 in limited areas). Exploring the previously untold story of how Walt Disney worked his magic on author P.L. Travers to secure the rights to her book, “Mary Poppins,” the book includes a foreword by Academy Award®-winning composer Richard Sherman; never-before-seen correspondence between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers; rare storyboards and scripts from the Disney archives; an interactive timeline of historic Walt Disney Studios milestones; original recordings of the Sherman Brothers, performing their “Mary Poppins” hit songs; facts and profiles on the key characters in “Saving Mr. Banks.”
The “Saving Mr. Banks” book is available for free, exclusively on iBooks at www.iTunes.com/SavingMrBanks.
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- Visit the official site here: www.disney.com/savingmrbanks
SAVING MR. BANKS opens in theaters limited on December 13th and opens wide on December 20th!
Come back on Monday for my official Saving Mr. Banks movie review!
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