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"Saving Mr. Banks" production team works with Disney Archives to accurately recreate Walt's World circa 1962

Jim Hill

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"Saving Mr. Banks" production team works with Disney Archives to accurately recreate Walt's World circa 1962

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So just how far did the "Saving Mr. Banks" production team go when it came to replicating the look & the feel of a early 1960s version of Walt Disney Studios and Disneyland Park? Pretty darned far. Or so says Becky Cline, the Director of the Walt Disney Archives.

"When the Studio brought Kelly Marcel's script for 'Saving Mr. Banks' in February of 2012, it was all over the news out here. And as soon as Disney officially acquired the project, the filmmakers then reached out to the Archives and said 'We'd love to have your help on this because we want to make sure that this film is as accurate as possible,' " Cline explained. "They then gave us a copy of Kelly's screenplay to review -- which is a wonderful, wonderful story, by the way. But there were a few factual errors. She didn't know Walt Disney quite as well as she did P.L. Travers. So we sat down with Ms. Marcel and John Lee Hancock and then went over the script with them."

Now it's important to note here that -- when the Walt Disney Archives was giving its notes to Marcel and Hancock -- they didn't ask that any changes be made to this script in order in an effort to preserve and/or protect the image of the Company's founder. But -- rather -- Becky and her team at the Archives were only interested in making sure that this film was as accurate as possible.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Look, on a project like this, when you're trying to tell the story of the making of the movie version of 'Mary Poppins' in just two hours of screen time, there's going to be some artistic license. And we here at the Archives can understand and respect that. But at the same time, the Walt Disney Company has some of the most passionate & knowledgeable fans on the planet. And if Hancock accidentally got something wrong on 'Saving Mr. Banks,' the fans would then let us know about that," Cline continued. "So those were the sort of notes that we gave Kelly & John. That this item wouldn't be in the background of that shot because it's from a film that Walt Disney Productions hadn't yet put into production by 1962. And when the filmmakers would say 'Well, who would know that ?,' I'd just have to laugh and say 'Oh, our fans know.' "

But the upside of having this sort of input from the Walt Disney Archives is that -- when it came time to actually shoot "Saving Mr. Banks" -- John Lee Hancock and his production team then had access to a wealth of material that would make their making-of-"Mary-Poppins" movie seem that much more authentic.

"We gave them the 'Mary Poppins' story meeting recordings, all 39 hours of them. So that Hancock and Marcel could then actually sit down and listen to how P. L. Travers interacted with the Sherman Brothers & Don Dagradi," Cline said. "And when it came time to dress the set for the story meeting scenes in 'Saving Mr. Banks,' we were then able to provide them with copies of the actual drawings that had been pinned up on the walls of that room at the Studio at the time of those meetings. We were even able to provide the filmmakers with reproductions of the right style of letterhead for that period in the Studio's history. So that all of the memos that you'll see over the course of this movie will look authentic as well."

Walt Disney's real office on display during the "Treasures of the Walt Disney
Archives" exhibit that D23 presented at the Ronald Reagan
Presidential Library

And to give Hancock and his "Saving Mr. Banks" production team credit, in their quest to make sure that this upcoming Walt Disney Pictures release was as accurate as possible, they took everything that Becky offered and then asked for more. Take -- for instance -- Walt Disney's office.

"As you might expect, there are a number of scenes in 'Saving Mr. Banks' that are set inside of Walt Disney's office. And when John Lee Hancock called and asked for our help in recreating this space ... Well, we had just put Walt's actual office on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library as part of D23's 'Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives' exhibit," Cline said. "Hancock asked if they could go up to Simi Valley and see Walt's office. We said 'Of course.' So the filmmakers then went up to the Ronald Reagan Library and took all sorts of measurements and lots of very detailed pictures. With the end result being that the office you see in 'Saving Mr. Banks' is an amazing reproduction. Mind you, they had to cheat things a little for camera angles. So it's not exactly Walt's office. But it sure does look like it."

Speaking of reproductions ... A sharp eyed JHM fan earlier this week sent me a note saying that -- while he was watching "Saving Mr. Banks" -- he thought that he had spied a few of the Courvoisier Miniatures that he owned in this Walt Disney Pictures release. So I gave Ron Stark of S/R Labs a quick call to confirm. And yes, four of the studio replicas that Ron and his talented artists have produced over the past few years are featured in this film.

Image courtesy of Disney's Animation Research Library.
All rights reserved

And speaking of talented artists ... When it came time in "Saving Mr. Banks" to recreate that moment where P.L. Travers watches Walt on a black & white television hosting his "Wonderful World of Color" television show, Hancock & Co. decided that they needed some new 2D animation of Tinker Bell which could then look 50 years old. Which is why the "Saving Mr. Banks" production team reached out to Dave Bossert (i.e., the talented gentlemen who heads up Walt Disney Animation Studios' Special Projects office). And Dave then roped in modern animation master Mark Henn. And Mark then served up just what John was looking for: some brand-new hand-drawn animation of Tinker Bell that looked like it had be done by Disney artists & animators back in the late 1950s / early 1960s.

Mind you, the irony of this whole situation is that -- given the mission of the Walt Disney Archives (i.e., to preserve & protect the heritage of this nearly 90 year-old entertainment company for future generations) -- once production & promotion of "Saving Mr. Banks" officially wraps, many of the props & costumes that Becky & her team consulted on for this film were  be collected and stashed away in one of the Company's many on-site storage facilities.

So the upside of Cline & her team doing that was -- in 50 years time -- when Walt Disney Pictures is preparing to shoot "Persuading Mr. Hanks" (which will be this feature-length motion picture about this minute-long phone call between Bob Iger & Tom Hanks back in early 2012. During which Disney's CEO asked that Academy Award-winner to come play the company's founder in "Saving Mr. Banks") the team that's then in charge of Walt Disney Archives can offer those future filmmakers a choice. They can use Walt's original office or go with that highly detailed duplicate which was created for this highly acclaimed John Lee Hancock movie.

(L to R) Bob Iger, Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Julie Andrews and
Dick Van Dyke singing "Let's Go Fly a Kite" at the on-the-lot premiere of
"Saving Mr. Banks." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Sooo ... Who do you suppose they'll wind up hiring to play Bob Iger?

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  • Nice piece, Jim. IMO, SMB was one of the best Disney films in some time on a number of levels.

  • Actually, the one area that I had a problem with in this movie was in the recreation of Disneyland proper.  Other than the letters over the turnstiles and attraction posters in front of the train station, nothing else was altered.  The only disappointing aspect of this film for me.

  • Well Main Street did not have brick sidewalks at the time. And when Disney and Travers are on the carousel, we see the newer Fantasyland in the background, not the same Medieval/circusl themed Fantasyland from the 50s and 60s.

  • I noticed that stuff, too. But let's be real here, folks - this was a film made on a relatively modest budget, not a $200 million+ summer blockbuster.  There was no way they were going to spend the money on either real-world  or CGI modifications to make Disneyland look absolutely accurate to 1962.  From most of the comments and reviews I've seen, the only people who noticed that Disneyland wasn't accurately portrayed were... well, Disney dweebs like us, and it's not like we're staying away from the film in droves because of it.

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