The new drama takes you inside the creative process of "Mary Poppins." Here, Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks), the animator and studio mogul, desperately attempts to mount a production of the movie, while P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), the notoriously protective author behind the original story, demands changes at every turn.
Today, Moviefone is thrilled to premiere the trailer for "Saving Mr. Banks." It's less a biopic than a dramatization about how creative conflict can give way to something truly exceptional. In addition to performances by Hanks and Thompson, fans of Disney will be very happy to see the Sherman Brothers (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), the famous songwriting team behind the music in "Mary Poppins," as well as a 1961 Disneyland, when the park was just six years old.
Watch the trailer above, then scroll down for our chat with the film's director, John Lee Hancock, who led us through the process of how he brought "Saving Mr. Banks" to life -- and revealed why the movie isn't a "sugarcoated" portrayal of Walt Disney.
Moviefone: How did you come onboard "Saving Mr. Banks"?
John Lee Hancock: The script was sent to me when they were interviewing directors. I had another project called "Highwaymen" that looked like it was going to go, so I was kind of unavailable. But I was told by my agent, "Well, you should read this because it's quite good." And I thought, God, I like the movie "Mary Poppins," I don't love it. I haven't watched it in a long time. But Kelly Marcel's script was so beautiful and it felt like a world I wanted to live in for a while and something I could do well. I then met with the execs at Disney and shared what excited me about the prospects for the movie.
And what did excite you?
One, it's a father-daughter story, and I have a daughter so I was drawn to that. But it's also a movie, at its heart, about the creative process and where stories come from and turning tragedy into drama or something that's uplifting.
Everyone has these stories. So when you're talking about Walt Disney or P.L. Travers or the Sherman Brothers, these are all incredibly creative people and what they brought to the table to the making of the movie yields insight into their character and their personal lives. I was fascinated by that, because you rarely get to make a movie about the creative process.
Had you always been a Disney freak or was this a new world?
You know, I had great admiration for Walt Disney and read books and of course had been to Disneyland. I had also made two movies previously for Disney and had a great experience.
What research did you do? Did you go to the Walt Disney Family Museum or dig through the archives?
Both, actually. We spent a lot of time with Disney at the Archives, and they've got tons of material that they made available to us. In addition, we went to the Disney Family Museum and Diane Disney was quite gracious to us in giving us reign of the place. Tom went up and spent time with her and went through the stuff. That place is really fantastic because it gives you a little more insight into the personal Walt Disney.
In addition, the Archives had the tapes when P.L. Travers came because she insisted that everything be recorded on tape. I'm not sure if she was that efficient or she was terrified that she might win a point in the room but be dismissed in the movie. But she insisted that all these meetings be tape recorded. This wasn't something that was done back then. They have something like 39 hours of this. It was invaluable not only to me but also to Kelly Marcel when she was writing it, and to Emma -- it's a goldmine if you're playing a character, to have all those tapes from this period.
How did you get Tom and Emma into the mindset of these characters?
The first conversation we had was about casting, and in that first meeting it was, "We've got to get Tom Hanks to play Walt Disney because we need an icon to play an icon and make him real." You don't want to see any playacting.
Tom was aware of the script and had been sent the script to read. And he's a big Disney fan and talked a lot about reading books about Walt Disney and being really taken by Disney's life journey. So he was already leaning towards the project in a certain way.
Emma Thompson, in that first meeting, she just seemed the very best for it. We hadn't seen Emma in a lead role in a long while and I just thought that she would knock this out of the park and bring P.L. Travers to life in a way that was beyond what was already fantastic in the script.
It's exciting to see B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman playing the Sherman Brothers.
They are fantastic, and you get a little insight into their relationship. And just to have Jason, who's just such a bundle of energy -- every time he steps on the set it's a party.
The movie seems to be about how creative conflict can give way to something really incredible. Were there any roadblocks in getting "Saving Mr. Banks" made? I know the Broadway musical of "Mary Poppins" had some issues.
No. When Kelly wrote the script, it was pretty obvious there was only one place to make the movie; there was no way another studio could do this. I give Disney a whole lot of credit for looking at this and saying, "Yes, we want to do this, and the reason we want to do it is because it's a fair portrayal of Walt Disney." And it's not sugarcoated.
You always have this fear that it will be something where Walt is turned into a god, and we were all insistent, as was Disney, to say, "This was a guy who got what he wanted." We wanted to capture that as well. That was the thing that worried me about the script -- that the script was miraculous and I wanted to make sure that nothing got soft-pedaled. And everybody at Disney said, "Absolutely. This is a fair portrayal."
Did you feel any pressure with this being the first sanctioned pseudo-biopic of Disney?
You know, if it were truly a biopic of Walt Disney, I would be concerned, because you have so many different masters to serve in a strange way; he lived such an interesting, complicated, creative life. But this is more the story of P.L. Travers. Walt Disney was an important supporting character in this, but it's about her journey. All I was covering for Walt Disney is two weeks in 1961. I didn't have the burden of an entire life. We have tons of information about those two weeks in 1961 so we could have a very fair portrayal without it being a Walt Disney biopic.
Is there anything in the movie that you think people will be really surprised by?
Gosh... I hope. One is that I had no idea, when I read the script, of the tragic origin story of "Mary Poppins." That's a bit of an interesting thing and also the fact that it's dramatic as well as, hopefully, quite funny. It has singing and dancing in it. So it's sort of one of those things where it has a lot of different elements that a lot of times don't go together in dramas.
You don't have dramas where people sit around a piano and sing and dance. And also, I think how the origin story of how the movie got made is of interest to people; you see the Sherman Brothers trying to figure out "Spoonful of Sugar." I'm always interested in those things.
If you're talking about Apple Computers, I'm interested in the garage where it started more than the massive company. I find that fascinating and everybody jumped in full tilt behind the idea and had a ball doing it.
Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel/Disney