Disney Starts Production on Saving Mr. Banks

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Disney began production today on Saving Mr. Banks, the account of Walt Disney’s twenty-year pursuit of the film rights to P.L. Travers’ popular novel, “Mary Poppins,” and the testy partnership the upbeat filmmaker develops with the uptight author during the project’s pre-production in 1961.

Two-time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) will play the role of the legendary Disney (the first time the entrepreneur has ever been depicted in a dramatic film) alongside fellow double Oscar-winner Emma Thompson (Howard’s End, Sense and Sensibility) in the role of the prickly novelist. Before actually signing away the book’s rights, Travers’ demands for contractual script and character control circumvent not only Disney’s vision for the film adaptation, but also those of the creative team of screenwriter Don DaGradi and sibling composers Richard and Robert Sherman, whose original score and song (“Chim-Chim-Cher-ee”) would go on to win Oscars at the 1965 ceremonies (the film won five awards of its thirteen nominations).

When Travers travels from London to Hollywood in 1961 to finally discuss Disney’s desire to bring her beloved character to the motion picture screen (a quest he began in the 1940s as a promise to his two daughters), Disney meets a prim, uncompromising sexagenarian not only suspect of the impresario’s concept for the film, but a woman struggling with her own past. During her stay in California, Travers’ reflects back on her childhood in 1906 Australia, a trying time for her family which not only molded her aspirations to write, but one that also inspired the characters in her 1934 book.

None more so than the one person whom she loved and admired more than any other—her caring father, Travers Goff, a tormented banker who, before his untimely death that same year, instills the youngster with both affection and enlightenment (and would be the muse for the story’s patriarch, Mr. Banks, the sole character that the famous nanny comes to aide). While reluctant to grant Disney the film rights, Travers comes to realize that the acclaimed Hollywood storyteller has his own motives for wanting to make the film—which, like the author, hints at the relationship he shared with his own father in the early 20th Century Midwest.

Colin Farrell (Minority Report, Total Recall) co-stars as Travers’ doting dad, Goff, along with British actress Ruth Wilson (the forthcoming films The Lone Ranger and Anna Karenina) as his long-suffering wife, Margaret; Oscar and Emmy nominee Rachel Griffiths (“Six Feet Under,” “Hilary and Jackie,” “The Rookie”) as Margaret’s sister, Aunt Ellie (who inspired the title character of Travers’ novel); and a screen newcomer – 11-year-old Aussie native Annie Buckley as the young, blossoming writer, nicknamed “Ginty” in the flashback sequences.

The cast also includes Emmy winner Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” The Cabin in the Woods) as screenwriter Don DaGradi; Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom) and B.J. Novak (NBC’s “The Office,” Inglourious Basterds) as the songwriting Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert, respectively); Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man, HBO’s “John Adams”) as Ralph, the kindly limousine driver who escorts Travers during her two-week stay in Hollywood; and multi-Emmy winner Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences,” Edward Scissorhands) as Tommie, one of Disney’s trusted studio associates.

Saving Mr. Banks will be directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie) based on a screenplay by Kelly Marcel (creator of FOX-TV’s “Terra Nova”), from a story by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel. The film is being produced by Alison Owen of Ruby Films, Ian Collie of Essential Media and longtime Hancock collaborator Philip Steuer. The film’s executive producers are Ruby Films’ Paul Trijbits. Hopscotch Features’ Andrew Mason and Troy Lum and BBC Films’ Christine Langan.

Hancock’s filmmaking team includes a trio of artists with whom he worked on his 2009 Best Picture Oscar nominee, The Blind Side—two-time Oscar nominated production designer Michael Corenblith, Emmy-winning costume designer Daniel Orlandi and film editor Mark Livolsi, A.C.E. Hancock also reunites with Academy Award-nominated cinematographer John Schwartzman, with whom he first worked on his inspiring 2002 sports drama, “The Rookie.”

Saving Mr. Banks will film entirely in the Los Angeles area, with key locations to include Disneyland in Anaheim and the Disney Studios in Burbank. Filming will conclude around Thanksgiving, 2012, with no specific 2013 release date yet set.

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