Title: Saving Mr. Banks
Release Date: November 29, 2013
Director: John Lee Hancock
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Ruby Films | Essential Media and Entertainment | BBC Films | Hopscotch Features
This movie dramatizes the two week period when author P.L. Travers travels from her home in London to Los Angeles to work on the Walt Disney Studios adaptation of her Mary Poppins’ books. Since Travers is a British woman, Emma Thompson is, of course, cast to play her, while Walt Disney is obviously portrayed by American actor Tom Hanks. I jest, they both do a great job, although its more of a challenge for Hanks because Disney is already well-known from his tv appearances.
Travers is cranky and dismissive of the whimsy and sentiment that is the cornerstone of the Disney empire, and basically hopes to sabotage the adaptation. Disney comes off kind of creepy – a mansplainer who insists on calling her “Pam” when she asks to be called “Mrs. Travers” and acting as if Mary Poppins is his story as well. Hanks’ Disney sees Travers standoffishness as a characteristic of her womanhood rather than recognizing her as a fellow artist who wants to protect her creation.
Working with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and music composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) stirs up memories of Travers childhood in a remote part of Australia when she was known by her birthname Helen “Ginty” Goff. She is an imaginative child who looks up to her adventurous father (Colin Farrell) who takes greater interest in playing with her than his job as a bank manager. It’s slowly revealed that he is an alcoholic and that he is in failing health. An aunt who comes to help the family when he is bedridden is depicted as the firm and practical person who restores order to the household, and also the influence for Mary Poppins (albeit a surprisingly small part in this movie). Scenes in 1961 Los Angeles blend into flashbacks of the Australian outback in the early 1900s.
The movie is an excellent and emotionally-rewarding story. It’s also largely lacking in historical accuracy. But Hanks’ Disney states flatly that storytelling is creating the story we want to fix what happened in reality.
George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.
It’s up to the audience to decide if that is the correct use of imagination and creativity, or if something is lost in the artifice.
Title: American Experience: Walt Disney
Release Date: September 14, 2015
Director: Sarah Colt
Production Company: WGBH Educational Foundation
This two-part documentary attempts to unravel the man behind the myth of Walt Disney. It begins rather ominously with a series of quotes showing people who knew Disney describing him as autocratic. Yet, the first half is largely a positive appraisal of Disney as a man with a great imagination who found ways to make his dreams come true and share them with an appreciative audience. Time and again, Disney makes a daring risk – to move to Los Angeles to start an animation studio, to create a feature-length animated film, to build a large & state of the art new studio, and later on to invent a theme park where guests could enter into stories. Walt’s brother Roy is the financial wizard who generally disapproves of Walt’s ambitious dreams but knowing he can’t stop his brother from pursuing his dreams finds the means of funding them.
Despite Disney’s belief that his company is like a family – and insisting on his employees calling him Walt instead of Mr. Disney – he seems to have an inability to see the negative effect he has by micromanaging and seemingly taking credit for all the studio’s work. In the 1920s, almost all his animators leave him for another company and in 1941, the Disney Studio goes on strike due to low pay and inequitable conditions for many of the employees. Disney seems totally blindsided by each of these events and years later testifies before HUAC that the strike was motivated by Communist infiltrators rather than recognize that his management had failed in any way.
Another theme of the movie is how much of an innovator and outlier Disney was in Hollywood in the 20s to 40s, but by the 50s & 60s, Disney had become a representation of conservative, middle-class white values (or a source of those values by some estimations). A story about The Song of the South is telling, as the studio sought advice from Black leaders on how to adapt the Uncle Remus tales, but Walt chose to ignore it. Disney also hosted the premier in the same Atlanta movie theater where Gone With the Wind debuted a few years earlier, meaning that the star of the movie James Baskett could not attend the premier due to segregation.
Peeling back the layers of the real Disney is hard to do, and I don’t think that this documentary is able to achieve it. Disney may be a tyrant but he also was an innovator and entertainer. Even Walt admitted that charming, avuncular individual hosting the Disneyland program was a character rather than a real expression of himself, but in many ways that is who Disney wanted to be, which also says a lot.
Release Date: 23 February 1940
Director:Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Pinocchio is one of those movies where you feel like you know the story even if you’ve never seen it. But actually watching it fills in some gaps and reveals some misconceptions. The most famous part of Pinocchio is that his nose grows when he lies. And that lasts less than a minute. Still there reasons why the film is so familiar because the scenes of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo dancing have been shown in a gazillion formats, most memorably to me edited into the DTV music videos that were always shown on The Disney Channel when I was a kid. And they’re worth showing off, because the Disney animators made some remarkable advancements in the depiction of the movement of bodies as well as shadows and water. Nothing prepared me for the nightmare fodder that was Pleasure Island and the children turning into donkeys. And the film carries such a heavy-handed middle class morality that it makes it seem like they want us to think that the kids deserved that. The final act seems tacked on where Pinocchio learns that for some reason Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo are in the belly of the whale Monstro, but it does give Pinocchio the chance to be a hero. A strange and remarkable film.
Release Date: 27 November 2013
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Production Co: Walt Disney Company
Country: United States
Genre: Animation | Family | Musical
As of yesterday, I’ve ended my reign as the last middle class American parent of young children to have not see Frozen. My daughter and I watched it on DVD. Despite all the hype and attention to the movie, it wasn’t quite what I expected, which means I somehow wasn’t spoiled. It was a good mix of musical set pieces, humor, adventure, and a story of sisterly love. I liked Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer the best. Yep, I liked it. So, I guess it was worth the wait.
Title: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Release Date: 1971
Director: Robert Stevenson
Production Co: Walt Disney Productions
Country: United States
Genre: Adventure | Fantasy | Family | Musicals | Animation
Set in Second World War England, three children have been evacuated to the countryside (oddly to a town overlooking the Channel) to stay with Miss Price (Angela Lansbury), a witch-in-training. Along the way on their magical adventures they pick up the con-man Professor Browne played by David Tomlinson. The movie is more of a series of loosely-connected set pieces than a story. Some of them go on too long, like the dance number on Portobello Road, although it is interesting to see the many faces of the British Commonwealth represented in a cheerful wartime London. Better are the mixed live action and animation sequences with fish dancing in an undersea ballroom and a raucous soccer game among wild animals. The conclusion features some whimsical special effects that stand up well after forty years as military uniforms and armor are magically brought to life to defend Britain against a German incursion. It’s a fun, entertaining bagatelle of a movie. My kids enjoyed it for sure.