After earlier premieres at the London Film Festival in October and the AFI Film Fest at the Chinese Theatre in November where the original Mary Poppins premiered in 1964, Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney Studio’s big awards contender, finally had its official Los Angeles premiere on a cool December Monday night. It took place on the very Disney studio lot where much of the movie about the making of the 1964 classic was filmed (as well as Poppins itself). And just to add a touch of nostalgia and class itself the stars of Mary Poppins Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke joined the cast of Banks including Tom Hanks who plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson who plays the cantankerous author of Poppins P.L. Travers. At a photo opp before the film the Banks cast members along with Andrews and Van Dyke and studio execs Bob Iger and Alan Horn all joined in a spontaneous rendition of the catchy tune from Poppins, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” (watch here). Those singing along included the indefatiguable two-time Oscar winning co-writer of that song and the entire score, Richard M. Sherman.
At the post party in a completely made-over studio commissary Horn told me how pleased they were that Saving Mr. Banks had made the AFI Top Ten Movies Of The Year list released earlier Monday. When I asked how he felt about singing with all those iconic stars he said he can’t sing and in fact was banned from trying to carry a tune in church and everywhere else. Iger also marveled at the idea he was actually singing along with everyone and modestly just said ” let’s not count the eggs before they are hatched” when I suggested that the movie was a cinch to become the Disney studio’s first home grown live action Best Picture nominee since the original Mary Poppins 49 years ago, the one and only other time the studio had such a distinction.
The 85-year-old Sherman, who has been on cloud nine since this whole ride began, said it was completely “surreal” to be back on the Disney lot with Andrews and Van Dyke celebrating this whole experience. Only in Hollywood. There’s something about the movie that really has created a team spirit. At a Saturday night cast Q&A with Hanks, Thompson, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman and Bradley Whitford I moderated after a SAG screening of the film, Hanks also led everyone in a rendition of “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”. Guess it is just a movie that makes people want to sing. Hanks and Thompson had also been doing Q&As earlier that day at BAFTA and for the Academy where I am told 700 members showed up for a 3 PM Saturday matinee. Certainly Disney, which has been having a great holiday season already with Thor and Frozen, is hoping they will be singing about Banks which opens nationwide on December 20th. I am told it is tracking well. Banks opens Friday with a special engagement at the Walt Disney Studio Theatre that includes a special studio tour of spots of where the films were made.
Among those soaking in the praise for the film after the premiere was screenwriter Kelly Marcel, producer Alison Owen and director John Lee Hancock who told me he once again sat through the entire film to gauge reaction and still noticed places he could “tweak” it a bit. Hancock knows his way around a crowd pleaser. His last film, The Blind Side got a rare A+ Cinemascore from audiences and a Best Picture Oscar nomination in addition to a Best Actress win for Sandra Bullock.
Another of the original stars of Mary Poppins in attendance Monday night was Karen Dotrice who played young Jane Banks in the film. She told me Hanks really nailed his portrayal of Walt Disney. “He not only had the physicality down perfectly, more importantly he had that twinkle in his eyes that Walt had,” she said recalling vivid memories of the studio head who would visit that set and also another film she made for him, The Three Lives Of Thomasina the then-8 year old did the same year. She also heaped praise on young Annie Rose Buckley who plays the character who grows up to be P.L.Travers, so there was a connection for her there.
Disney marketing head Ricky Strauss was excited about the impending release Tuesday of the official “Multi-touch book” or ibook that provides a completely interactive experience tracing all aspects of Mary Poppins including rare correspondence and recordings of Travers from the Disney archives, original recordings of the Sherman Brothers performing their songs from the film. Also there are facts and profiles on key characters in Banks. Click on the exclusive trailer below for all the details as well as a link to the actual ibook which will go live today to coincide with the release of the newly restored Mary Poppins blu-ray. The film celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. Disney is one studio that doesn’t throw anything away.
You can find the iBook here.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.