In a 10.16 N.Y. Times piece about Saving Mr. Banks, the upcoming John Lee Hancock film about the fierce debate between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) about the tone and emphasis of the Mary Poppins script, Brooks Barnes reports that Walt Disney Studios adopted a more or less hands off, comme ci comme ca attitude regarding the film’s portrayal of the studio’s founder.
Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson in John Lee Hancock and Kelly Marcel’s Saving Mr. Banks.
The article, titled “Forget the Spoonful of Sugar: It’s Uncle Walt, Uncensored — Saving Mr. Banks Depicts a Walt Disney With Faults,” says that Hanks’ Disney “acts in a very un-Disney way. He slugs back Scotch. He uses a mild curse word. He wheezes because he smokes too much.” And Banks producer Allison Owen all but shudders with pleasure when she says to Barnes, “Wow, this was so not the battle I anticipated…Disney behaved impeccably.”
Not really. Or at least, not entirely. According to remarks attributed to Hanks by Deadline‘s Nancy Tartaglione at a BAFTA tribute last night in London, Disney execs were not only skittish but downright censoring when it came to any thoughts of showing Disney actually smoking.
Disney, Hanks noted, “died of lung cancer. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. So can we show him smoking? No way in hell.” Hanks said there was an actual “negotiation” about whether or not he could be filmed holding a lit cigarette in a scene. Nope. Portraying the legend “came with a particular challenge,” Hanks explained, due to “the current atmosphere of pressure in films.”
Let’s run that by again. Hanks is apparently saying that Banks didn’t attempt to show Walt lighting one cigarette after another like the addict that he was. It didn’t attempt to show him smoking regularly or even occasionally. It attempted to show Disney holding “a lit cigarette” in “a” scene. A single scene. One cigarette. In a film about a guy who lit up 60 times a day.
My first thought when I read Barnes’ piece a couple of days ago was “what faults?” The version of Kelly Marcel‘s script I read earlier this year was hardly a warts-and-all portrayal of Disney. He basically comes off as The Most Happy Fella — tenacious, willful and and charmingly manipulative, an alpha-vibe maestro with a fanciful attitude about movies being a kind of corrective medicine or counter-myth that can make our painful memories weigh less heavily on the heart. Not once did I say to myself, “Boy, Marcel sure didn’t go easy on Walt here…she really laid the facts bare.”
It seems there are traces of egg yolk on Barnes face at the moment, and Owen is looking like a spinner who sells what she wants to sell because it burnishes her film and flatters Disney for having an enlightened attitude, the facts notwithstanding.
Disney’s smoking resulted in his death less than two and a half years after Poppins opened in August ’64.