SAVING MR. BANKS – The Walt Disney Archives and Studio Tour

Remember all those posts about the making of Disney’s FROZEN?  [If not, click here for the first in our three part series on the making of FROZEN.]  Well, that press junket wasn’t just about FROZEN.  We also visited the Disney Archives and had a studio tour, both based on SAVING MR. BANKS and the making of MARY POPPINS.  We previously covered the SAVING MR. BANKS walking tour at the studios in this photoessay by Chrysty Summers, but you can find all the pictures I took on my tour in the gallery at the end of this post.

Saving Mr. Banks Event at The Walt Disney Studios

After the tour, we went to the Archives to chat with Steve Vagnini about how the archives were used to research SAVING MR. BANKS and, while the movie was a fictionalized account of the making of MARY POPPINS, they did a lot of work to make sure of the accuracy of the true aspects of the film.  If you’re a trivia lover, hang onto your hat, because here comes a whole game-ful!

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  • P.L. Travers (“PLT”) really did go to the Disney studios for story meetings (April 5-10, 1961)
  • Ralph was probably loosely based on Bill Dover, the head of the story department, who chauffeured Mrs. Travers while she was in L.A.
  • PLT really did insist on recording the story meetings.  We were able to hear some of the recordings, but could not record them, so we can’t share any of that here, but you can hear some at the end of SAVING MR. BANKS and on the main menu of the SAVING MR. BANKS Blu-ray.
  • One of the songs that didn’t make the movie (but we did get to hear on the recording) was the “Mary Poppins Medley.”  It’s a shame it was cut, because part of the sequence was supposed to have Mary singing to herself in a mirror with her reflection singing the medley in reverse.
  • Happily, “Mary Poppins Medley” was replaced by “Spoonful of Sugar.”  “Stay Awake” was a counter melody to “Mary Poppins Medley” and PLT insisted that it remain in the film.
  • PLT did not want the movie version to make light of Mary Poppins (the character, rather than the books).
  • When PLT asked how the chalk drawing was going to “come to life,” she was told “Walt Disney’s magic” and responded, “Okay, all right.”  Even back then, Walt Disney was considered a magician with movies, to the extent that PLT didn’t even question the result.
  • PLT did cry at the premiere, but because she hated the movie.
  • PLT reportedly stopped Walt Disney afterwards to tell him they needed to make changes.  His reported response?  “Pam, that ship has sailed.” (This is an apocryphal story; it was not on the recordings we heard.)
  • PLT attended the Hollywood, New York, and London premieres and wrote to Bill Dover that she liked it better the second time.
  • PLT sent a telegram of condolence when she heard that Walt Disney had died.  Despite the conflicts they had over the making of MARY POPPINS, she still had respect for him and what he did, though she never allowed a sequel to be made, despite there being eight books in the series.
  • Walt Disney did not like the Sherman brothers’ initial ideas, but came to love their later ideas.
  • The Sherman brothers had the idea of having Mr. Banks be off at war to create a through line for all of the stories in the books.  Mary Poppins was to come in and restore order.  They then changed it to an emotional distance (which is more in line with the books).
  • “Feed the Birds” was the song that Walt Disney felt summed up the whole film – it doesn’t take a lot to brighten someone’s day.  (PLT sang along on the recording.)
  • The Sherman brothers became the first Disney staff writers.
  • The scene in the movie where the Sherman brothers play “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” didn’t really happen.  The song hadn’t been written yet.
  • PLT’s mother did attempt suicide, but later in life, not when PLT was a child.
  • PLT’s hotel room was not filled with Disney character plushes, but Emma Thompson’s hotel room was!
  • Imagineering used the archives to reproduce Disneyland in the 60s, including photographs of the posters, characters, etc.
  • PLT’s Disneyland visit was real and happened on Easter Sunday, but she went with Bill Dover, not Walt Disney.

SAVING MR. BANKS

Steve also gave us some suggestions for learning more about various aspects of the film:

  • “Mary Poppins, She Wrote” by Valerie Lawson to learn more about P.L. Travers;
  • THE BOYS – a documentary about the Sherman brothers (I’ve seen it – it’s excellent)
  • “Moose” by Robert Sherman to learn more about the Sherman brothers.

The archives are in the Frank G. Wells building and we spent our time there surrounded by books and memorabilia, including an original Disneyland guide costume and the torch from the 1960 Olympics.

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Next up was a wonderful tour of the Disney lot, led by D23’s Jeffrey Epstein.  D23 is the official Disney fan club.  D stands for Disney and 23 stands for the year the company was founded.  The studio tour that we took is a benefit offered to silver and gold D23 members.  Jeffrey is a favorite of mine – he hosted the D23 Fanniversary event in NYC, my very first assignment for Adventures by Daddy.  He is charming and funny and so knowledgeable about Disney!  Ready for more trivia?

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  • In the late 1930s/early 1940s, the studio was moved in its entirety over the hill.  It was wartime and materials were scarce, so they had to move it in one piece.
  • Our tour started in front of Stage A, one of the original buildings on the lot, and one of the buildings where SAVING MR. BANKS was shot.

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  • Stage A was a recording stage, big enough to hold an 86-piece orchestra, and where scores for Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp and Peter Pan were recorded.
  • The studio is close to the airport and the planes could be heard during filming, so Disney created the “room within a room” studio to block out external sounds.
  • The original studio gate was replicated in the 1990s, so they didn’t have to do a lot of work to make it look like the 60s for the scenes when PLT came to the studio.
  • The Mickey Mouse topiary is the only topiary on the lot and was a gift from Walt Disney World in honor of Mickey’s 60th birthday.
  • There are two flagpoles, which are the original flag poles from the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.  Walt Disney was the chairman of pageantry for those Olympics.

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  • The iconic directional sign is no longer directional.  Most of the departments it points to are no longer in those locations.  The only true pointers are Mickey Avenue, Minnie Avenue, and Dopey Drive.

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  • The studio theater is original to the lot and has been in use since 1940, but it was gutted and refitted in 2009.  (I would LOVE to see a movie in this theater and not just because a scene from my favorite Disney movie is painted on the building.  In fact, I would love to see SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS in the theater where Walt Disney may have watched it himself!)

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  • The tree where PLT builds a fairy house is a real tree on the lot and you can still see where the trough was dug for the water.  The tree is right under Walt Disney’s original office.

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  • Walt Disney consulted his animators when building the new space and they all wanted more light, so he designed a building that is a long hall with mini hallways coming off it, so each office has windows and adjustable shutters so the animators could control the light, too.  You can see the layout of the building in the picture of the tree above.
  • We even got to see the windows of the Sherman brothers’ office in the Shorts building.

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  • The iconic water tower has five legs, rather than four.  Roy Disney made that decision, based on aesthetics, but it is also more stable and earthquake resistant.  It holds 150,000 gallons of water (it is empty now), 50,000 gallons of which were needed each day – the remaining 100,000 gallons was in case of fire.

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What an amazing afternoon!  I love learning behind-the-scenes details and collecting Disney trivia.  I am going to kill it on my next Disney cruise!  For more photos from taken during the tour, check out the gallery below.  Note: the photo gallery requires Flash Player, click here to view all the images if your device is not Flash equipped.

As we posted about previously, Adventures by Daddy was invited to Hollywood for behind-the-scenes access to several Disney films (FROZEN, SAVING MR. BANKS, and THE PIRATE FAIRY).  Next up, our coverage of THE PIRATE FAIRY – starting with our experience at the Animation Research Library.

Disclosure: Disney Home Entertainment invited Adventures by Daddy on an all-expenses paid press trip to Los Angeles, California to tour the Walt Disney Studios and learn about their upcoming home releases.  Disney provided transportation, meals, and lodging, but all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.