Despite the trailer for the new film Saving Mr. Banks coming off like something like an ad for Walt Disney and the Disney brand, the filmmakers are insisting that Disney (the man) isn't perfect.
The whole thing is pretty meta: Saving Mr. Banks is a Walt Disney film about the story of Walt Disney, as played by Tom Hanks, making the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins. In a piece in today's New York Times Brooks Barnes explains how Disney (the present day studio — this can get confusing) stood back and allowed Hanks and director John Lee Hancock to create portrait of Disney that included his flaws. "I imagined the moment when Disney would say, 'Sorry, we like him better as a god than a human,'" Hancock, best known for The Blind Side but also a familiar director on the Disney lot after directing The Alamo and most recently being called in for re-shoots on the Angela Jolie fairy tale Maleficent. "To their credit, they were smart enough and brave enough to realize that a human Walt was not only a better character, but was easier to love."
Still, the depiction of Disney doesn't sound, well, all that scandalous. Walt Disney downs Scotch, smokes, and utters a "mild" curse word, but it doesn't look like the film is diving into the more controversial aspects of Disney's history, such as his views about Jews. Saving Mr. Banks also pokes fun at Disney good cheer. In one scene P. L. Travers, the novelist who created the Mary Poppins character and played by Emma Thompson, arrives at her hotel room to find it stuffed with childlike goodies. She puts a Mickey Mouse in the corner and says: "You can stay there until you learn the art of subtlety." (According, to Barnes, Disney recreated the scene for Thompson herself when she arrived for filming.)
But what Barnes shows—intentionally or not—is that allowing Disney to have at least some vices, might be an even better advertisement for the current Disney brand. In showing that Disney can poke fun at its self, the company shows that it is both interested in making serious films and isn't inhibited by glorifying its past.
And that may help them in the Oscar race. Writing for The Guardian, David Cox argues: "This film might well have been both corny and soppy. Instead, it offers real psychological insight, neatly integrated with a thoughtful take on a cinematic masterpiece." The film, though tackling decidedly less serious subject matter than some of the other contenders out there, has a hum of buzz, especially for Thompson, as it gets ready for its London Film Festival debut. The Academy loves a good story about the glories of Hollywood (see: Argo, The Artist). In Disney's decision to stand back, apparently everyone wins.