Emma Thompson, screenwriter Kelly Marcel, director John Lee Hancock, producer Alison Owen Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Peggy Siegal and John Lee Hancock, director of Saving Mr. Banks, held a reception for two-time Academy Award-winning Emma Thompson, the star of his film, who plays P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins in her battles with Walt Disney. Co-screenwriter Kelly Marcel and producer Alison Owen joined in at Graydon Carter's Monkey Bar in New York for the celebration of the upcoming theatrical release. Disney is played by Tom Hanks as a closeted smoker who rolls out the charm to convince the very reluctant author to give him the rights to her books. Colin Farrell, as Travers' alcoholic father (in flashbacks to the Australia she left behind) is one who needs to be saved.
Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak are terrific as the Sherman brothers who are seen writing the songs that became classics in film history for Disney. Paul Giamatti as Ralph, drives P.L. Travers back and forth to Disney Studios during her two week visit to California. They have a beautiful scene together building a house of sticks and blossoms, a childhood memory of Travers.
John Lee Hancock with Emma Thompson Saving Mr. Banks at Monkey Bar Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Hanks as Disney reminds everyone that "the mouse is family. It would have killed me to give him up." Travers soon finds out what family means to Disney and what Disney means to family.
The Disney canon has always been about protecting the father. Rather than blaming them, fathers are killed off at the start, such as Cinderella's dad in 1950, who is very much alive and uncaring in many versions of the folktale - or they are simply absent-minded and full of kindness while changing places with their beautiful daughter so that she has to live with a beast.
Anne-Katrin Titze, shows Killer Films' Christine Vachon the "Bunny Bag" Photo: Ed Bahlman
In Saving Mr. Banks, we see the saving at work. Flashbacks to the childhood of Travers tell of autobiographical links in Mary Poppins. At the reception before the screening, Emma Thompson told me about her personal favorite Disney movie from 1941. "Dumbo," she said with a big smile, pushing forward her own very un-elephantine looking ears with both hands. As a child, her favorite used to be Fantasia (1940), she added, before dashing off to introduce her film at the Museum of Modern Art.
There was a great deal to celebrate with Emma Thompson. Just this week alone she received a Screen Actors' Guild award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama.
Emma Thompson sharing a laugh with our host Peggy Siegal Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
On my way in, I crossed paths with Killer Films' Christine Vachon, who had been with me on the jury for the inaugural First Time Fest earlier this year. Despite the name Monkey Bar and the Disney celebration, there were no fluffy animals at this event, such as the live bunny I am holding up to Christine in a photo from the Player's Club.
Saving Mr. Banks opened in the UK on November 29. The film opens with a limited release in the US today and goes nationwide December 20.