In the form of Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks was the first time anyone had been allowed to play iconoclast Walt Disney on film. The result was neither as sanitized nor as sensational a telling of the Disney story as possible. Case in point, we never get to see pack-a-day Disney actually smoking, but we do get to see him holding a cigarette in his hand for one brief moment. That is, of course, if that kind of thing really matters to you as it may ultimately have no bearing whatsoever on your ability to enjoy the generally well-made Saving Mr. Banks.
However, the film has sparked a mini-debate about Walt Disney the historical character, a man about whom there is actually very little concrete evidence to back up some of the more radical charges leveled against him. For example, no, his head was NOT cryogenically frozen. That was just a joke started by some Disney animators. People still disagree if he was a bigoted racist (otherwise known as a perfectly normal man of the 1950s); Meryl Streep and Walt’s grandniece think he was while biographers beg to differ.
The most important thing is the undeniable happiness and smiles he brought to countless children and adults and children he grew up into adults who raised their children on Disney movies. Yet this renewed interest in Disney persists, perhaps in some small part because 2016 will be the 50th anniversary of his death. According to /film.com, there are not one but two independent film biopics of Disney currently in production with potential 2014 release dates:
As Dreamers Do –
A Nashville based crew has begun production on AS DREAMERS DO – an independent biopic focusing on the early life of Walt Disney in the mid-west. Director Logan Sekulow is leading this story of Walt’s all-American ambition, which stars a cast full of young actors. With principal photography taking place in the Nashville area, there’s no escaping music. Legends from the world of Christian, Country and Rock music have joined the cast and crew, as well.
The film stars Olan Rogers as Walt Disney. Rogers, local to Nashville, has garnered international attention with his dedicated social media following and a YouTube channel with over half a million subscribers. Collectively, Rogers reaches nearly 800,000 fans through his online presence and stars in the Fandango.com web series Admit One. Fans of Walt Disney will rejoice in Rogers’ dazzling on-screen performance, strong physical resemblance to Walt, and entrepreneurial drive akin to Disney’s.
Every good story needs a storyteller. Travis Tritt, Country music legend and Grammy award winner, will portray the Narrator. His southern charm and spirit harkens back to the Walt Disney live action classics of the 50’s and 60’s. He will guide the audience every step of the way on the journey through the good and bad times of Walt’s young life.
Rounding out Walt’s family are Mark Stuart (Audio Adrenaline, HERO: The Rock Opera) as his father Elias, Tyler Hayes (Musician/Speaker) as his mother Flora and Ryan Dunlap (Leave Me) as Walt’s older brother Roy.
AS DREAMERS DO is a film for families to enjoy, but with an art house twist. The movie features scenes that will visually evoke the beauty and creativity of Walt’s mind. Expect magic as an animated train pulls into Marceline or as Walt’s childhood “dreaming tree” literally comes to life with his ideas. “This movie is a passion project for me. Since before I went to in film school I dreamed of telling a story like this,” said Director Logan Sekulow. “Walt has been a lifelong inspiration, and I hope to share this often-untold adventure in a unique, creative and entertaining way. I’m a hardcore Walt fan, and we will not disappoint.”
Walt Before Mickey –
According to their press release, it will be “set in the early 1900’s, the film is based on the book Walt Before Mickey that chronicles Walt’s early years and his rise to success.” This book was the only ever such novel to be endorsed by the Disney family. Jon Heder is currently attached to the cast, to star as Walt’s brother Roy. Ari Taub will direct.
Of course, these are both small, independent films. There’s no guarantee they’ll even have enough financing to finish filming, complete post-production, and play the film festival circuit. If they do, there’s no guarantee they’ll find any kind of distribution, and even then a VOD/direct-to-video deal seems most likely instead of a big theatrical run. But, still, these things are getting made as we speak, and one of them actually might star someone you’ve kind of heard of, Jon Heder from Napoleon Dynamite. So, yeah, there’s that. If you’d rather not wait you can get the details about Disney’s early life from the documentary Walt: The Man Behind the Myth, although it is sold by the Walt Disney Family Museum so an unbiased approach is probably not in the cards. Either way, let the great “Walt was a racist!”/”No he wasn’t!” flame war continue.