BJ Novak signs to play songwriting Sherman for Walt Disney biopic ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

I don’t really work in the world of world of Oscar prognostication, but I think i’d be willing to put down a few dollars that “Saving Mr. Banks” is going to be a serious player when it’s released in 2013.  I’ve read the script by Kelly Marcel, and it’s kind of great. 

I’m fascinated by stories about Walt Disney, anyway, because he was such a great public figure, such a careful controller of his own image, and I think there are movies to be made about him.  I’d love to see a film that’s just about his relationship with Kurt Russell, Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk, Jodie Foster… the Disney kids over the years.  I’d love to see a film about the early days of trying to build his studio.  I’d love to see a film about how hard he worked to realize his dreams of theme parks before anyone really had any idea what the hell he was talking about.

But Marcel’s focused in on one particular chapter of his life, his decade-plus effort to make a film based on the books about the character Mary Poppins written by P.L Travers, who I knew pretty much nothing about before I read this script.  I didn’t realize who she was or what her relationship was with her most famous creation as well as the man who wanted to turn her into a movie, and reading about this relationship, seeing how Marcel brought it to life, I completely understand why Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson signed on to play the parts.

I think the roles that Marcel wrote for whoever plays the Sherman Brothers are also pretty fantastic.  Robert and Richard Sherman were incredibly gifted and prolific, and if you love a song from the classic era of Disney movies, chances are the Shermans wrote it.  They’re amazing songwriters, and the film looks at the details of the relationship between the two, and particularly while they were working on the amazing songs for “Mary Poppins.”  We recently covered the film as part of the Film Nerd 2.0 series, and I am convinced anew that the film is sort of a miracle, a great movie. 

I’m excited to see Jason Schwartzman, who was cast as Richard Sherman, playing opposite the just-cast BJ Novak as his brother.  I think John Lee Hancock’s got one heck of a story to tell in this film, and with a cast that also features Paul Giamatti as Travers’s chauffeur, Ruth Wilson as her mother, and Colin Farrell playing Travers’s father, who was the inspiration for Mr. Banks in the first place, he’s got a great group of people to help him tell it.

I hope they make the movie that Marcel wrote.  She found a great contained story about creative passions, about the act of adaptation, and about a figure we all feel like we know because of his overwhelming media presence.  And we’ll certainly be paying attention as the film gets underway in September with a release next year planned.