Walt Disney Studios opened its doors to the public this week for its exclusive early nightly screenings of Saving Mr. Banks which is currently in limited release in select cities with a wide release scheduled for December 20, 2013. The engagement offers the public a rare glimpse into the production studios which is an opportunity rarely afforded — outside of being personally invited, this is usually limited to the Adventures By Disney Backstage Magic Tour or occasional tours conducted by Disney D23, for which one must be a member. After a screening of the film (along with a sizzle reel of the film’s star-studded premiere), guests were invited to visit several key sites located on the Studios campus, many of which had a direct part in the production of Disney’s Mary Poppins. We were invited for an exclusive tour of the locations featuring props, sets, wardrobe and more from Saving Mr. Banks as well as other celebrated artifacts before the public had the chance to see them and are pleased to share photos and video from our experience.
Check-in for the event took place inside the Frank G. Wells building, which is also home to the Walt Disney Studios Archives. While access to the Archives was not part of the event, the Archives recently put several costumes from Saving Mr. Banks out in a publicly accessible display inside the building lobby. Costumes on display included Walt Disney (with his embroidered Smoke Tree Ranch tie), P.L. Travers, Richard and Robert Sherman, Aunt Ellie, Helen Lyndon ‘Ginty’ Goff, Travers Goff and Margaret Goff. Inside the Archives are additional costumes including Walt and P.L.’s attire from the scene in which Walt travels to London to convince P.L. to give him the film rights to Mary Poppins (while not accessible during the tour, we have included them in the photos below). While waiting for the film to start, guests had the opportunity to partake in photo opportunities as well as view the carousel horses of Bert and Mary Poppins from Mary Poppins, courtesy of the Archives.
When it came time for the film, guests were ushered into the approximately 400 seat deluxe, state-of-the-art theater, which had been completely refurbished in 2009 for The Princess and the Frog. Display cases in the theater lobby showed off several items related to Mary Poppins while guests could also admire the incredible sandblasted glass art throughout the building, which was inspired by Fantasia, chosen because it was released in 1940, the same year the Studios opened its current location in Burbank.
After the film, guests were allowed to explore many areas and buildings on the campus at their own pace. Among the activities included meet and greet opportunities with Mickey Mouse and with Mary Poppins and Bert themselves. Mickey could be found at the corner of Mickey Ave. and Dopey Dr., as indicated by the icon Walt Disney Studios directional sign (which itself is actually a prop that was created for Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon and isn’t very accurate at all, surprisingly enough). Meanwhile, Mary and Bert could be found in front of a beautiful Cherry Tree Lane backdrop in front of Soundstage 2, also known as the Julie Andrews stage as most of Mary Poppins was filmed inside of it.
Outside Stage A — where much of the music from Mary Poppins was recorded, including the Oscar-winning classic ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ was parked the Studios’ — stood the Walt Disney Company limousine, a 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood, which would occasionally transport Walt Disney and his wife Lillian on special occasions, such as the Mary Poppins world premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1964. Inside Stage A (which is now used by an outside television production company for sound editing), guests could check out props from the meeting room featured in Saving Mr. Banks, including the piano played by Jason Schwartzman as Richard Sherman and prop concept art and swatches for Mary Poppins (and even a publicity photo of Tom Hanks as Walt Disney).
All three floors of the original Animation building were accessible to guests where they could peruse the permanent, but occasionally-changing exhibitions on Disney’s rich history of animation as well as the history of The Walt Disney Company itself as told through rarely seen photographs and images. The third floor, where Walt’s office was located (it’s now being used by an outside production company), featured various displays including a collection of classic licensed toys inspired by the Mary Poppins film as well as genuine artifacts that had once been part of Walt’s office collections. Photos of Walt’s offices as well as behind-the-scenes photos from Mary Poppins lined the walls as guests were also able to check out part of the set for Walt’s office from Saving Mr. Banks, which included many prop replicas of awards and documents (not to mention more portraits of Tom Hanks as Walt Disney).
On hand to entertain guests waiting in line to view the sets was Jon Donahue. An actor (and voice artist) in his own right, Donahue has also doubled as Tom Hanks’ professional stand-in for twelve years, including on Saving Mr. Banks. Equipped with an iPad featuring both behind-the-scenes photos as well as his own personal photos from the shoot, Donahue was able to provide first-hand insight to the production of the film. As it turns out, despite behind a Southern California resident and an annual passholder with children, the film was the first time he had ever been on the Carousel (and he now has the photo to prove it).
As a fun fact, although it wasn’t part of the experience, the old Animation building is actually connected to the (equally as old) Ink and Paint building via an underground passage. Dubbed the ‘morgue’ — because that’s where old production items were discarded when no longer needed — the inspiration behind the tunnel was to allow the animation cels to be transported between the departments without having to worry about the weather and other outside contaminants.
The last area that was accessible to guests was Disney Legends Plaza. Although Legends Plaza has little in direct connection with either Mary Poppins or Saving Mr. Banks, it is the current home to all of the Disney Legend plaques/hand prints, which of course include Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Glynis Johns, David Tomlinson, Richard and Robert Sherman, Bill Walsh, et al. To supplement the experience, a small display and recording explained the Disney Legends program and its current relationship with the Disney D23 Expo.
Guests also received a copy of the Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition DVD on their way out.
Below is our gallery of images from the event. Please note that because we were afforded special consideration, some of these photos were either taken during sunlight hours (which the experience was not) or in the Walt Disney Studios Archives which was also not part of the regular experience.
Special thanks to Walt Disney Pictures, Disney D23, the Walt Disney Studio Archives and the Walt Disney Studios.