The documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse demonstrates how the story behind the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is as much a tale steeped in madness and depravity as the final film was. A title like Shadow of the Vampire, by comparison, took the real story behind F.W. Muranu’s Nosferatu and transformed it into a vampire flick that satirizes the moviemaking process.

Now, Disney is setting to work on Saving Mr. Banks, a film about the hurdles that Walt Disney jumped through to make a bright and bubbly musical adaptation of Mary Poppins, which would go on to find box office success and Academy Awards-glory. However, Saving Mr. Banks may prove to be more about author P.L. Travers than Walt, if the official plot summary is a proper indicator.

Saving Mr. Banks has begun principal photography in the Los Angeles area, with “key locations” around Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney Studio in Burbank due to make an appearance in the film. Tom Hanks will become the first person to portray old Walt on the big screen in a dramatic feature (according to the press release, that is), while fellow dual-Oscar winner Emma Thompson is tackling the role of the very regal Ms. Travers. The pair are working from a script penned by Terra Nova creator Kelly Marcel, summarized as follows:

When Travers travels from London to Hollywood in 1961 to finally discuss Disney’s desire to bring her beloved character to the motion picture screen (a quest he began in the 1940s as a promise to his two daughters), Disney meets a prim, uncompromising sexagenarian not only suspect of the impresario’s concept for the film, but a woman struggling with her own past. During her stay in California, Travers’ reflects back on her childhood in 1906 Australia, a trying time for her family which not only molded her aspirations to write, but one that also inspired the characters in her 1934 book.

None more so than the one person whom she loved and admired more than any other—her caring father, Travers Goff, a tormented banker who, before his untimely death that same year, instills the youngster with both affection and enlightenment (and would be the muse for the story’s patriarch, Mr. Banks, the sole character that the famous nanny comes to aide). While reluctant to grant Disney the film rights, Travers comes to realize that the acclaimed Hollywood storyteller has his own motives for wanting to make the film—which, like the author, hints at the relationship he shared with his own father in the early 20th Century Midwest.

Directing duties belong to John Lee Hancock, whose credits include Disney’s The Rookie and The Alamo as well as (more famously) The Blind Side. That resume suggests Saving Mr. Banks could fall more on the warm and fuzzy (re: sappy) side with a bittersweet, yet ultimately satisfying, conclusion – when, in reality, Travers never licensed any of her work to Walt again, being so thoroughly disappointed with how he transformed Mary Poppins (a work of personal significance) into crowd-pleasing entertainment.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean Saving Mr. Banks won’t make for pleasant viewing – even if it does depart from the hard facts for dramatic purposes – just not enough so that the story rings hollow, hopefully. Besides, Hanks and Thompson are terrific fits for their roles as Disney and Travers; not to mention, the film could still offer an insightful look at how a storyteller’s real-life informed her writing, as much as Johnny Depp’s Oscar-nominated Finding Neverland (which, for the record, does play somewhat fast and loose with the facts).

The cast of Saving Mr. Banks is rounded out by Colin Farrell as the troubled Travers Goff, along with Luther alum Ruth Wilson (who is also the female lead in Disney’s Lone Ranger) as his “long-suffering” wife, Margaret. Other supporting players include Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti (The Ides of March), B.J. Novak (The Office), Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom), Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods), and Rachel Griffiths (Brothers & Sisters).

Look for Saving Mr. Banks to arrive in theaters by late 2013, just as Oscar fever starts spreading.

Source: Walt Disney Studios