Disneyland is one of the most iconic places in the world. It introduced the concept of the theme park to most people and is still one of the most popular vacation destinations that exists. And now, the happiest place on Earth is going to get its own movie, and that means that somebody, specifically somebody who isn’t Tom Hanks, will be cast to play Walt Disney.
The new movie has been set for Disney+ and will be directed by David Gordon Green. To clarify, this isn’t simply a movie about the creation of Disneyland itself, but the story of Walt and Roy Disney, the brothers who started the Disney Bros. Studio, which eventually became The Walt Disney Company.
Walt Disney was most memorably played on screen previously by Tom Hanks in the 2013 movie Saving Mr. Banks. However, it’s been nearly a decade since that movie came out, and the events that led to the opening of Disneyland took place a decade prior to the making of Mary Poppins. Hanks is really too old for the role, and so we need somebody else to step in. Here are some ideas.
Edward Norton is currently 52 years old, which makes him right about the same age that Walt Disney was in the years immediately preceding the opening of Disneyland. He probably looked more like Walt Disney when he was younger, but he still has a similar general look. Playing Walt Disney would certainly be a different sort of role than the darker characters Norton frequently plays, but Walt wasn’t entirely without those moments. Norton could probably bring something powerful to the performance as long as Disney was willing to let Walt be portrayed that way.
Ryan Gosling is just about to turn 41 years old, which puts him a bit younger than Walt Disney would have been during the prime years that Disneyland was being conceived and designed. But the movie in question doesn’t even have a script yet, so we’re still a few years away from going in front of cameras. As such, depending on just how early in the process of Disneyland’s creation this movie wants to start, the age may be much closer to accurate by the time it’s actually being filmed. Ryan Gosling is a known fan of Disneyland, so you know he’d give this one his all.
If we’re going for an actor who can just look like Walt Disney without having to work too hard, then we have to consider somebody like David Thewlis. Thewlis is the oldest person on this list, and slightly older than Walt Disney during the key period, but he could easily be made to look like Walt. He’s a remarkable actor who could be the “larger than life” Walt Disney that we often think about. The rest can be dealt with in makeup.
Sam Rockwell can play just about any role, so why couldn’t he be Walt Disney? Like Edward Norton, Rockwell plays a lot of darker characters, but Walt Disney wasn’t really the Uncle Walt that he portrayed on television. A more “no nonsense” version of Walt, which is more accurate to who he really was, at least some of the time, wouldn’t be out of place here. That’s not to say it will happen, as this movie is being made by Disney after all, so there might be an effort to focus on Disney’s softer side.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt still looks even younger than his 40 years of age would indicate, but that’s something that has certainly served him well throughout his career. While Walt Disney was in his late 40s and early 50s during the run up to Disneyland, the park’s existence at all shows that the man was still quite young at heart, and Gordon-Levitt could really bring that out. They’ll probably need the makeup department so he doesn’t look too young through the whole thing, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Howard Stark was basically the Walt Disney of the MCU. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it. So perhaps the man who played the young Howard Stark in Marvel’s movies could also play Walt Disney. All Dominic Cooper would need to do is turn the volume down, but not off, on the attitude, and I think you have it.
In Succession, Matthew Macfayden plays a terrible person, just like everybody else on that show. But when speaking in interviews, the actor comes across much more down to Earth and relatable than many of the characters he plays. Being able to be somebody larger than life, while also just being a normal man who happened to have remarkable dreams, is the essence of Walt Disney. Also, the true story of Disneyland isn’t without its own business world intrigue, so Macfayden’s had experience there.
Ok, so we’ll cheat a bit here. Tom Hanks truly was great as Walt, and while it was ultimately the performance that made the screen version of Walt so great, it wasn’t hard to transform Tom Hanks into Walt Disney physically. Colin Hanks certainly looks a lot like his dad, so that physical transformation should be nearly as easy. There is also something somewhat fitting about seeing son follow father into such an iconic role.
Walt Disney was a remarkable man. He wasn’t perfect, but he certainly was impressive. Disneyland is quite possibly his crowning achievement, since his dream of Epcot never happened. It is, without question, a topic worthy of its own movie. But playing Walt Disney himself will be a tall order for whoever takes on the role.
Walt won’t be the only tough role, as we know that Walt’s brother and business partner Roy will also be key to the story, but Roy will likely be easier to cast simply because most people don’t know him. Roy largely stayed out of the spotlight. Hopefully, by the end of this new movie, the general public will learn just how important he was too.
David Gordon Green has said there’s not even a script yet for this movie, so we’re certainly a couple of years away, at the least, from this film going before cameras. In that time it’s possible, even likely, that other strong candidates to play Walt could emerge. But until then, we could do worse than the men listed here.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.