Tomorrow’s release of Saving Mr. Banks, which spotlights Walt Disney’s efforts to acquire the rights to Mary Poppins, got me thinking about a Walt Disney film released two years later.
Follow Me, Boys! is Disney’s tribute to the Boy Scouts of America, and nearly five decades after its release, it’s the only major motion picture I can think of that celebrates the Boy Scouts and holds up our organization’s strong values.
The Follow Me-Poppins parallels don’t end with Mr. Disney himself. The title song in Follow Me, Boys! was written by Robert and Richard Sherman, the same duo who penned the music in that British-nanny musical. (The actors B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman portray the Sherman brothers in Saving Mr. Banks.)
The theatrical debut of Follow Me, Boys! on Dec. 1, 1966, was followed two weeks later by some tragic news. Walt Disney died of lung cancer that day, meaning Follow Me, Boys! was the last production released during his lifetime.
I’d love to see a film like Saving Mr. Banks that delves into Walt Disney’s interest in the Boy Scouts of America. What sparked his curiosity in the organization and desire to turn MacKinlay Kantor’s book God and My Country into a feature film? How did the Scouting organization respond to his request? And what, if any, involvement did the BSA have during production?
Follow Me, Boys! stars a teenage Kurt Russell and Fred MacMurray (a former Scout in Troop 33 in Madison, Wis.). It follows a childless couple who devote themselves to the youth of the community. They decide Scouting is the best way to help boys become confident young men who are prepared for life. (Good call.)
To say their plan is a success is an understatement. MacMurray’s character becomes a major force for good in the lives of these boys, who come and grow throughout his 20-year Scouting career. I won’t spoil how it ends, but I will say it’s an inspiration to watch this Scoutmaster soar.
I think of Follow Me, Boys! as Mr Holland’s Opus but released 30 years earlier and set in a Scout troop instead of a high school. And I mean that as a compliment.
Follow Me, Boys! got solid reviews when it debuted, including from Scouting magazine. In our December 1966 issue, we wrote: “Laughs chase the tears throughout this portrayal of small-town and rural life in the model-A era and the career of a man who becomes a leading citizen by his avocation of helping boys. Take the family to see it.”
What was solid advice 47 years ago still holds true today: Follow Me, Boys! offers good, wholesome family fun. Watch a trailer and see original write-ups from Scouting and Boys’ Life magazines after the jump. Continue reading