Disniversity Co-host Ben Travis Chats Bambi, Empire Magazine and His Love of Nottingham

Interview: George White
Illustrations: Iulia Teodora Matei
Tuesday 06 September 2022
reading time: min, words

From doing work experience at the Nottingham Post (look, we’re not all perfect) to becoming Deputy Online Editor at Empire magazine, Nottingham’s Ben Travis has become a leading voice in the screen world. Yet his passion for cinema doesn’t end with his day job - he’s also set up Disniversity, a podcast diving into the history of, you guessed it, Disney. We chat to the film fanatic ahead of his live show at the London Podcast Festival…


For readers who don’t know, what is Disniversity
The podcast is something I do with my friend, Dr Sam Summers. We both love movies and animation, so we decided to do a podcast where we watch through every Walt Disney Animation Studios film in chronological order and dig into the history of them, which then also brings you onto the history of animation and Hollywood more widely. 

You’re now over thirty episodes into the podcast. How much fun has it been putting these together?
I've really enjoyed it and learned so much from Sam. Sam is the expert - he has a PhD in animation, so he’s the guy who knows all this fascinating stuff. I love film and I'm a film journalist, but my role is to watch the movies and then ask all the stupid questions so Sam can give all the smart answers. I'm learning loads from doing that!

How has the response been from listeners? 
It's been so lovely. We started the podcast because it was lockdown and we were bored and everything was stressful. Disney+ launched just after the first lockdown kicked in, and that opened the vault to all of these classic Disney movies - the ones we all know and love, but also ones that have maybe been forgotten over time. And ever since then it’s been amazing having people watch the films along with us and reconnect to these memories from when they were kids, but also discover films they haven't seen before. 

What’s one film readers should go back and watch again? 
Bambi! The animation in it is absolutely stunning. It was the first attempt to really capture the natural world both very faithfully but also with a heightened experience. So much of that film is about creating the atmosphere of the forest, and at the same time telling this layered coming-of-age story. Everybody remembers Bambi’s mum getting shot - and for good reason, because it's horrifying - but there's so much other stuff in there. 

It’s been amazing having people watch films along with us and reconnect to these memories from when they were kids, but also discover films they haven't seen before

Moving away from Disney and to your day job, you’re now Deputy Online Editor for the biggest film magazine in the world. What have been some of the best moments from your time at Empire so far? 
One of my favourite memories came just two or three weeks into my time at the magazine. I was in the Roundhouse in London, covering the 2018 Empire Awards. I was writing stories about the winners and doing social media posts in a room where the guests included Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and Rian Johnson, as The Last Jedi had been released a few months earlier. A certain Steven Spielberg was also there. He was accepting an award and started talking about the McDonald's Chicken Legend. I snapped out of reality for a minute. I was like, ‘What is going on? How is this my life now?’ It was amazing. 

I’ve had so many fantastic interviews since then, but one of the absolute highlights is getting to chat to Bruce Springsteen. He came to the London Film Festival and I got to do a 25-minute interview with him, talking about movies, Westerns and storytelling, and he was incredible. People say don't meet your heroes, but do if your hero is Bruce Springsteen. He signed my copy of Born to Run, so that’s now a cherished, treasured possession. I truly cannot believe that happened. 

Do you still feel nervous before talking to massive stars?
It’s terrifying all the time, and it's even more terrifying when it's somebody that you really care about. This is my job, too, so of course I go into interviews knowing that I have to get certain things out of it. I’ve done cover features for releases like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and The Book of Boba Fett, which include several interviews with multiple big names. So I know I have to go and talk to people like Kevin Feige and it needs to go well, I need to get good bits out of it. But I’ve started reminding myself that I need to enjoy the moment more. Yes, I’m going to be nervous and I need to do a good job, but I’m doing incredible things - I’m trying to focus more on enjoying the fact that I’m speaking to these really exciting people and that I should have fun with it as well. 

Just three weeks into my time at Empire I found myself writing stories and doing social media posts in a room with Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and Rian Johnson

Finally, bringing the focus back to Nottingham, how important was the city in shaping your interest in film? 
So many of my formative cinematic memories are tied to Nottingham. The amount of cinema trips I've done with my mum and dad to Broadway is insane; there’s nothing like going to see a film with the people who mean the world to me. And, of course, there’s my romanticism for the Showcase. Walking through the doors to the smell of popcorn and Tango Ice Blasts… It's definitely in my DNA. 

It’s great to see independent theatres still smashing it, like the Savoy and Broadway, but I also think it's really valuable that Nottingham has an IMAX screen in the Cineworld and that it has the Showcase. It just means that people from wherever can see movies the way they were meant to be seen. I believe so firmly in having both independent arthouse venues and big cinema chains that just get people in to see movies. We shouldn’t be elitist in any way or fussy about the kind of films that people are seeing, it's just important that people see the stuff that they love and maybe discover things that they didn’t expect to love. I think it’s great that Nottingham is so well-equipped for that.

You can attend a live Disniversity show on Sunday 11 September, as part of the London Podcast Festival. Tickets are available here

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