by Brad Nelson 6/3/14
This is a somewhat fictionalized and sentimentalized account of the strained negotiations and birthing of the Disney film, Mary Poppins. The book’s author was the decidedly prickly P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson.
Tom Hanks plays the folksy Walt Disney. I think they’ve woven (created, perhaps) a very nice story out of the somewhat charred remains of the collaboration between Travers and the Disney team back in 1961. There could be some truth in the idea of Walt Disney as the intellectual property rights raider looking to Disneyize everything he could find.
And there could be some truth to the idealized Pamela Travers who so loved Mary Poppins that she resisted for decades any attempt by Disney to exploit these characters. However, Disney and “Big Animation” haters of the Marxist/socialist bent will find much to dislike in this movie. Walt (and, yes, I can call him “Walt”) is shown not as a corporate raider but a lover of good stories and a keeper of promises to his children.
And Travers is not seen only as a crusty old kook, but as a woman dealing with some past issues with her father that come to some resolution in the making of this feature film. And at some point you just have to agree that it’s okay to make a lovely story, regardless of what the truth is. And if you’ve read a bit around the web regarding this story, you’ll perhaps understand how much we need a good, pleasant, loving, and hopeful story — particularly because there are so many people these days who hate what is dismissed as “schmaltz,” their hearts hardened and tainted by Cultural Marxism and its disdain for the Disney ethos and all success stories not achieved via government.
No, this isn’t a political picture. But one should understand that we live in rotten times where so many people want to line up to piss on a good story, let alone a bit of Americana such as Disney. Well, I’m not one of them, and the Marxists can all go to hell. If you’re one of them, stay with this site. We can help de-program you. Just say the magic word: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Saving Mr. Banks is a title that won’t make much sense until you’ve seen the movie. Even then, it’s perhaps a bit of a reach. That final theme seems just a bit tacked-on. Nevertheless, it’s interesting watching this story — two stories, really — play out. Your time is almost evenly split between flashbacks to Pamela Traver’s life as a child with her father (played by Colin Farrell) and the 1960’s story set mostly in Southern California in and around the Disney headquarters.
Hanks is not a particularly good fit for Disney, but he’s become the dean of the “nice guy,” so I guess he works in this role for that purpose. A nice side story is that between Travers and her limousine driver, played subtly and convincingly by Paul Giamatti who, besides Emma Thompson, gives the best performance in this film.
And Thompson really does shine (grate, actually) as the prickly and caustic Mrs. Travers. She is an angry, picky, persnickety, and pugnacious old prune. How the Disney crew kept from drop-kicking her out the window is a near miracle.
Another welcome feature of this film is seeing Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman (played by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) construct the music for Mary Poppins, for whatever one thinks about the film itself, it’s surely the music that makes it work. It’s a blast seeing the tunes take shape, and I only wish the movie had spent a little more time with this great music.
Whatever the real story is between Disney and Travers, I just don’t care, particularly because I liked the one presented. But I am interested in how the book compares with the movie, so I started reading it last night. And you might be thinking as I am: Can such an iconic and charming book and character really have flowed out of the heart and mind of this caustic old crank?
So far in reading just the first couple of chapters, the movie squares very well with the book. And an entire Mary Poppins extravaganza could unfold, for now I must watch the movie again as well. This is one of the few features I remember seeing in the theatre as a kid. It was pure magic. And I’m glad that the producers of Saving Mr. Banks at least had the sympathy to not crap all over that magic with some modernesque “real” interpretation that was nothing but a dour and wanton exposition of warts. Instead, they have spun another layer of charm and magic around this beloved character.
Brad is editor and publisher of StubbornThings.
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