My first memories of Mary Poppins in the movie adaptation by Disney starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. I loved how Mary turned the most mundane tasks such as cleaning your room or brushing your teeth into a game. But what I loved most is that at the end of the movie, Mr. Banks is transformed from a grumpy old man who believed hard work was the only thing that mattered to a loving father who cared more about the happiness of his children than pleasing his overbearing boss at the bank.
This past week I snuck out to see Saving Mr. Banks, the Disney picture that chronicles (and dramatizes) the process of writing the script for the Mary Poppins flick with P.L. Travers. Below is my review of the movie.
P.L. Travers hasn’t written a book since her Mary Poppins was published. While it became a worldwide success, the book has seen its day and the popularity of Mary Poppins is wavering leaving Mrs. Travers financially in a hard way. Because of this she gives in to an 18-year courtship by Walt Disney to turn her beloved book into a motion picture.
Right away we see the ironic contradictions of P.L. Travers herself and the beloved Mary Poppins character she has created in her book. Mrs. Travers doesn’t like to be called by her first name, she doesn’t like children very much and her personality is closed off and a little eccentric. It’s almost humorous the way Mrs. Travers addresses the people around her. For instance she tells the screenwriter for the movie, Bill Walsh, that she is disturbed by being addressed by her first name when first introduced to him since they are not intimate acquaintances.
Some of the things I like about the movie is the banter that exists between Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, and Mrs. Travers, played by Emma Thompson. Most of the conflict revolves around the fact that Mrs. Travers wants full say in the final script before she will sign off on the contract that gives Disney the writes to make the movie. Her demands range from how the scenes in the script is described, what Mr. Bank’s facial hair will look like, the correct use of the English language (there goes Supercalifragilisticexpialitdotious) and that the color red should not be used in the movie at all despite the fact that the movie is set in London.
Eventually Disney works his magic and brings out the softer side in Travers in order to get the film created. It actually took me by surprise that Walt Disney did not invite Mrs. Travers to the LA premiere of Mary Poppins. However, I think watching Emma Thompson scowl at the songs and animated penguins and cry when Mr. Banks offers to go fly a kite with the children. It was that moment that made the movie worthwhile to see.
The other thing I liked about the movie was that we see the background of Mrs. Travers’ life which influences her creation of Mr. Banks and Mary Poppins. Far from the privileged English background you would assume that she came from, P.L. Travers is actually Helen Goff, from a middle class Australian family that falls in bad times when her banker father falls under the addition of alcohol and becomes unreliable and unpredictable to her family. While Helen sees him as a big kid and someone to look up to, it’s evident to the adults around her and her dad’s slew of employers that Travers Goff is in a downward spiral. When Helen’s father takes ill her estranged relative from the east comes to visit and helps her mother deal with depression and a sense of lost control and helps the children to find discipline and get back on track with helping their mother around the house.
Overall I give this movie 4 stars. It was great to see the creative process and while I’m sure to conflicts with Travers is over dramatized, I think that they did an excellent job of showing how difficult it can be for a creator of a beloved literary character to hand over her creation to someone else in order to bring it to life over the big screen. Tom Hanks did a pretty good job with Walt Disney. I can tell he must have had a lot of fun playing a big kid. Emma Thompson stole the show as P.L. Travers. She is absolutely mesmerizing in her betrayal of the eccentric author. While not a children’s movie, there is nothing objectionable in it content wise, showing that both Disney and Travers were shallow representations of the actual people, and it will warm the hearts of anyone who sees it.
Also a hint – Stay for the credits and you can hear actual recordings of Mrs. Travers giving her comments and changes to the script.
What movie adaptation process would you love to see made into a movie?