I’ve watched segments of this movie here and there over the last couple of weeks, but last night I was feeling a bit laid up and eventually got around to watching the entire thing from start to finish, and I have very fixed feelings about the film.
The movie on its own, I really enjoyed – I thought that pretty much every actor in it was perfect in their own role, from Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson all the way down to the guys who played the Sherman brothers and even Paul Giamatti as her driver. Watching it full out definitely helped me to understand the flashbacks more because I hadn’t seen the very beginning before the Banks had to leave their home in my first couple of go-arounds. Despite all of the frustrations as Walt works to persuade Mrs. Travers to give him her rights to Mary Poppins, there’s all sorts of charm and whimsy to the movie and it was really a lot of fun.
I swear, I’ve been singing Let’s Go Fly a Kite to Christopher for weeks after watching the scene with them all dancing and singing for the first time!
So with that said, the problem that I have with this movie – THE BIG PROBLEM – is that especially coming from Disney, it loses pretty much all of its credibility if the movie wasn’t actually true…
Frankly, from reading all of the accounts about how this actually went down, it’s insulting both to those involved as well as to the audience that this movie ever got made, seeing as though it seems that we’re pretty lucky that the breakthrough that was Mary Poppins on the silver screen in the first place barely happened…
The film also depicts Travers coming to amicable terms with Disney, including her approval of his changes to the story. In reality, she never approved of the dilution of the harsher aspects of Mary Poppins’ character, felt ambivalent about the music, and hated the use of animation. Disney overruled her objections to portions of the final film, citing contract stipulations that he had final cut privilege. After the film’s premiere, Travers reportedly approached Disney and told him that the animated sequences had to be removed. Disney dismissed her request, saying, “Pamela, the ship has sailed”.
Although the film portrays Travers as being emotionally moved during the premiere of Mary Poppins, presumably due to her feelings about her father, co-screenwriter Kelly Marcel and several critics note that, in real life, Travers was in fact seen crying at the premiere out of anger and frustration over the film, which she felt betrayed the artistic integrity of her characters and work. Resentful at what she considered poor treatment at Disney’s hands, Travers vowed to never permit The Walt Disney Company to adapt any of her other novels in any form of media. Travers’ last will, in fact, bans any Americans from adapting her works to any form of media.
Now I know that as much of a fan of all things Disney that I am, Walt Disney was no saint … but I guess I just don’t get the need to do it again 50 years after the original movie came out … especially considering that in real life, P.L. Travers actually died back in 1996. Despite the original creator of Mary Poppins being absolutely unsatisfied with the movie, Disney got to make it anyways, and it was a HUGE HIT – the movie was undeniably groundbreaking, and it won all sorts of awards, and I just learned that its profits were actually what ended up financing the construction of Walt Disney World right here in Florida!
In the world of cinema, Mary Poppins was a monumental success in every way imaginable.
So why couldn’t that be enough? Why couldn’t a new generation of movie producers in the 21st century leave it alone and not further to sully the history that was so rocky to begin with by offering up this fictional account that seems to only have very loosely actually reflected how Disney came to acquire Mary Poppins for that breakthrough hit that was critical for the studio’s success? Are filmmakers so out of original ideas that they need to twist and contort the company’s history into this puff piece that makes the entire happening seem to be wrapped with a bow by the end when in reality, it seems to have scarred the creator of Mary Poppins for the rest of her life?!
It’s almost as if modern Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks served to have the same effect for Walt and Mrs. Travers’ relationship as the film preached Walt had wanted to do with the movie Mary Poppins to her actual memory … that is, to gloss over all of the bad parts and instead leave everyone smiling and happy and singing at the end, which would be fine if this were a fictional tale but for something that was actually a part of the company’s history instead is wildly inappropriate and disingenuous to the original creative behind that beloved tale.
And that disappoints me because like I said, if it wasn’t supposed to be based on real life, it’s a great story and it really draws you in to the creative give and take behind such a classic, cherished tale, but The Walt Disney Company ought to know better and this is one story that if they were really this far off base with, it should’ve been left alone.
People always like to reference back and say, “Walt wouldn’t have liked this or that!” and it’s typically unfair comparisons – the fact that Mary Poppins still came out despite such friction is a good example that Walt was a bit more ruthless than we’d like to remember him by. But it still does make you wonder – if after getting away with a Mary Poppins 50 years ago the way he ultimately did, would Walt have rubbed her face in the dirt with this retelling of the story behind the story that we got with Saving Mr. Banks???
God, I hope not.