As someone who only really vaugely remembers Mary Poppins, when the other half suggested we go to see Saving Mr Banks at the cinema, my real interest was in knowing more about Walt Disney than how Mary Poppins was made. Disney, and his entire franchise, is shrouded in enough myths and legends to could keep an internet procrastinator like me from doing her essays for hours. (Not that that has ever happened of course…)
This was the first feature length movie that featured Walt as a main character, and who better to portray him than his distant cousin(!) Tom Hanks.
The film tells the story of Mary Poppins writer T. L. Travers (Mrs Travers please!) and the 20 year battle of Walt trying to get her to grant the rights to make a film of her book, to keep a promise to his daughters. Of course, a film about Disney, written and produced by the Disney company, is going to paint Walt as a perfect man, and, in contrast, Travers as a mean old bag. Played wonderfully by Emma Thompson, it’s an interesting choice to make your main character so dislikable, and for me it was so hard to watch at times, boardering on sassy, but eering more towards mean than funny. There is, predictably, a turning point in which we are given permission to like Mrs Travers however this doesn’t make the film an easier to watch. This is due to the sub-plot told in flashbacks, recalling a young Mrs Travers’ life and if I were to say it were heart-breaking I wouldn’t be doing it justice. It gives the film’s story another layer and makes it more than just a film about how wonderful Walt Disney was.
Don’t get me wrong, Walt really is likable in the story. He’s never too forceful or rude, and in fact he has a few really tender moments, declaring his love for Mary Poppins and his devotion to his daughters and a promise he made 20 years ago. I just found it hard to swallow fully, that he could really be as perfect as he is made out, and Travers, the author of such a beautiful story, could be so mean. However, at the end of the film, we hear an actual recording of Mrs Travers’ discussions with the film-makers, and honestly she comes across as a woman who is passionate and strong-willed but perhaps goes about it a little brashly.
The most interesting part for me however, is the ending, no mention at all of how, in real life, we know that she hated the film, and refused to ever let her books be adapted again. In fact when it came to the stage show she only agreed if ‘No Americans were involved’ and particularly no one from the Walt Disney company. Of course, in a film by Disney about Disney, this is never addressed, however, rather interestingly, throughout there are many lines where Mrs Travers lays down her rules: ‘No animation’, ‘No songs’, ‘No Dick Van Dyke’, things that we, as watchers of the Mary Poppins film know absolutely made the final cut. They are openly admitting that they went against her wishes…
For me though, the film was stolen by the trio of writers, played by B.J Novak, Bradley Whitford and Richard Sherman. The film has a lot of great laughs and a large proportion of them do come from these three.
Honestly, if I thought my heart could take it, I would watch this film again, because it really is an enjoyable watch. Personally, I now want to research more about this; is this really how it all played out? I would recommend this film for anyone who loved Mary Poppins, or who is interested in Disney in general, but perhaps to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Originally published on VibeMedia, December 2013.