Twitter Plot Summary: Disney wants to make a film of Mary Poppins. Author PL Travers disagrees. Then she gave in and they made it. The end.
Director: John Lee Hancock
Key Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Ruth Wilson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, BJ Novak, Rachel Griffiths
Five Point Summary:
1. Very prim, very proper. Let’s see how long it takes for her to melt.
2. Colin Farrell! And he’s not that bad!
3. Complaints about made up words. Oh dear…
4. Ahh, there we go – they’ve managed to wear her down. So to speak.
5. The film is released!
There’s always something disconcerting about a film studio that decides to release a self-referential movie that draws on its own history – there’s a fear that it will become a back-slapping exercise and not get into the gritty details – but seeing as this is from the almighty Disney there’s a certain element of forgiveness that can be applied. It’s the early 1960s and Walt Disney, portrayed by the always excellent Tom Hanks, has spent 20 years trying to acquire the film rights to the Mary Poppins novels by PL Travers. For various personal reasons she has always turned him down. Now, with the royalties from her book sales drying up, she makes the trip over to California but insists on having final script approval and, most importantly, absolutely no animation.
Emma Thompson is PL Travers, and it’s wonderful seeing her gradually morph from an uppity English lady to slowly coming to terms with, if not fully appreciating even at the end, what Disney intends to do with her characters. Hanks meanwhile is fun in his role as the Disney patriarch, albeit used more as someone who steps in on occasions rather than being the core focus. Suffice to say that the interactions between Disney and Travers are perhaps the highlight of the film based on the performances alone.
The story in the 1960s is intercut with flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in Australia, where the origins of the Mary Poppins character are played out. The focus during the flashbacks is almost front and centre on Colin Farrell as Travers’ father, and despite any misgivings people may have about Farrell (thanks, Family Guy), he puts in a strong performance as a man worn down by the daily trudge of working in a bank and being part of the system. These sequences add depth and context to Travers’ reasoning in the present of 1961, although some elements are not explained as fully as perhaps necessary.
Whilst the story and performances are entertaining, it doesn’t break any new ground. Okay, for those people who are unaware of Walt Disney’s attempts to buy the rights to the Mary Poppins books, and the ensuing behind the scenes disgruntlement of author PL Travers, then there is perhaps a bit more going for it. Whilst I understand that it’s essentially a biopic, Mary Poppins is such a well known and loved film that we all know that it was released and the behind the scenes disagreements weren’t sufficient to derail the project. There’s a lot of nice touches dotted throughout – in particular the song composers hiding the lyrics sheet to “that” song when Travers complains about them making up words – it’s a film that relies too much on the good will that most of us hold towards the Mary Poppins film. It’s entertaining and offers an intriguing insight into the somewhat colourful background to how it was made, but that’s the extent of it. If I had script approval, I would have perhaps provided more substance to the disagreements between Travers and Disney, it’s not as barbed as it could have been. I would also have perhaps added a surprise element to the reason why Travers uses that surname instead of Goff when writing, as this is revealed a touch too early in the story for my liking. It’s a story told at surface level only, but as it’s designed as entertainment for the masses rather than as a commentary on the filmmaking process or any deep dark secrets about the Disney empire (understandably), to ask more of it would be inappropriate.
Favourite scene: Travers is won over by the proposed new ending.
Quote: “You think Mary has come to save the children? Oh dear…”
Silly Moment: Taking PL Travers to Disneyland.