Directed by: John Lee Hancock
OK, let’s get this right from the top, in spite of the fact that the Walt Disney film, Mary Poppins, is one of the most beloved animated feature length films of all times, P.L. Travers, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, hated pretty much everything about the film. She hated that she felt compelled to sell “Uncle” Walt the rights (she was apparently going broke), she hated the songs, she hated the animation, she hated Dick Van Dyke, and yeah, she hated the “Disneyfcation” of the entire process. So much so that it not only took Disney 20 years of negotiating with her, but she refused to ever do business with him again, and even put it in her will that if ever a stage play was to be made of the book, no one associated with Disney of the film could have anything to do with it (and that only English writers could work on the project). Oh, and in case we forgot to mention it, she totally hated the film.
Now, on with the review:
In the 1940s Walt Disney’s daughters turned him onto the book Mary Poppins and he promised them that he would make it to make a movie for them, only the author P.L. Travers’ (Thompson) refused to sell him the rights, and it took him another 20 years to keep that promise to his kids. In his quest to obtain the rights, Disney (Hanks) comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. However (as stated above), as her books stop selling and money was growing short, Travers reluctantly capitulated to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation.
Then for two weeks in 1961, Disney pulled out all the stops, and did his best to wine and dine her so as to get her on board with the project. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), Disney allowed her script approval, only to discover how intractable she could actually be. Eventually (as history bears out) he did get the rights and made the film, but according to all reports, Travers never really liked the film, and never did business with Disney again.
The film is played out with matching stories, first one of Travers’s life as a young girl in the Australian outback and the second as her adult self, working through her dealings with Disney. Needless to say, given that the Mr. Banks film is being distributed by Disney (even though it was made by BBC Films) much of the discord between Travers and Disney are conveniently glossed over. Still, let’s not make that part of our through enjoyment of the film, seeing Hanks as Walt, and some behind-the-scenes at Disneyland, really go a long way to make this film something of a guilty pleasure that brings us back to your youth. Sure it isn‘t completely historically accurate, but it is still a good deal of fun, Go see it.
Perhaps the one disappointing thing about this film is that the film Marry Poppins itself is currently not available to be seen (either on DVD, TV or Cable). You would have thought that to prep audiences for this “behind the scenes look” the marketing machine that is Disney would have propped us all with a month-long revival of the film on which this film is based.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.