Helen Lyndon Goff (1899-1996) was a well-known writer of children’s books. Under the name Pamela Lyndon Travers (P.L. Travers) she created the ever-popular Mary Poppins. Eight films were made of the story between1934 and 1989, but the best known was Disney’s 1964 hit. The film was honored with several Oscars, including Julie Andrews as Best Actress. The Oscar-winning score, and songs Chim Chim Cher-ee and the barely pronounceable Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious were all written by the talented Sherman Brothers. (The last song title may be spelled wrong. I didn’t look it up.)
The new film, featuring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Goff/Travers, is about the conflict between the Disney Studio and the author in the course of making of the film.
There’s a dimension to the to film that isn’t shown in the trailers and previews. In the previews, MP’s creator is a curmudgeon of a woman who needs money to save her home, and very reluctantly sells the movie rights to her story to Disney Studios with a BIG provision: She must approve and control everything in the script or there would be no deal. Her conflict with Walt himself is the central story shown in the previews.
What the previews don’t show are nearly an hour of flashbacks of Travers’ unhappy childhood growing up in the Australian outback in a dysfunctional family. The Mr. Banks of the title, and the father in the Mary Poppins’ stories, is based on Travers’ real life dad Travers Goff. The Australian locations in SMB were all apparently shot at the Six Points Texas back-lot at Universal Studios Hollywood. Talk about a stand-in.
Dad, played by Colin Farrell, is an alcoholic plagued by his private demons. We do not see the actual demons, just the plaguing. Uncomfortable to view, theses scenes are key to Travers’ personality, showing why the creator of a beloved children’s book character is now a curmudgeon and spoil sport.
The rest of the film is Travers and Disney going round and round, with every script and song session running into blockade after blockade, because Travers objects to everything except the actual use of film to make the movie. Poor Disney does his best to cope and be a nice guy instead of throwing her off the lot, kidnapping her out of the country, or hiring an exorcist.
As history this is interesting, if not compelling, film making. We all know that Mary Poppins in fact did get finished the way Disney wanted. Even though Travers wouldn’t budge on or ever again allow any film sequels, Mary Poppins and its success are indisputable history. We assume she was thankful for the money.
Performances by Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, and Paul Giamatti as Traveers’ chauffeur are excellent. Thomas Newman’s understated score is just about perfect for the material. However, this is definitely not a movie for kids. Fans thinking this will show how the 1964 movie was made are going to be disappointed. Negotiationing sessions and constant conflict are what you are in for. Long-time Disney fans will enjoy the history. Others would be better off watching Mary Poppins which is, one more try, Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.
Rated 3.0 out of 4.0 spoonfuls of sugar.