Sunday, July 6, 2014

This time we're saving Mr. Banks, not Private Ryan

Saving Mr. Banks
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Collin Farrell
Released: December 20, 2013

Oscar nominations:
Best Score - Thomas Newman (lost to Steven Price for Gravity)

This is the story of how Walt Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks) got the rights to P.L. Travers' (portrayed by Emma Thompson) beloved book that the movie Mary Poppins is based upon. Now I had no idea Mary Poppins was based on a book. I always figured it was an original script. It's been a long, long, LONG time since I've seen it, but I would have figured I would have read the book or at least heard of it, right? In fact, it's been such a long time since I've seen it that I had no idea who the "Mr. Banks" in question was until I realized it's the father from the book she wrote. 

I suppose no other studio could have made this movie other than Disney since they have the rights to Mary Poppins, the songs from it (you hear a lot of familiar classics!), and Walt Disney himself. I have a feeling this movie would have gone into darker territory if another studio had made it. It sounds like Disney (the studio) took a few liberties with Saving Mr Banks. True, they do make P.L. Travers very unlikeable, but they do give her a few moments of redemption and scenes where you kind of feel sorry for her, but it sounds like she was a lot worse in real life than how they portrayed her in the movie. Disney wants the rights to her book, but she will have final word in the script. I can understand an author wanting to protect her script, but some of the demands she bestows upon them is a little ridiculous. For one thing, she insists the color red not be present in the movie. And she just doesn't mean wardrobe, but anything that is red. The movie never tells us why she has such an aversion to the color red, like she does with pears. Since it's been so long since I've seen Mary Poppins, I don't know if they caved in to that ridiculous demand, but I'm guessing not since she also insist that there be no animation or musical numbers and, well, I know for a fact that both of those are in the movie! I'm guessing the scenes where she's dancing and singing along to Let's Go Fly a Kite with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and the Sherman brothers, the music composers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) did not actually happen in real life! In fact, she disliked them so much that when they made the stage production of Mary Poppins, she insisted only that British writers and composers be part of the team so she wouldn't have to work with the people from the film.

We see a scene where it's mentioned that Dick Van Dyke is being mentioned for the role of Bert and Travers is just appalled at this and we all know he got the role. There's another scene where they sing a song for her (and of course she hates it) and there's a made up word in it and she mentions how she hates it because it's not a word and we see one of the composers quickly cover the sheet music with the title "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious". There's cute little scenes like that.

The movie flips back and forth between writing the script for Mary Poppins and P.L. Travers' childhood in Queensland, Australia, where she was known as Helen Goff before adopting her pen name and we can kind of see why she ended up the way she did. Both her parents were pretty horrible at being parents. Her mother, despite having three young children, tried to commit suicide (but didn't) and her father (played by Collin Farrell) was a drunk who could never keep a job and that caused the family to have money problems. He loved Helen very much and told her to always keep her active imagination and Helen returned his adoration and was crushed when he died. Travers was her father's name and thus the reason she used it as her surname for her writing.

The movie shows her more tender side by having her befriend her driver (Paul Giamatti) who takes her to and from the studio and her hotel while she was in L.A. She's cold to him at first, but overtime they develop a very nice friendship, which surprise, never happened in real life! And I mean that Giamatti's character did not exist in real life.

Travers was not invited by Walt to the premier of the movie (which I guess really happened in real life - in fact, I heard that Walt was on vacation the two weeks she was there to help work on the script because he couldn't stand her!), but she attends it anyway because it is her book being made into a movie. She watches the movie and cries because she's just so overwhelmed by emotion, and Walt, who is sitting behind her, puts a tender hand on her shoulder, and again I can guarantee this never happened in real life. I don't know if it's true, but I'm willing to bet it is, I heard that Travers hated the movie! It's too bad she was such an unpleasant woman because I remember being charmed by Mary Poppins and now that I know it was written by her, it kind of tarnishes the movie for me. Looking at her Wikipedia page, I found a lovely quote that pretty much confirms how much a horrible person she was: "Travers died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96. According to her grandchildren, Travers "died loving no one and with no one loving her." Yikes! How can a woman like that write a charming story like Mary Poppins! Good thing when I think of Mary Poppins, I think of Julie Andrews!  

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