What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? You get the clash of the titans in a great new film depicting the tumultuous circumstances surrounding the making of the movie, “Mary Poppins“. Oh sure, you’ve seen this delightful family movie a dozen times, but you would have never guessed that behind the scenes was a war going on between two egotistical mad geniuses: Walt Disney and Pamela “P.L.” Travers.
Icon Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) is riding high as overseer of Disneyland, The Disney Studios, and his weekly TV show, but for 20 years he’s tried in vain to acquire the film rights to the wonderful children’s book, “Mary Poppins” by English author P.L. Travers. Eager to acquire said rights, he flies Travers (Emma Thompson) out to his film studios for her signature and expertise. Oops! Bad move, Walt! She refuses to sign unless she has everything HER way!
Truth is, Travers only acquiesces after 20 years because she’s broke! Well, it turns out that she’s a nasty whirling dervish of uncompromising values, mean-spirited accolades, and no sense of humor whatsoever. Not exactly the kind of person you want co-writing a fun-filled Disney movie! She bumps heads with co-writer, Don DeGradi (Bradley Whitford) and wants all their rehearsals tape recorded! For two exasperating weeks, everyone bends over backwards to please her, just so she’ll sign over the precious rights. The muti-talented Sherman Brothers (Jason Schwartzman as Richard and B. J. Novak as Robert) are at a loss when Travers hates their music and lyrics.
Travers: “No, no, no, no. ‘Responstible’ is not a word”
Richard Sherman: “We made it up!”
Travers: “Well… UNmake it up!”
Wait till she hears, “Supercalifragilisticexpilaladocious“! Yikes! Walt is going nuts, trying everything he can to please the temperamental author by giving into her crazy ideas (“No animation! No color red!”), showing her every amenity, giving her a trip to “the Happiest Place on Earth”, and making promises he knows he’ll never keep. Even Ralph, the studio chauffeur (Paul Giamatti), is trying his best to soften her icy heart.
Meanwhile, interspersed throughout all of this, we see Pamela constantly flash-backing to when she was a little girl (Annie Rose Buckley) in Australia where her loving, but alcoholic father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) spirals their family into the ground with his drinking. Traver’s long-suffering wife (Ruth Wilson) has to call in Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths), her strict and no-nonsense sister to save them. Aunt Ellie would eventually be the inspiration for the strict Mary Poppins character in Travers books.
We also learn that after her father dies, Pamela blames herself for his death, and that begins her spiral into self-pity and remorse that eventually leads to her present day anti-social behavior and callous disregard for others. Back at the House of Mouse, Travers goes ballistic after learning about animated penguins in the movie and retreats back to England where Disney quickly follows her. Finally figuring her out and her back story, Disney gives her an emotionally charged plea that is Oscar worthy material for Tom Hanks.
That does it. She signs over the rights and Disney does the movie exactly the way HE wanted to do, with or without Travers okay. The film premieres at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood in 1964 and Travers is NOT invited… but she shows up anyway, much to Disney’s shock and surprise! Her reaction? She HATES it!
The end credits roll with real photos of the movie premiere showing Walt and Travers all happy and content (and looking alot older than they are depicted in the movie). Plus there are sketches and an actual taped playback recording of Travers giving her dislike of a certain scene.
This are really Hanks and Thompson’s Oscar-worthy roles. Hanks has the same inflection and cadence of Disney’s real Southern drawl while Thompson is all emotion and bluster until she softens and breaks apart like a little girl. A fine screenplay by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith and directed by John Lee Hancock, this movie took me back to the 60’s when I first saw “Mary Poppins“. To see what went on in that room makes you shake your head and wonder how this movie was ever made! An excellent capture of the historical moments that went into making a classic family film.
And I don’t know how, but they even got Disneyland of the 60’s recreated! Nice. Very nice.
The Big Picture (1989)