For nearly 50 years, Mary Poppins has captivated audiences of all ages with its delightful story of a magical nanny who appears at just the right time to help a family in need. The masterpiece contains marvelous performances and a brilliant soundtrack that still endures to this day.
Looking at the film, you probably wouldn't think that it was any more difficult to make than Disney's other projects. But in this case, throw a temperamental author into the mix and things become much, much more difficult.
Saving Mr. Banks tells us the fascinating story of how the film adaptation of Mary Poppins came to be. After 20 years of trying to persuade author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow him to make the film, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) finally manages to get her to come to Los Angeles to see what they've done with her beloved character. When she finds fault with just about every design, and discovers to her dismay that they want to make it into a musical, Walt and his crew begin to wonder if the project will ever come to fruition.
This is a positively charming film filled with heart and a few good laughs along the way. While we all know how this venture eventually turned out, it's fascinating nonetheless to see just how difficult it was to get there. You can't help but chuckle at some of the conditions that Travers comes up with, but through flashbacks involving her father (Colin Farrell), it becomes clear that her relationship with him was very important to her, and one of her major inspirations.
Travers' sessions of input are particularly fascinating here. When she comes to L.A., most of the designs have been drawn up and even a full script written, but given that she has final say, it all has to be approved. This turns something as simple as a script read-through into a nightmare as Travers has something to say about everything, including the very first scene heading. Even something as small as Mr. Banks' mustache, a personal request from Walt, sets her off.
Two of the most endearing things about the film are the Oscar-worthy performances from Thompson and Hanks. Thompson perfectly encapsulates Travers' stubbornness, but also the longing and desire to see everything done just the way she wants it. Hanks portrays a model of patience as he deals with Travers' long list of changes, but he also plays Walt with a good deal of genuine heart, especially as he tries to explain his wish to do justice to her work.
Director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith have crafted a delightful film that shows that making movie magic is not always as easy as it seems, even when all the pieces appear to be in place. Travers knew exactly what she wanted out of an adaptation of her cherished work, a lot of which dealt with the physical elements of the film, but more importantly it needed the spirit and the heart she had poured into her novels.
Mary Poppins may have outstanding songs and performances, but it also contains these more vital ingredients in abundance, which is just another reason why it will continue to endure for another 50 years and beyond.
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