SAVING MR. BANKS “Based On a True Story”

As part of the full-court press to promote Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, “based on the untold true story” of the making of  the movie, Mary Poppins, a video has been released with commentary by Tom Hanks, who plays Walt Disney, and Emma Thomspon, who plays PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, the book.

This is the first time that the iconic Disney has been portrayed in a movie. Since the studio behind it is the one that bears his name, that leads to the question posed by BuzzFeed, “Did Disney Make An Honest Movie About Walt Disney?

As they point out,  the movie had to be made with Disney, a company notoriously fanatic about controlling rights. Any other studio would have had to figure out how to make a movie about Mary Poppins, without using images or music from the film. Says BuzzFeed,

Consider the irony here: If [scriptwriter Kelly] Marcel wanted to see her work on the big screen, she had to sell Disney her movie about an author who didn’t want to sell her book to Disney … In a way, it was just as Travers predicted: Mary Poppins became a property of Disney, even if she created the character.

BuzzFeed goes on to applaud the movie for being honest about Disney’s vices; he drank and smoked three packs a day and eventually died of lung cancer.

What they don’t mention is that, as Caitlin Flanagan wrote in “Becoming Mary Poppins,” published in the New Yorker in 2005, far from the movie’s portrayal of Disney using his personal charm to woo Travers, the real-life person didn’t even meet with her at first. Instead, he left town, palming her off on the two songwriters he had hired for an agonizing, week-long story meeting.

When Travers confronted Disney after the movie’s premiere, to which she hadn’t even been invited, and demanded some changes, says Flanagan,

Disney looked at her coolly. “Pamela,” he replied, “the ship has sailed.” And then he strode past her, toward a throng of well-wishers, and left her alone, an aging woman in a satin gown and evening gloves, who had travelled more than five thousand miles to attend a party where she was not wanted.

That hardly sounds like the warm-hearted conclusion promised in previews.

Mary Poppins She WroteThe movie arrives in selected theaters on Dec. 13, rolling out nationwide on Dec. 20.

The tie-in is a re-release of a biography of Travers, published in Australia in 1999 and released here in 2006, Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers, by Valerie Lawson (S&S).

Lawson is quoted in Entertainment Weekly’s 11/15 “Holiday Movie Preview” issue, describing how Travers felt about the movie, “She’d written Mary Poppins as a way of healing the wounds of her own childhood, so to have [the character] turned into someone rather more sprightly and cheerful than she desired was very difficult.”

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