Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Saving Mr. Banks


My friend Harlan Ellison has posted a diatribe about just how phony this whole story is. (Harlan is the biggest anti-Internet person I know, but when he discovered YouTube he just couldn’t resist pontificating … and I say that with the utmost respect; no one can pontificate like Harlan.) And he is absolutely right. The story is of the creation of the movie Mary Poppins after Walt Disney finally secured the rights from P.L. Travers, one of the all-time curmudgeons of the world. In the final scenes, Harlan told us angrily, Emma Thompson as Travers was blubbering but seemed to be enjoying herself. In actual fact, the woman hated, hated, hated everything about the movie.

That wouldn’t necessarily put me off of the movie. I’m okay with altering history here and there, if you’ve got a good story to tell, and good acting and writing. We get all of that here, especially from Thompson and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. So I settled in to see what they came up with. It could be sort of like Hyde Park on the Hudson. We have no way of knowing how the meeting between FDR and the King of England went, but it was kind of fun to imagine it.

I liked the central conceit of the story, which was that Mary Poppins showed up at the Banks house not to be a nanny to the children, but to rescue Mr. Banks from his tedious and soul-killing job at the bank. I can get behind that. And the story goes along well, as Travers works with the Sherman Brothers (mostly objecting to everything they suggest).

But in the end I have to agree with Harlan. This story was too dishonest. P.L. Travers was a massive pain in the bottom, she hated everything about America and Disney and most of all, animation. She held out for twenty years or so of increasingly desperate offers for the film rights, and only sold them when she really needed the money. I didn’t like her in the film, and I suspect she was even worse in real life. (Her grandchildren said of her that she “died loving no one, and with no one loving her.”) But it was her story, and she felt Disney fucked it up (again, I disagree, since I love the film), and it wasn’t right to soften her on the screen, just as Disney softened Mary Poppins. Still, I have to admit I had a good time watching this.