Biography/Comedy/Drama, 125 Minutes, 2013
Mary Poppins [IMDB] is one of the very few inarguable classics of film. Even those curmudgeons that mock Dick Van Dyke’s [IMDB] cockney accent admit it. The story behind the making of the film is the stuff of Hollywood legend.
Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks [IMDB]) wooed the book’s author, P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson [IMDB]) for over 20 years attempting to get the rights to make the movie. From all accounts, they never came to a truly amicable accord, but the film did get made. Despite the overwhelming success, Travers never granted approval for a sequel despite a clamoring public and avid Disney.
The story is obviously, almost overly, idealized. Travers’ reluctance to cooperate and gruff nature is explained through heart-wrenching flashbacks to her childhood traumas. Her passionate defense of the character is justified by what we learn and Thompson’s performance is (to borrow a phrase) practically perfect in every way.
For his part, Disney is portrayed as an open, creatively giving individual uninterested in wealth. He just wants to share the story with the world and keep a father’s promise to his children. He’s compassionate, eminently patient and utterly empathetic. Hanks performance is as wonderful as you’d expect, but seems somewhat less impressive: Hanks basically seems to be playing himself.
The worst of the infighting rumored (or actually documented) between the two is hinted at, but never directly portrayed. Naysayers may point to this as Disney rewriting history, but in the context of the story being told, it works. There are serious themes at play here. You should expect to shed a tear or three. At the same time, the overall tone is light and hopeful with the frustrations tempered by a growing mutual respect and understanding.
It’s ironic that Disney would release a movie that revels in a heritage of creative integrity when some might say that they’ve spent much of the past two decades ignoring that heritage. That said, if this is a sign of a more introspective, more creative Disney, then more power to them.