Wind’s in the east

Another film about a film, another sign of Hollywood zombification: unable to come up with an original idea, it feasts on the still-warm corpse of a past glory. The “making of” concept is just the sequel/prequel trick on a perpendicular axis, the mark of a desperate industry scrambling for relevance in the internet age. Jebus help us when tinseltown discovers the third dimension.

Oh.

But despite all that, from its trailer Saving Mr Banks looked different, deeper than expected. Sure, it’s a Disney film, and Walt Disney’s a major character, and he’s played by serial schmaltzer Tom Hanks. And yet it’s not a film I instinctively wanted to sprint away from at light speed while vomiting from every orifice.

This is partly down to Emma Thompson, who’s perfect as Poppins creator P L “Mrs” Travers and has all the best, desert-dry gags in the film. (Although compared to the bustled biddy of reality she’s a few years too young.)

It’s also related to the comic moments, showing the true-to-life tension between Mrs Travers and the writers trying to craft a film we all know so well. She’s desperate to find a reason to walk away from the deal, and the Disneyites are desperate to keep her happy while making something people might want to actually watch. The truth is, she doesn’t want Disney — or anyone — to make the picture. Even though she’s pretty much skint, she’s very protective and doesn’t want a skipful of sugar dumped all over her story, her characters, her family. Walt tries to convince her this won’t happen — he’s been trying to convince her for twenty years — and we know he’ll win eventually. But that’s not what the film’s truly about.

It’s all in the backstory. This isn’t a film about the making of Mary Poppins: it’s a film about the making of P L Travers. Throughout the two hours we flash back from present-day 1961 LA to the Australian outback in the nineteen-oughts and the experiences of a young girl in a struggling family. This girl’s relationship with her father (Colin Farrell) is the core of the backstory, and the core of the film. The girl is, of course, Mrs Travers herself.

That’s what transforms this film from a will-this-do Hanks vehicle into something more special. You certainly won’t watch Mary Poppins the same way again the next time it’s on TV, in about fifteen microseconds.

Expect an Oscar nomination for Emma Thompson. And maybe one for Hanks too, because Disney.

Tremendous movie. Stay through the credits for a special treat.

Oh, yes. In Brazil this film is called “Walt Behind the Scenes of Mary Poppins”. I can’t even.

Avaragado’s rating: no pears.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Wind’s in the east

  1. Chris

    There was a culture show special on the other night with victoria coren about all this, and it was good — probably still on iplayer. It had more of the original tapes from the disney meetings, and much more about her personal life.
    There were some great reminiscences of her granddaughter saying they were showered with gifts and notes and cards from PLT saying the grandchildren were everything to her, but whenever they met she was a total cold fish.
    Also a nice tidbit about her hatred of music — when she went on desert island discs, all her choices were spoken word poetry, no music at all!
    A really interesting companion piece!
    Here it is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03kk4yv/The_Culture_Show_The_Secret_Life_of_Mary_Poppins_A_Culture_Show_Special/

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