It’s probably not the most hipster thing to say, but I love Disney! I love the cartoon shorts, the animated features, the live-action films (pre-1990’s), and the theme parks. There’s something magical about this shit that I just can’t explain. And then, I’m especially keen on MARY POPPINS. What a great movie! I never really knew anything about what happened during the making of the flick, so when I heard that this movie was being made that showed the troubles the production had, I was all for it!
Taking place in 1961, Emma Thompson plays the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, or Mrs. Travers, as she prefers to be addressed. For the past 20 years, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has been trying to get Mrs. Travers to sign the rights of her book over to him so they can turn it into a movie. However, the stuffy British author doesn’t want her beloved book to be turned into a “silly cartoon”. Unfortunately, she has run out of money and desperately needs this deal with Disney to get back on her feet. Before she signs anything, she demands to work with the screenwriter and songwriters of the film, so it can meet her approval. So half of the film is about Mrs. Travers clashing with Disney and his collaborators over how the film will be presented. The other half is a flashback, which is integrated throughout the entire film, showing Mrs. Travers as a young girl and her relationship with her drunken father (Colin Farrell). This all gives great insight into what shaped her into the person she is today.
What a pleasant movie! I really enjoyed myself! Man, where to begin. Well, first off. The movie has great art direction, perfectly recreating Hollywood in the 60’s (including old-time Disneyland). Being a film geek, it was a pure joy to see all of this come to life again. It was so cool seeing all the different Disney posters and memorabilia all around Disney’s office too. Love that stuff! The film is perfectly balanced with humor, sentimentality and some heavy thematic elements. Most of the humor comes from Mrs. Travers’ behavior towards her “collaborators”. Her reactions to what ended up being some of the most memorable things about MARY POPPINS are laced with insight and humor. The flashbacks are the most serious parts of the film. I could see some people having a problem with them, as they do get emotionally heavy at times, but I thought they really helped expand on Travers as a character. It helped me understand why she was the way she was. They are filmed with a slight dreamlike quality, which really worked. But yeah, the best part for me is watching the songwriters come up with those fantastic songs. Seeing how they came up with some of the best known lyrics of all time was mesmerizing.
Emma Thompson delivers her best performance in over a decade. Wow! She’s just wonderful as Mrs. Travers. She’s that stuffy British woman with no sense of humor. But of course, she does eventually warm up a bit. Thompson nails every note perfectly, as she transforms from a bitter old maid to a person with some real emotional trauma. Definitely deserves an Oscar nomination. Tom Hanks is fine as Walt Disney. It’s not an Oscar worthy turn, but it doesn’t need to be. Hanks has the perfect amount of familiarity and charm that he ends up being a perfect Disney for this story. The rest of the supporting cast fits well. Colin Farrell is somewhat magical as that affectionate, but irresponsible father full of love. Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the songwriters have some great moments together. Actually, there’s a lovely tender moment between Schwartzman and Hanks that made me feel all warm inside. Bradley Whitford as the screenwriter is good as is Paul Giamatti as Travers’ limo driver with a heart of gold. Special notice should also go to Ruth Wilson as Travers’ mother in the flashbacks. She has a core of the film’s emotional scenes and handles them admirably.
The film is directed by John Lee Hancock, who made (THE ALAMO and BLIND SIDE). Probably not my first choice of director to watch, but you know what, he does a fine job here. The direction doesn’t draw attention to itself, but it’s a smartly polished film. The screenplay, I’m sure, takes many liberties, especially with Mrs. Travers’ opinions on the final outcome of MARY POPPINS. But you know what? I don’t really care! It’s a movie folks! And as a movie, it completely worked for me. The film also has a lovely score, which mixes in adaptations of Mary Poppins songs throughout.
It may not be historically accurate, but so what? It’s one of those old-fashioned, feel-good dramas that make you feel all gooey inside. And it also helps that it’s about the making of one of my favorite films of all time. It’s a crowd-pleaser of a film that features an iconic performance from Emma Thompson. This is a perfect film to see over the holidays. Bring the whole family! ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images (which is absolutely ridiculous. This should have been rated PG!!!!)
– Running time: 2hrs 5min.