Apparently it wasn’t such a jolly ‘oliday with Mary when P L Travers visited Los Angeles for talks about the Disney version of her book. She was an odd woman if the documentary accounts that have accompanied the film are to be believed. Saving Mr Banks captures the flavour of the disagreements about the Disneyfication of Mary Poppins, Travers’ insistence of the tape recording of every meeting being based on fact, something which must have provided a wealth of fruity archive material for the screenwriters.
Whilst much of the film draws on the humour of the situations created by Travers and her looking at the Disney vision of Mary Poppins with disbelief, the regular flashback sequences to Travers’ childhood in Australia bring the grit. Casting Colin Farrell as Travers’ father, somewhat against type but to great success, shows her paternal influence as a troubled man with a flare for fantasy, with a mother at the end of her wits. The rescuing Aunt hints at a real life Mary Poppins, who comes to make almost everything better. Whether this was something that really stayed with Travers through the creation of her book and which coloured her dignified tantrums with Disney we may never know. It does make a cracking plot device, with the childhood flashbacks and scenes in the studio often being married to perfection.
Even with the heavyweight hitting power of Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P L Travers, I did feel at times that I was being fed the Disney line. There was much about the portrayal of Travers’ dilemma to let Disney tamper with her creation that feels very current. How many movies of our beloved stories seem to cobble together a film that is a mere resemblance of the book, the author being left disgruntled and upset, the reader dissatisfied? Part of me feels cross that Travers is largely portrayed as the villain, the disagreements kicked under the carpet or tied up with a neat, psychological bow. But at times I was simply swept away, with the joy of the carousel, with the music of Let’s Go Fly A Kite, the songs around the piano and the dancing. There were tears! That’s how Disney can get to you, even in a fictionalised account of events that really took place and even without an animated penguin.