Thursday, August 7, 2014

MOVIE MOVIE WEEKEND: SAVING MR. BANKS & THE BOYS

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

I have an unusual pairing of movies this week. One is a film based on fact, and the other is a documentary that is, in part, about the facts in the film. I enjoyed both of these tremendously.

The first is Saving Mr. Banks (2013, Rated PG-13, Available On DVD).


Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has begged author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for twenty years to allow him to make a film based on her series of books about a certain nanny named Mary Poppins. She has consistently refused. Then money becomes tight, the books are no longer selling as well, and she acquiesces.

Travers travels to Los Angeles for two weeks to consult on the script, over which she supposedly has final approval, and proceeds to drive Disney staff members insane with her demands. Julie Andrews is too pretty to portray Mary Poppins, who should not be chirpy and cheerful, according to Mrs. Travers––the formal name she prefers. Mrs. Travers is appalled that some animation will be included in the movie. She doesn't want Dick Van Dyke to play Bert.  She hates the songs by the Sherman brothers––Robert (B. J. Novak) and Richard (Jason Schwarzman).

However, she also reflects on her childhood with her father (Colin Farrell), who encouraged her to live in her imagination and to never stop dreaming. But Travers had to face reality: her father was an alcoholic, and life was not sunshine and rainbows and bright colors. Rather, it was hard times and the darkness of loss.

Walt Disney: "No whimsy or sentiment!" says the woman who sends a flying nanny with a talking umbrella to save the children.
P.L. Travers: You think Mary Poppins is saving the children, Mr. Disney?
[Walt and the other filmmakers are stunned silent]
P.L. Travers: Oh, dear!
[Walks away]

After two years of hard work and compromises, in 1964 the film is released to great acclaim––from almost everyone except Mrs. Travers.

Saving Mr. Banks, from Disney Studios, seems a labor of love. The Internet Movie Database states:

The production team were absolutely meticulous about every detail of Tom Hanks' portrayal of Walt Disney, right down to measuring the exact length of his mustache.

I love this movie. I can't imagine anyone other than Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in these roles. Saving Mr. Banks is touching and funny and well written. It also makes me think back to getting dressed up to see the movie in a theater when I was five. Oh, how we loved the songs. We had a book of music from Mary Poppins. I felt so proud when I learned to play "Stay Awake" on the piano. Such a lovely, nostalgic mood this movie generates, in spite of Mrs. Travers' sputtering irritation.

Saving Mr. Banks earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Approval, along with the right to go fly a kite and spend your tuppence on crumbs to feed the birds. I don't know if young children would relate to this movie. Plus, it has some sad moments. I also don't know if teens would be interested in it.

Watch the closing credits. You can hear a tape of the late Pamela Travers talking about how the movie should be made.

Our documentary is The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story (2009, PG, Available On DVD). Robert and Richard Sherman were Walt Disney's in-house songwriters.  They wrote songs for animated features, songs for The Wonderful World of Color, songs for rides in Disneyland, and the songs for Mary Poppins, for which they won two Academy Awards.


Although the two worked together to write hundreds of songs that made us want to sing along, the brothers couldn't stand each other. Their sons, cousins Gregory Sherman and Jeff Sherman, made the documentary in an attempt to bring about some rapprochement between them during their later years.

Robert and Dick comment on their relationship and method for working together, and many stars from Disney films and other musicians describe "the boys," which studio workers fell into the habit of calling them.

It's sad that these extremely talented brothers didn't get along. It was so bad that when they appeared at events, Robert's family would sit on one side of the room, and Richard's family would sit on the other side. They didn't socialize.

Robert, who died in 2012, seems the more dour of the two. He appears quite depressed. He reveals his love for painting and explains that he was with the first Americans to enter Dachau as World War II reached its conclusion. He painted to push the thoughts of the concentration camp out of his mind. He was a haunted man.

Richard, the younger brother, is much more upbeat. His enthusiasm is contagious, but his older brother didn't catch it. However, Richard did not fight in World War II, which seems to be the defining event in Robert's life.

I love everything I learned about the boys' childhood, how they began working together, their writing process, and the decline they faced at Disney Studios after Walt's death.

In later years, however, they were asked to assist with a stage production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (they wrote the songs for the move), and they wrote several new songs for its reincarnation. Much is made in the documentary about the stage production of Mary Poppin, but without mentioning P. L. Travers' insistence that no Americans be allowed to work on the new Mary Poppins, especially the Sherman Brothers. Her will even stipulates that only British composers can write new songs for the musical.

Robert B. Sherman: [talking about Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers] She was such a witch.

The Boys makes an excellent companion piece to Saving Mr. Banks, but if only one film interests you, it's okay. You don't have to watch one to understand the other. I doubt if children would be interested in this documentary, but they might enjoy it if they like music and they've seen Mary Poppins.

The Boys earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Approval and the Seal of the Greatest Delivery of Information.

Happy Viewing!


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

34 comments:

  1. I saw Saving Mr. Banks and enjoyed it, but I missed The Boys. Have it on my list now. Looks really interesting. Especially after having seen Mr. Banks. Thanks, Janie!! :)

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  2. I want to see Saving Mr Banks (eventually). I bet Tom Hanks was great in that role...

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    1. Tom Hanks is excellent. I suspect he was not nominated for an Academy Award because voters couldn't decide if he should be nominated for Captain Phillips or Mr. Banks. Actors can't compete against themselves, but I would like to nominate him twice.

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  3. I've been wanting to see The Boys since I heard about it. The dynamic between the brothers is so interesting. Maybe it's because I hate my sister and I couldn't imagine being forced to work with her. Yep, that's definitely why it interests me. Wait, does this count as my therapy for the week? Sweet, just saved $100.
    By the way, Mrs. Travers was right about Dick Van Dyke. That accent of his? Oof.

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    1. The accent was a problem, but Travers' choices for the role do not seem wise to me. One of hers was Rex Harrison, who was busy talk/singing his way through My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn, who played Eliza, which was Julie Andrews' role on Broadway. Audrey's voice had to be dubbed, but her casting freed Julie Andrews to play Mary Poppins and win the Academy Award. And on and on I go: I can't imagine Rex Harrison dancing as well as Dick Van Dyke, and I don't recall him ever showing empathy in a role, which DVD did so well. Dick was less than perfect. He admits he was wrong for the role, but he's glad he got to do it.

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  4. My mom went to Dachau when she was a young girl. She said that in the showers, she could see the nail marks where people had tried to dig through with their hands to escape the gas. She said that she could still hear the screams and their pleads for their lives. If seeing the aftermath years later, without a full education on The Holocaust yet, was so horrible then I can't even begin to imagine what being one of the first soldiers there would have been like. Or worse, to be a prisoner.

    There's a girl that I follow on YouTube named Carrie Hope Fletcher. (Do you remember the old Cheerios commercial with the cute little blond girl as Little Red Ridinghood and The Big Bad Wolf? The girl was her.) She's been acting since she was three and she started crying about Saving Mr Banks because that was her friend. I think she was in the stage version of Mary Poppins, if I remember correctly. I just thought it was cool to see the impact that they had on somebody else's life.

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    1. What a horrible thing for your mother to see as a child. I don't think I'm brave enough to go to the site of a concentration camp. It clearly affected Robert Sherman for the rest of his life. He was still trying not to think about it during the last years of his life. I don't remember the Cheerios commercial, but Carrie Hope Fletcher sounds interesting.

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  5. Thanks for the movie review. Tom Hands is one of my favorites, and Emma Thompson did a great job in Saving Mr. Banks. The story was delightful

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    1. I love Tom and Emma. They were so good together. Excellent movie.

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  6. Enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks very much. Haven't seen The Boys.

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    1. I think you'd probably like it. You enjoy documentaries, don't you?

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  7. I have not seen the boys but it sounds interesting. As far as Saving Mr. Banks it is truly one of my favorite films to date. I have watched it several times. It shows the love we have for our art and how life paints everything we do with the past.

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    1. What an intelligent comment. Since you like Mr. Banks, I think you'd find The Boys interesting.

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  8. I saw The Boys when both brothers were still alive. Never quite "got" why they didn't get along.

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    1. It's perplexing, isn't it? Robert says they weren't close as children. Richard says they were and did everything together. I suspect that Robert suffered from a plethora of psychiatric problems when he came home from the war. Richard and some other people say Robert was never the same. The event that seems to have ended their relationship, other than writing songs together, was when Richard wanted out of his marriage and he sent Robert to get his things. Although Richard went back to his wife a few days later, she never forgave Robert. That's when the two families stopped seeing each other.

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  9. My wife saw Mr Banks, and though it was good. Never heard of The Boys.

    What was Willy Dunne Wooters assessment of the films?

    Blessings and Bear hugs!

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    1. WDW didn't watch these. He doesn't like documentaries. Saving Mr. Banks didn't interest him.

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  10. My first grade class sang Let's Go Fly A Kite. We had kites attached to coat hangers. I still remember the words. Now it will never leave my head.

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    1. I'm pretty sure I remember the words to every single song in that movie, and I sing them regularly. I taught some of them to The Hurricane.

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  11. I hate it when a movie makes me cry in the theater, but that's exactly what Saving Mr. Banks did--especially the scene where the author sees the movie for the first time. So touching!

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    1. Maybe this bit of information will make you feel better: Pamela Travers hated the movie. Walt Disney begged her to let him make a sequel. She refused.

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  12. I have never seen Nary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Maybe I should see those first.

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    1. I don't think you need to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but Saving Mr. Banks might be easier to understand if you see Mary Poppins. It's a great movie. I love the music, and I love Julie Andrews. I saw her on Broadway in Victor/Victoria. I was thrilled to see her in person.

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  13. What a great pairing! I haven't seen either but am now intrigued, especially by the possibility of watching them together. The Sherman Bros. won all the awards for Mary Poppins but in my opinion, The Jungle Book was their true masterpiece.

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    1. I LOVE the music from The Jungle Book. They talk about it in The Boys.

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  14. Hi Janie - I've been wanting to see Saving Mr Banks and will do .. as I know everyone's loved it .. but I'd never heard about The Boys - interesting and I'll probably watch that too .. great pairing .. as Armchair Squid says .. cheers Hilary

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    1. I hope you enjoy them, charming Hilary.

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  15. These are two movies that I haven't seen, but I have to say I love your description of them. I'm going to get Saving Mr. Banks ASAP.

    The very first movie I ever saw in a theater was Mary Poppins. I thought it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

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    1. Oh, how my sisters and I loved Mary Poppins.

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  16. I also loved Saving Mr. Banks. Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, and Paul Giamatti all gave heartwarming performances. The real story behind The Boys is so sad. It's a shame they couldn't celebrate their success together. Thanks for the great reviews Janie, and I'll be on the lookout for The Boys!

    Julie

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    1. I especially enjoyed the sweet relationship between Paul Giamatti's character and Mrs. Travers.

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  17. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson... I love them both, well, their movies. I still to see this one. See, now you're making me spend money again...

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    1. Get Netflix. I try to watch DVDs the same day that I receive them. I mail them back the next day. Average cost of seeing one DVD is $1. Maybe it's not the same in your blue world, but you can find out.

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