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!
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.
Infinities of love,