But the story is what really sucked me in. You know what it's about by now: the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) charmed P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) into letting him make the movie Mary Poppins (1964) from her series of beloved children's books. The amazing thing is that even though I obviously knew that he succeeded, since I've seen Mary Poppins many times (especially lately, as it's one of the few movies my kids all like), I was quite on the edge of my seat as to whether or not he could convince her to sign over the rights! Very deft writing and acting as far as that's concerned.
So let's talk about the writing and acting, shall we? I think one of the things I liked best is that the filmmakers didn't try to pit the audience for or against either Disney or Travers. In fact, I felt like they worked very hard to make Disney not entirely sympathetic, and Travers understandable despite her fierceness. I found myself rooting for both of them, oddly enough. I could totally relate to Travers and her desire to protect her characters and her vision of their world, but I really wanted Disney to get to make that movie because I really like that movie. Which doesn't make total sense, since obviously the movie did get made. But you know what I mean.
Tom Hanks has played a lot of lovable characters over the years, and I think what's most remarkable here is that his Walt Disney is not all that lovable! He exudes niceness and cheer, but it's that forced niceness and cheer that you often get from people who make their money by being friendly. In fact, I started to kind of dislike him for a while, as he tries to find ways around, over, under, or through Travers' defenses. But then, in a quiet moment, he confides in someone else that he understands what she's going through because someone once tried to convince him to sell Mickey Mouse... and I liked him again.
As for Emma Thompson, she plays P. L. Travers like a tangled ball of yarn. Every time you think you know what's going on, that string you're pulling on snarls up with what seems like an entirely unrelated strand. We get lots of flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, where her banker father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell), over-doted on her, and her mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson) struggled to survive her unraveling marriage to an alcoholic. I did wish that Margaret would have gotten a bit more fleshing out, but the movie focused more on the father-daughter bond, and the mother remained mostly an enigma.
(Spoilers in the next two paragraphs.)
Also an enigma in those flashbacks is Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths), who arrives to help Margaret manage her three daughters and ailing husband. She's clearly the inspiration for Mary Poppins, but Travers Goff seems to dislike her, and young Ginty (as P. L. Travers is called in the flashbacks -- her real name was Helen Goff) blames Aunt Ellie for not saving her father.
Of course, Walt Disney finally convinces P. L. Travers to sign over the movie rights, and he does it by convincing her that by giving the father figure in the movie a happy ending, she will somehow be able to rewrite her own sad family history and give herself a happy ending too. It kind of sort of makes sense, but whatever. By that point, I was just all relieved that they would finally get to make the movie, and not worrying too much about logic.
(End of spoilage.)
The very best part of this movie, for me, is one small moment when Disney reminds Travers what it is that storytellers do. He tells her that they "restore order" and "instill hope." And I spent the rest of the movie repeating those four words over and over in my head. Because that is exactly what I try to do with my own writing, only I'd never put it into words before. Restore order and instill hope. It was a revelation, an unexpected moment of clarity that has focused my writing energy like never before. I'm going to print that up in huge letters and post it on the wall behind my computer.
And so a movie that I expected to entertain and amuse me for a couple of hours instead provided one of the greatest creative epiphanies I've ever had. How unexpectedly delightful!
Anyway, is this a family-friendly movie? Mostly. There are 4 or 5 curse words, the "traditional" type. There's a bit of smoking, quite a bit of drinking in the flashbacks, death, and (spoiler alert!) an attempted suicide (end spoiler alert!). Not a movie for young kids, as it has some very serious things going on. I was in tears several times.
Oh, and I even survived all the Colin Farrell parts! I really do not care for him at all, but he played a slippery and imperfect father just fine. Helped that he was only in the flashbacks.
And I was so excited to see Ruth Wilson again! I liked her a lot in this, though not as much as in The Lone Ranger. But now I'm quite determined to see her version of Jane Eyre soon.