The story of how the Disney movie of Mary Poppins came to be is as enchanting as the 1964 Oscar-nominated film itself, and features two superb central performances from Emma Thompson (as Poppins author PL Travers) and Tom Hanks (as Walt Disney).
After almost two decades of fruitless negotiations, Walt Disney flies prim, stern Mrs P L Travers (Thompson) to Hollywood to convince her to allow him to make a movie of her book about a magical nanny who floats into the lives of the Banks family. As the stuffy Englishwoman settles into her Beverly Hill hotel room (stuffed full of Disney cuddly toys, of course) and Walt tries to woo her with his vision of a musical Mary Poppins, she remembers her own childhood in rural Australia with her adored but flawed father (Farrell) that inspired her to write her famous children’s books.
While this is a movie for grown-ups, kids – and especially Mary Poppins fans of all ages – will be fascinated by the story of how the movie came to be. Hanks – in his second great performance of 2013, following Captain Phillips – is warm yet determined as Disney (perhaps making him a little cuddlier than he was in real life, but who cares), while Giamatti (as Travers’ chauffeur) and BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman (as the songwriting Sherman brothers) are humorous and loveable.
The movie, however, belongs to Thompson. Grumpy, sharp, yet also vulnerable and tragic, she goes far beyond the role of crabby old dear, portraying Travers as a strong but sad woman trying to protect her beloved creation. It can be argued that Travers wasn’t quite as grumpily endearing in real life (she adopted a boy but refused to take his twin brother, for starters) and this is a sentimental version of the story (especially in the slightly twee flashbacks) but if you can leave cynicism behind, this is a heart-warming, sweet and often funny movie that’s a must for anyone who knows all the words to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Note – stay for the end credits and you’ll hear tapes of the real PL Travers in her meetings with the movie’s production team. They’re fascinating – and show just how spot-on Thompson’s performance really is.
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