Almost everyone can remember seeing Mary Poppins when they were young and most have very strong feelings attached to the film. To trifle with those memories is a tricky thing. It takes quite a backbone and it seems like director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Snow White and the Huntsman) has a strong one. Though this is not a redux of Mary Poppins it is a film that does add some backstory and background to the aura around it.
Mary Poppins was a character in a series of books written by Brit P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, Nanny McPhee). She is a very proper woman who in her days would have been deemed a spinster. After writing a series of Mary Poppins books she did not write anymore and as such, she is out of money. Her agent begs her to reconsider the offer made to her by Walt Disney.
When Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks – Philadelphia, Big) daughters were young they read Mary Poppins and fell in love with the practically perfect nanny. Walt promises his daughters that he will get the rights to the books and make a film with the character. Twenty years later that still hasn’t happened.
P.L. Travers, because of her money situation, reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney. After being wooed by Walt Disney, but without signing anything, she agrees to working on a script where she will have the final say. That granting of the final say to her will come back to haunt Walt Disney.
Like any good story this one by Kelly Marcel (writer on television’s Terra Nova) and Sue Smith is expertly constructed. It has plenty of funny moments (most due to the stodgy nature of P.L. Travers) and interspersed in there are plenty of very human and poignant scenes. The director John Lee Hancock does not allow things to become farcical nor sappy.
Good writing and strong direction is not all this film has going for it. The always excellent Emma Thompson turns in another strong performance. She is pretty much what the film hinges upon and she is certainly up to the task playing this strong and quirky character. P.L. Travers is often not a nice person and yet Thompson makes her likeable. Despite the fact that that she is very cutting with her words and sports a tight perm that makes her look like a poodle Emma Thompson has added enough depth and layers to this woman it makes her multi-dimensional and not just a caricature.
Rounding out the cast is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and the surprising Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Alexander) as P.L. Travers father. Despite Hanks’ awful Southern accent he still is a good Walt Disney. Not as flashy as Emma Thompson’s character, he takes the backseat well and on occasion proves to be an able opponent for the particular author. Colin Farrell is an actor who has had an up and down career. In this he shows that given good material to work with he is a good actor. Farrell turns in a performance that demands plenty of range from him.
As a history buff it was quite fascinating to learn about the story behind the story. We learn about the early life of the writer of Mary Poppins, the person that inspired the nanny and how this film was almost never made. The story is divulged piece by piece and the wait is certainly worth it.
-The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to the Present
-“Let’s Go Fly a Kite”
-Sneak Peeks of Disneymovierewards.com, Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition, Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition, Maleficent