I cried all through the movie. So did my date. Then we happily stayed for the 20-minute question-and-answer session with the filmmakers. I came home from the Academy and realized that I MUST tell my Huffington readers about this wonderful film. It is called "Saving Mr. Banks," and is the story of how a woman named P.L. Travers went to Hollywood for a two-week period 50 years ago to 'discuss' with Walt Disney the idea of turning her "Mary Poppins" book into a film. For 20 years she had adamantly turned down Mr. Disney every time he called.. .and for 20 years he persisted, having promised his daughters that he would someday make a film of their favorite book. But here we see that Travers is now broke, her book royalties have dried up and she is fearful of losing her beloved London house. So she reluctantly goes to L.A. for the meetings and to discuss the script which they had prepared. She had set certain inalienable 'rules' for the movie...no animation, no music (yuck), no Dick Van Dyke, no color 'red' (ridiculous, of course)...and naturally these rules were all breached in time.
At the q-and-a session, director John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side," that fine Sandra Bullock football-themed movie) told how he had to 'audition' for the job against several other well-known guys, and how he had insisted in those meetings that Walt Disney be portrayed as a real man with human frailities. He told us that Disney had been a habitual 3-pack-a-day smoker who died of lung cancer, which is just hinted at in the movie when we see him puting out a butt. (I gather that if there is any smoking in a film, it automatically becomes an "R" rated movie.) There is also mention of Disney's love for a 'Scotch Mist' (whatever that is) at the end of each day.
Colin Firth arrived breathlessly running up the aisle at the start of the post-film discussion session.....I gather he is always late...and he admitted he has not yet seen the film. He told how he had screened "Mary Poppins" in his living room for all the filmmakers the night before they began filming. Firth plays the charming alcoholic father of the writer, and all of these scenes are set on a remote ranch in the Australian outback of Allora, Queensland, in 1905. They were filmed apart from the rest of the cast on a ranch in California's Simi Valley, and we see the sad, loving father descend into decadence in front of the despairing mother, played by a beauteous Ruth Wilson, and the young sisters. A resolute sort of nanny in the form of Rachel Travers (playing Aunt Ellie, the mother's sister) shows up and we get the hint of how Helen-Travers later created Mary Poppins in her image.
I have been in love with actress Emma Thompson, now 53, for years, ever since I saw her as a youngish woman in "Howard's End" in 1993, followed by "Remains of the Day." Then came Jane Auston's Sense and Sensibility" for which she co-wrote the screenplay and acted in. She is my ideal of a fabulous sexy woman...attractive, intelligent, open and articulate. Reputedly she has a vocabulary like a stevedore (hello Sue Mengers) and we saw a touch of that after the screening. (Emma was a blond vision last evening, unlike the rather plain-looking woman on screen.) I read somewhere that Meryl Streep had been offered and turned down the role, but the co-screenwriter Kelly Marcel says Emma was always her first choice.
Tom Hanks told us how he had received permission from Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, to have unlimited access to the Disney family archives located at the Presidio in San Francisco, and he spent long hours seeing every piece of film on Walt. Tom looks here much like he does in his other film this year, Captain Phillips, with a pencil moustache. There is a tribute to Diane, who died a few weeks ago on Noember 19th, at the end of the film. I sure hope she had a chance to see some of it.....she would have been proud. The Disney company is releasing the film, which was a coproduction with the BBC and Essential Media, and from what we heard they vehemently discussed many aspects of Disney's portrayal but never censored the filmmakers. A British woman named Alison Owen was the producer, and Disney's Sean Bailey was the smart exec who had the foresight to grab the rights to the script with the approval of Disney Chairman Bob Iger.
The author of the original script, Kelly Marcel (who co-wrote it with Sue Smith) told how she had sketched-out the entire story in her first draft but later realized the full potential of the story when she examined all of the Disney archives. Her satisfactory Disney-esque ending of the film came from some material she read at that time. We finish the film at the American premiere of "Mary Poppins" (to which Travers was not invited but did attend) and see a few wonderful scenes from "Mary Poppins." Incidentally, there is a character Ralph (fictional?) of the chauffeur assigned to her by the studio, played by Paul Giamatti, who becomes the one friend she has here. A touching scene occurs when he tells her of his handicapped daughter and she hands him a slip of paper for her with the names of famous people (Einstein, Freda Kahlo, etc.) who were handicapped and went on to fame. (They must have filmed a scene where she visits his daughter but didn't use it.) We do see Walt taking P.L. to Disneyland, were they ride the carousel. She is not amused. The curmudgeon leaves the studio in a huff when she learns that the penguins will be animated.
The two musical Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, are integral to the film with their music. ("Supercalifragilistic" has its moment in the sun. Imagine how she felt about that.) The surviving Sherman, Robert, was at the session and told the audience that the real Travers was far more horrid than her portrayal in the film. I was delighted to see the actor, Bradley Whitford, playing the Disney co-screenwriter Don DaGradi, (Brad was my favorite character, Josh, in "West Wing." )
"Saving Mr. Banks" is an absolutely wonderful, mesmerizing, emotionally-shattering,and very satisfying film which comes at just the right time for us all in this holiday season. (Now I think I can handle "The Wolf of Wall Street.)
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