12/30/2013 04:15 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

Popcorn Preview: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Cast includes: Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Colin Farrell (Total Recall), Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson (Anna Karnina), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), B.J. Novak (The Office), Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom)
Director: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side)
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Biography (125 minutes)

1906... "Winds in the east, mist coming in... like something's brewin', and bout to begin." In April, 1961, P.L. Travers enjoys the view of cherry blossoms from the window of her London home... "Like pink clouds on sticks." Her publisher reminds her that she's made an agreement to let Walt Disney turn her classic Mary Poppins into a movie. The thought is painful. "You don't know what she means to me." But book sales are down and she needs the money. She drove a hard bargain, and if she's not happy with things, she can pull out of the deal. In a flashback, we see a little girl whose father calls her Princess Ginty. We also see the lush back yard... looks like a perfect childhood. Anyway, the flight to Los Angeles is going to be miserable... "Will the child be a nuisance?" she says to the woman who kindly makes space for her luggage. In a flashback, we see the day the family has to leave the home with that lush back yard. Their next home, Allora, is at the end of the Queensland line, and it's anything but lush. "Welcome to the City of Angels," says Ralph, her overly talkative driver. Mrs. Travers wrinkles her nose and says, "It smells dreadful." "No problem-o," says Ralph. "This car has air conditioning." At the Beverly Hills Hotel, she finds her room filled to overflowing with Disney characters. The giant Mickey Mouse is the most annoying... no closet big enough for him.

At the Disney studio, Walt is overjoyed to finally meet Pamela... "Mrs. Travers," she insists. It's been almost 20 years... a promise to his daughters... since he started trying to persuade her to let Disney make Mary Poppins into a movie. Now he plans to bring Mary Poppins to children everywhere. "Pam, Mary Poppins will literally fly off the page." Mrs. Travers looks pained. "Mary Poppins is not a musical! Mary Poppins does not sing! Mary Poppins and the Banks are family!" In the creative sessions, Mrs. Travers insists on tape recording everything, as evidence of what they agreed upon... although, they agree on almost nothing. "Just a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down..." No. No. No. "Mary Poppins doesn't sugar coat the darkness of the world! Where is the gravitas?"

If Walt hadn't promised his girls, he could have walked away from this project and its difficult author, but he's determined. There will be no magic solution... but as we know, Mary Poppins did eventually get made with singing, dancing and dancing penguins. As infuriating as she is, Walt understands her attachment to her characters. It's exactly how he felt years ago when he didn't have a film studio... all he had was a cartoon mouse. As you'd expect, it's a charming story, nicely told. We learn a bit more than we knew previously about the author of the magical nanny. (If anything, the movie understates the acrimony.) She doesn't give up anything without a fight... eventually, we'll learn why. While this film has obvious kid appeal, it's enjoyable for adults, too. Mary Poppins was a hugely popular movie back in the mid 60s, so it's interesting to learn some of the backstory. Be sure to stay through the credits... there are photos and a recording of a session with the actual P.L. Travers. The film did get made, but the ending wasn't entirely a happy one.

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Author P.L. Travers never wanted her Mary Poppins books made into a movie, but Walt Disney made a promise to his two daughters

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Kids -- Grown-ups
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Disney history
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative

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