Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Coup de Grace

When I was about eight years old, or nine at the most, they built (O joy of joys!) a library at the end of my street. It was less than half a mile away, so I could walk there whenever I liked. Since it was a small library with a limited number of books, we were only allowed to check out four books at a time, so I made the trip frequently. Being the kind of child who preferred curling up with a book to playing outside, reading four books didn't take me long at all. 

Neither did it take me long to get to know the children's department very well indeed. In fact, I can still remember exactly where to find the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, and the All of Kind Family series, and the Edward Eager books about four children having magical adventures. I pretty much read my way through the children's department and almost surely there was a time when my very favorite series was the one about P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins. 

I really need a new camera, but I can't get one because I have new dishes and a new Kindle.
I loved Mary Poppins and the books were great fun to read, so when I heard there was going to be a movie about Mary, even though I was 13 and thought I'd outgrown the books by that time, I looked forward to seeing it. This was because I was young and had not yet learned what usually happens to your favorite books when then make movies out of them. When I saw the movie, I was very disappointed because that, my friends, was definitely not Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins comes when she is needed and she does what needs to be done. She can be counted on to take you to strange and fascinating destinations and get you involved in endless adventures, and give you lovely things to eat, but she doesn't, dance or sing or even smile at you. She's not nice to you. You might even think much of the time that she actively dislikes you, but she never bores you. When she corrects you, she doesn't have a nice little twinkle in her eye that lets you know everything is really all right, in fact, she has small, rather peering eyes.

So, when I heard an interview on NPR with someone involved in the making of Savings Mr. Banks, the new Disney movie about P. L. Travers and the making of Mary Poppins, and when I heard that Mrs. Travers hated the movie and about the conflict between her and Walt Disney and the movie's writers, I was interested. I knew that there was going to be a definite slant in favor of Disney, of course, and I knew that they would make things turn out nicely, but I thought there might be some truth in the movie, so we went.

I found the movie to be entertaining, although pretty sappy in parts. Emma Thompson was very good as P. L. Travers, and I could occasionally catch glimpses of the Walt Disney that I grew up with in his portrayal by Tom Hanks, although I also caught that Tom Hanks Nora Ephron movie character peeking through. From what I've read, the background material on Mrs. Travers was fairly accurate, and the relationship with the writers and Disney has some basis in fact.

A couple of days later, though I started thinking more about the movie, about how Disney changed the character of Mary Poppins. In fact, it was more like they created the character they wanted, and dressed her up as Mary Poppins. They had no respect for the character herself. And then it occurred to me that not only had Disney done this with Mrs. Travers's character, they had done the same with Travers. They created the character they wanted, and dressed her up as P. L. Travers. Game, point, and match for Disney Studios.


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