Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I really felt I needed to see this when it first came out, nearly a year and a half ago, but it took me this long to finally watch it. I guess there were just so many people fighting about it back then that I needed some distance before I could see it fresh. You know what it's about, so I won't re-hash it, but I will say again--as I said when I first heard of this project--that it's something I would have been much more interested in seeing a documentary about. It's very much the Disney Movie Version of the making of Mary Poppins, and as such it treats the making of Mary Poppins as one of the most important events of the 1960s. Though I enjoyed some of the movie, I did have a lot of problems with it.

I don't think the movie is outright sexist, but I did see some aggressively male displays in the way Walt Disney tries to glad hand and outright steamroll over author PL Travers in his attempts to get his hands on her story. Her uncertainty about just handing over her novel for someone else to make their own version of it is too often treated as irrational and silly, which to me seems disrespectful. It obviously means a great deal to her; she took the time to write it. But the film too often seems like a long sales pitch, like we're really supposed to want this mean old woman to just stop being unreasonable and let the Great and Powerful Disney do whatever he wants to her book to tell his much more important, vastly superior story in order to set history on its proper course. So they set this pop psychology story in motion so that the "real" story will be about Travers finding closure to the trauma of her past through Walt's role as benevolent populist.

I think it worked to a point; I thought--and this was one of the many scenes made up in service to this story--Walt's pursuit of Travers to London was less dramatic than it was monstrous. At Travers' London home, he tells her about his boyhood and his paper route, and his overbearing father, and it's the one and only moment where they really connect, and I really liked that scene. That should be the scene where they really see each other as people and leave it at that. Her change of heart would have been much more believable if he had just told her the story and told her that's why he understood Mr. Banks and wanted to tell that story. It explains his single-mindedness when it comes to his version, and it unites them in that they both see Mr. Banks as representative of their fathers--his an overbearing, cheap workhorse, hers a fabulist who was actually an irresponsible alcoholic. But the movie keeps going, with Walt pouncing on her, cornering her, revealing that he found out the story of her past, and basically saying it's her responsibility to give up her story so that he can help her heal the wounds of her childhood, and I felt like that was way too far. That's what persuades her? It felt like such a violation.

And sure, in the movie, for these movie versions of Walt and Travers, Mary Poppins does help Travers get her closure, because in the movie it has to be this great, rocky partnership that led to this classic movie, but it bothers me that Travers cries at the premiere because the movie makes her remember the past, and Walt thinks it's the movie itself. I think the movie is reluctant to let us see Walt negatively, and certainly Tom Hanks' uneven caricature is meant to be lovable, but I just don't think he comes across as the hero of this tale. And even though we're supposed to be annoyed with how particular and reserved Travers is, I think Emma Thompson's performance imbues the character with human touches that keep her from becoming cartoonish. But I couldn't help reading it as a story about how men know best.

There's a scene at the airport between Thompson and Paul Giamatti as her driver that really was the heart of the movie for me. It was a lot more touching than all of the flashbacks and all of Walt's sales pitch and the trip to Disneyland. I wish there had been more of that--people connecting with one another--than there had been of the pop psychology and the Disney charm offensive.

As it was, I did like the movie, mainly on the strength of the music, the wonderful set design (this movie looks so damn good), and Emma Thompson's complex performance. It's basically bullshit, corporate self-aggrandizing legendarium, but I enjoyed a lot of the components. I just wish they had added up to more. **1/2


Roger Owen Green said...

So this what I thought at the time. Pretty mushy review on my part...

Tallulah Morehead said...

I'm very much in agreement with you on this movie. You wrote: "I think the movie is reluctant to let us see Walt negatively, and certainly Tom Hanks' uneven caricature is meant to be lovable, but I just don't think he comes across as the hero of this tale."

When it came out I wrote: "It portrays the villain as the hero and the victim as an unreasonable old bitch for the crime of wanting to protect her own work."

And, of course, PL Travers never cried at Mary Poppins. She HATED the finished movie.

Harlan Ellison posted his thoughts on it online when it came out. Harlan pretty much wanted to dig Walt up and burn his corpse at the stake for this movie, though, of course, Walt is too dead to have had anything to do with it. Here's the link to Ellison's post.

And for we who live near Disneyland and have been going there regularly for 60 years, the Disneyland sequences are very anachronistic. The foliage is all too big and full, having another 50 years of growth since the days PL and Walt were there, and it has them play scenes in the Fantasyland that is there now, which is not the one that was there when Walt was alive. All that Fantasyland in the movie was built in 1983, long after Walt died. It's downright weird to see "Walt Disney" on the carousel, going past the Pinocchio ride that never existed in Walt's lifetime.

Autumn said...

There were so many things wrong with the movie but it was so darn pretty and sounded so beautiful and everyone acted so well. I loved it as a fluffy fairytale story, but I would have loved to see something a little more authentic.