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The real story behind 'Mary Poppins'

By Amanda Levine
On January 2, 2014

Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; one of the most famous lines in the history of Disney, yet most are not aware of how long it took for that one simple sentence to exist. Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" was an extremely innovative film of the 1960s with its use of live action and animation all in the same movie. However it took great time, patience and gumption to make that film into a reality.

One of the most touching movies of this year, "Saving Mr. Banks" shows the rocky and dynamic relationship between Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and the author of the original Mary Poppins novels, P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson). With the use of the familiar tunes and music from "Mary Poppins" and the dedication to historically correct details of Walt Disney himself and his company, "Saving Mr. Banks" is any Disney lover's dream come true.

The story focuses on events of Travers' life back and forth between her 1906 childhood in Queensland, Australia and her 1961 adulthood in England and Southern California at the Disney Studios.

The film first begins in 1906 as we see an imaginative young girl whom we come to find is Travers (whose real name was Helen Goff) as a child and her loving father calling her "Ginty" for short. Right off the bat one is aware of the strong bond between father and daughter.

Fast forward into the 1960s and we see an adult Travers struggling to afford her home in London because her success and money from her Mary Poppins books are quickly dwindling. Her agent urges her to accept a 20 year long standing offer from Disney wanting her permission to adapt her precious books into a feature length film.    Travers has always been horrified at the thought of her characters being butchered by Disney and being turned into an over-the-top musical fluff piece, however Disney has given her a very rare promise: that he would let her have final say on the script and the way that the film looked in order to finally get her signature on the paper that would release the rights over to Disney to put out a "Mary Poppins" film.

The attention to detail that the filmmakers took in order to make one feel as if they were back in a 1960s movie studio was fantastic. Disney's office and desk were all historically accurate and the extremely talented Tom Hanks imitated perfectly the chronic coughing Disney had in real life due to his increasingly fatal lung cancer he had in the early 1960s (Disney would later die from lung cancer five years after production for "Mary Poppins" began).

Throughout a majority of the rest of the film the audience sees the painstakingly hard efforts of Disney, co-writer Don DaGradi and composers and lyricists Richard and Robert Sherman take in order to convince Travers to sign over the rights to her stories and characters. Every song, every line and every set design Travers shoots down in an effort to persuade Disney and his team into wanting to give up on adapting her books into film. Although she is supposed to be a serious character, Thompson gives comedic life to Travers as she acts like a grown up brat trying to anger her surrounding adults on purpose.

Travers herself was very against the idea of animation and musical numbers, which is what Disney was known for. Some of her hilarious conditions were absolutely no using the color red in any part of the film and no facial hair on her precious Mr. Banks character who we come to find out is a character based off of her father.

As the film bounces back and forth between time periods, the audience comes to learn that Travers' father (whose name was Travers Goff) was a raging alcoholic. Although he deeply loved his three daughters and wife, the man struggled greatly between two lives he wanted to live: one being the carefree and fun life that he pursued as an alcoholic and the other life he tried but failed to pursue as a working businessman who was able to support a family.

Although Travers' father failed to support his family and fell deathly ill, young "Ginty" loved her father to no end and dedicated the rest of her life to honoring him not only by changing her name to his, but also by creating a character in her books after him, Mr. Banks. Through the character Mr. Banks, Travers tried to redeem her father's faults and mishaps by creating this new persona for him. This contributed greatly to why she didn't want anyone to alter or change her precious stories because that would be altering her memories of her father, thus the title of the film "Saving Mr. Banks."

The rest of the movie ends up showing the emotional roller coaster of Travers fighting not only with Disney but also with her own inner demons as well as the making of such an iconic Disney film that many all know and love today. While the film portrays all that is magical and nostalgic about Disney, his theme parks and his movie "Mary Poppins," it also leaves audiences in tears; some happy tears and some sad tears.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is as Mary Poppins herself would say, "practically perfect in every way."

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