(And yes - this DOES relate to why I post the articles and stories I do here on Once Upon A Blog. My intent is to do far more than entertain you and put up pretty pictures, as fun and valid a reason as that is, but I'll get to that in a bit...)
Yes, Mary Poppins isn't a fairy tale but there is a lot about that character - and the story of how she saves the family - that is weirdly folkloric. The more you look at her no-nonsense way of going about things, the more it seems like she might be a cross between a domovoi and a fairy godmother (the ones you shouldn't mess with) with a good dollop of Nanny McPhee - whose fairy roots are more apparent - thrown in. Ultimately, she's more like a guardian over the family than anything else (including, but not limited to, the children) which is very fairy tale like (or maybe she's a Time Lord, but that's a whole other topic!).
Of course, that's not what this movie is about. It's about P.L. Travers resistance to allowing Walt to make her very dear character into a cartoon, a sparkle-loaded fantasy and dismiss her creation's importance. In some ways you could say this movie is about two very different views of magic, they way they (initially) clashed and how they found common ground.
Take a look:
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I really liked P.L. Travers' books but I didn't expect to. It took me a long while to read them because I did NOT like the movie, especially as a child. I found Mary Poppins too perfect and therefore somewhat sinister: definitely someone not to be messed with; someone who's agenda appeared to be completely different from the mortals around her (like those sweet little fairies who could turn nasty at any second, should you unknowingly insult them or break some rule). Despite loving the idea of arriving via the wind with a sentient umbrella, rooftop dancing, jumping into sidewalk chalk drawings, toys that cleaned themselves up and floating tea parties, I wasn't convinced I wanted her in my house any time soon. The books, however, didn't give off this sinister aspect to me. The children and family didn't feel like unruly pawns being manipulated into order by some very starched apron strings but it's been difficult to shake my general feelings of unease.
There's a chance this film might help me shake that a little. And there's a chance that, almost 50 years after exploding on the screen to great acclaim and widespread affection, Mary Poppins will find even more love than she already has.
Perhaps the thing I find most interesting about "Saving Mr. Banks" is that it strikes me as showing, very clearly, that familiar push 'n' pull I feel as I see fairy tales being turned into Hollywood blockbusters (or, sometimes, flopblusters): trying to find the balance between being OK with the necessity of that, so the tales continue to live, and the despair I feel at missed opportunities when I see a lack of respect and/or understanding of the source material. This film not only portrays that sentiment but provides hope in the form that it's returning to the original material, retelling the story and, once again, giving new life to an old tale (with respect), proving that a less-than-ideal portrayal at one point in history doesn't have to be the end of that story forever.
Here's an excerpt from an excellent review of the script, discussing the potential of the movie (it's getting early Oscar buzz for best screenplay) and how this is going to hit home with writers and artists in particular:
|A great, fantastical portrait of a younger P.L. Travers|
For Travers, is not about whimsy and fantasy but the difficulties of real adult life and the complex and shadowed fate that awaits all children. For her is personal — partly a story of her father’s anguish — and is definitely not about sugar-coating, and so while she needs the money, she despises the idea of turning an obviously fanciful and yet lamenting personal tale into a semi-animated Disney “family film.” Marcel’s script conveys an experience familiar to all screenwriters and filmmakers, about the occasional frustration and anguish of translating a work of great personal meaning into a commercial motion picture, and about the dilutions and compromises and (when a family film is being made) sugar-fizz stirrings that are sometimes part of the process.
Just read this portion of an argument that happens between Disney and Travers about the tone of the Poppins script:
|The real P.L. Travers & Emma Thompson (who plays her)|
|Walt Disney & Tom Hanks as Walt|
I also think it's important to speak up if you have the chance. With the result of the transformation from book to screen being less than ideal (at least in the mind of people it was important to), just imagine what would have happened to Mary Poppins if Travers hadn't fought the way she had.
While literary fairy tales are all well and good and definitely worth studying (and, for the record, I ADORE them and cannot get enough!), I'm interested in fairy tales even more as living things; things that both impact and reflect our society and the worldwide human experience.
|by Paul O'Flanagan|
Although our voices might seem small against the masses (especially against entertainment) we live in a unique time where social media empowers the little people (ie you, me, US!) to have more of a say than ever. I intend to do my best not to miss that chance and I hope you will do the same.
Sources: Hollywood Elsewhere, Big Shiny Robot