Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Saving Mr. Banks" - More Than A Spoonful Of Sugar (& Why I Report What I Do Here On OUABlog)

This hasn't been on my radar at all since I don't go looking for Mary Poppins related things but I stumbled across this, was intrigued and I think you will be too.

(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:

✒ ✒ ✒  ✒ (click the "Read more" link below this line) ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ 

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, Mary Poppins is not about whimsy and fantasy but the difficulties of real adult life and the complex and shadowed fate that awaits all children. For herPoppins 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

One of the hardest things in loving fairy tales is acknowledging their mutable nature - something that makes them unique. How they change and morph is, for the most part, out of our individual, studied and knowledgable hands. It is, instead, in the hands of society and pop culture (which is why I feel it's important to report the things I do on this blog, as much as they might seem like "fluff" to fairy tale scholars). I'm trying to see what's happening to - and with - fairy tales RIGHT NOW.

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
How tales are told, shared, recorded and retold show us where we've come from, reflect what's happening now and, if we pay attention, give us tools for where we're going. Studying history is excellent and valid but without paying attention to what's happening to fairy tales in the media and popular culture, it's like the sociology student closing the window on a college protest against Vietnam because he couldn't concentrate on his social and political science studies. (The student in question realized mid-action what he was doing, took it as a great lesson and went on to become a Sociology Professor.) What you should be doing is opening that window and paying attention. It's even better if you can get up the courage to go outside and be smack there in the middle of history in the making.When you have the opportunity to observe history and social change as it's happening and, perhaps influence it's direction in the moment, you should be there. Not only does it beat just reading about it 20 years later, it means you have a chance to have a say in how fairy tales stay alive and what form they take. 

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

1 comment:

  1. Standing ovation. I feel so inspired right now! And really excited to see this movie!