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Walt Disney and the Fight for Mary Poppins

This Christmas an upcoming film tells of the lengths to which Walt Disney went to get his dream film project made.

by
Chris Queen

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July 19, 2013 - 9:00 am
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SAVING MR. BANKS

Many writers and critics have suggested that the Disney Studios has cultivated such a rarefied image of Walt Disney that some people think of him as just a character — like Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima. While Walt was quite a character, he was also very much a real human being, and until the end of his life he stayed involved in individual projects throughout the company.

One of the last projects Walt was directly and heavily involved with at the studios was Mary Poppins, the story of a magical British nanny who brings a family together. The film — a sort of labor of love for Walt — became a hit with critics and the public alike and went on to win five Academy Awards.

Walt had his eye on the original novel as a project for the studio for two decades, when he first spotted his daughter Diane reading it. In his excellent biography of Walt, Walt Disney: An American Original, Bob Thomas picks up the story:

Walt read the book and recognized immediately that it was Disney material. The author, P. L. Travers, didn’t agree. She was an Australian lady who had lived in England and had taken her son to New York to escape the London Blitz of World War II. Walt asked Roy, who was going to New York in early 1944, to call on Mrs. Travers and express the company’s interest in acquiring the Mary Poppins stories.

[...]

Walt followed up Roy’s visit with a letter to Mrs. Travers inviting her to visit the studio and discuss what kind of production she had in mind. She remained interested but noncommittal. That continued to be her attitude over the years… It was not until 1960 that Mrs. Travers finally agreed to deal with the Disneys. By this time, Walt’s eagerness for the property had grown so acute that he paid an extraordinary price: he gave her approval of the screen treatment.

[...]

Mrs. Travers made two journeys to Burbank to view the storyboards for Mary Poppins. She objected to many of the liberties that had been taken with her characters, and adjustments had to be made. Walt Disney exercised his own considerable powers of persuasion to win Mrs. Travers’s approval. By the time she returned to England, she seemed convinced that the Disney innovations had originated in her own books.

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All Comments   (8)
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The original Mary Poppins novels were very dark indeed. The character was nothing like the sunshiney Julie Andrews character: she was vain, plain, sarcastic, and quite frightening.

PJ Travers was a follower and friend of Gurdjieff, the Russian mystic. She was also a poet, actress, an avid believer in astrology, and bisexual.

This isn't the only time Disney has sanitized and whitewashed a classic beyond recognition. If your only acquaintance with "The Jungle Book" is the Disney version, prepare for a big shock when you read the Kipling original. No jolly dancing bears in there.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for the background. It sounds terrific. I'd love to have a good holiday movie to go see with the whole family.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, since they cast Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell in it, I won't be wasting my time watching it.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
So now Hollywood is going to foist upon us not rehashed, unoriginal remakes (like has been done for the last 20+ yrs), but the making of classic movies? I'll take the talents of Julie Andrews & Dick Van Dyke anyday over what Hollywood offers now.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, thank you!
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Um, wait - When did Walt Disney pick up a Southern accent? Southern and Midwestern are not the same thing; not by a country mile. Hanks sounds more like Shelby Foote than Disney.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting.
The story I heard, from someone who knew her well, is that P J Travers absolutely hated the movie, was never reconciled with it, and was furious at the premiere (I doubt this is a spoiler, because going by the trailer this not how the movie is going to end).
Travers objection was that she personally took magic very seriously and wanted the character of Mary Poppins to be sinister and witch like.
Makes a change seeing an English person cast as an Australian rather than the other way round.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
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