I was sceptical about this film: was it just another modern money-spinner that would cheapen and distort a children’s classic? But it was on last night and my family were watching it, so I joined them. And it turned out to be pretty good actually! I think I would buy it and re-watch it, which is saying quite something as I don’t watch a lot of films/TV and very rarely buy things to re-watch them.
The first thing to say is that this is not a children’s film. I would not suggest showing it to children under 11. They probably will miss a lot of the humour and meaning, and also the scenes of alcohol abuse, attempted suicide, and advanced tuberculosis might well be too frightening for them.
Who is this film for then? It’s for us adults who have grown up with Mary Poppins and also who are old enough that we’ve left our childhood behind in one sense and yet still look back to it and are shaped by it.
On the surface, this is a funny film. The beginning in particular had me chuckling through it. Curt, dry, ironic Mrs P.L. Travers is very funny, and the clash of cultures when this uptight very-British woman walks into the larger-than-life saccharine-sweet world of Disney is hilarious.
But, as the film progresses, its overtones become increasingly sad and serious, even as that dash of humour remains to lighten the mood. It seemed – at least to me – to be a film about the impact of addiction (alcoholism) upon a family, and the influence of an idolised, seriously-flawed, charismatic and genius father upon his children. The film is in some ways a tragedy. Mr Banks is saved by Mary Poppins. But P.L. Travers own father is not saved – help comes too late. As an adult, she is racked by the guilt of feeling that she failed him, and perhaps also that he failed himself. Only in her imagination is he saved, as Mr Banks, by the arrival of a non-nonsense magical nanny with a talking umbrella. And the charm of the Mary Poppins books for Disney is likewise revealed to be how they redeem in his imagination his own beloved flawed father. This is a film shot through with insights into human psychology.
Some of the scenes, especially of the young P.L. Travers and her family, are a little over-acted, but this small flaw doesn’t spoil a good film. It’s disappointing also to know that the culmination of the relationship between Disney and Travers is likewise fictionalised, and in reality the two never came to such an amicable and heartfelt joint appreciation of the film. And, upon learning that, one wonders about the historicity of some of the rest of it. But I think it’s probably best enjoyed on its own terms, rather than viewing it as a historically accurate depiction of Travers, Disney, and their family backgrounds and working relationship. Perhaps the issues it’s reflecting on say more about the background and preoccupations of someone who wrote or directed it, I don’t know; but I do know that it’s a powerful film with serious reflections on the impacts of addiction and dysfunctional families couched within a very amusing shell.
It also made me want to re-watch Mary Poppins, so hopefully it will also help to revive the popularity of that timeless classic. (And I have to say I always preferred the film to the books, so I have no complaints about how Disney presented the Poppins stories!)
If you liked the Mary Poppins film and/or books, or you like funny films with a serious message, I think this one is definitely worth a watch.
Click here to see the trailer of the new film
Click here to see one of my favourite scenes from the original film (I wish just clicking at the mess in my bedroom would tidy it up 😀 I also wish I could sing like Julie Andrews 🙂 )