A Spoonful of Sugar?

12 01 2014

I was seven when the movie Mary Poppins came out. That year I dressed as Mary Poppins for Halloween and my mother made me the most exquisite Mary Poppins rag doll for Christmas. I still remember the words to all the songs in the movie. I grew up watching Walt on TV. I even worked at Disney World one summer during college. My daughter also grew up with all things Disney.  So as a Disney fan I looked forward to seeing Saving Mr. Banks, the story of the making of Mary Poppins. It’s an entertaining movie, beautifully filmed and filled with great actors giving good performances. But…I kept thinking what’s the real story.

Mary poppins

There’s a term called Disneyfication. It’s about repackaging something so it’s sanitized. As an employee at that summer job, I knew you had to fit the Disney look and embrace the brand or you were regulated to “back stage” or you simply didn’t work there.

That’s the nagging thought I kept having while watching this movie. The author of the Mary Poppins’ books, PL Travers, really didn’t want to be devoured by Micky Mouse. But she needed the money, so she sold her creation. That’s what the conflict in this movie is about. It’s the same conflict some authors have with the Oprah book club or why some musicians don’t want their music played on American Idol. They don’t want to be consumed by the machine.

What was the real story of Helen Goff whose pen name was PL Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins? This movie was set in the same time as the TV series Mad Men. 1964 was not an easy time to be a woman in the workforce. The only women portrayed in Saving Mr. Banks, other than PL Travers, were secretaries. Was Helen Goff portrayed as a pain in the ass, an unpleasant bitch, because she was a strong-willed woman with a powerful sense of who she was and what she wanted? Was she a woman who was just “leaning in”? I respect the Disney brand, but this brand has whitewashed dark fairy tales that were meant to teach powerful lessons into fluffy entertainment.

Looking up PL Travers online I learn she certainly didn’t fit the Disney mold. Mrs. Travers never married and was known for torrid affairs with men AND women. She adopted a baby who was a twin, but didn’t adopt the other twin sibling.  As someone who apparently wasn’t concerned with societal norms, she certainly was not a woman who could easily be told what to do. She was a woman who marched to her own beat and not to a Disney song and dance tune.

Two facts that are documented in the movie are true. One is that she was not invited to the Mary Poppins premier, but came anyway. And the other was that she cried during the premier. Saving Mr. Banks leads you to believe that the tears show she came around to the Disney point of view and was touched by seeing her creation come to life. But maybe we’re seeing a woman cry because she felt she sold her soul to the devil. That’s not, however, a Disney happy ending.

Maybe someday they’ll be another movie about this interesting woman and it’ll not be made by someone invested in preserving Walt’s image. I’m guessing this future movie will have no spoonfuls of sugar, no dancing penguins, and no catchy song or dance numbers. There won’t be the expected happy ending tied up neatly with a bow and perhaps Walt will be cast as the villain. That would be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

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19 responses

13 01 2014
Aimee Hansen

I thought she cried for an entirely different reason, and thought she held off selling her stories for a different reason too. My thought was that wrote Mary Poppins in the light of what she wanted to do – save her dad. And made her do all the things that were impossible. And that she held onto the stories and tried not to Disney-fy them because the history and experience was too person, too painful. I thought she cried at the premier because of the happy ending, and that she finally put it all behind her. I honestly haven’t read the story, nor seen the movie in forever, so I’d have to go back, but that was my first impression…

13 01 2014
conniemcleod

Aimee, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Like you I haven’t seen the movie, Mary Poppins, in forever and it makes me want to see it again. I’m also curious about the books, which I have never read. I might have to check those out too.

13 01 2014
sulliv90

great post connie. i’m always so disappointed when I hear the real stories behind movies. The slant they give the story to fit their idea of the way they “wanted” it to be isn’t nearly as good as the stuff real life is made of. Thanks for filling me in! Virg

13 01 2014
conniemcleod

Virginia, while watching, it just didn’t ring true to me. The reality is that she was even more interesting in real life than what was portrayed. But I’m also sure it was way to complicated to actually put in a 2 hour movie.

13 01 2014
Lisa Garon Froman

Love your take on this Connie. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.

13 01 2014
conniemcleod

It’s a good movie, not a great one. The back story is more interesting that the main story and Colin Ferrell give a great performance as the alcholic father.

13 01 2014
midlifecrisisqueen

Always important to find out what really happened. Thanks for sharing!

13 01 2014
conniemcleod

Yes, there’s always more to the story!

13 01 2014
Laurel Regan

I just saw this movie on the weekend, and LOVED it… then read the PL Travers wiki and felt quite disillusioned and “played” by the whole experience. Your post totally backs up and validates my after-the-fact emotions. There’s a part of me that’s glad I didn’t know the truth going into the movie, but another part wishes I did so that I wouldn’t have felt quite so manipulated by the disneyfication of the story.

13 01 2014
conniemcleod

Laurel, you just saw the Disney version of the story. It’s perfectly OK to enjoy it for the pure enjoyment of watching a entertaining movie. There were some terrific performances. PJ Travers, from what I read, was a complicated woman.

13 01 2014
lovelytl33

This was a great post. I like to question what I’m told, and this brings up some very hard hitting questions. I can’t help questioning everything Disney does for the same reasons you stated, though I too am a Disney enthusiast. I brought my kids up on it and have adored it for ages, but they will take things and Disneyfie them or make them so commercial that they aren’t special anymore. Thank you for a great thought for today!
http://www.lovelytl33.blogspot.com

13 01 2014
conniemcleod

I believe as long as you know you’re being manipulated, it’s OK to enjoy a movie for the pure entertainment it offers. I’ll continue to go to Disney movies and enjoy them for what they are.

13 01 2014
reggiesgirl2

Hmmm, seems strange to me that all these commenters before me are presuming that you know the “truth” behind this movie. Unless you were there, you have no way of knowing that what you’re saying is true. Maybe she was an unpleasant bitch in real life and a pain in the ass to deal with. You don’t know that she wasn’t. Just because you worked at Disney for one Summer doesn’t make you an expert on all things Disney.

There’s no harm in questioning what you’re seeing and I applaud you for that. It’s just your opinion you’ve written here which is everyone’s right. It’s the commenters I have the problem with. The movie MIGHT be true. What Connie says MIGHT be true. Let’s not all jump on the Disney-is-bad bandwagon just because Connie has a bad opinion of them.

I expect my opinion will either be deleted or I’ll be jumped on by all your fans, Connie. I’m not criticizing your opinion. I hope you see that. I respect everyone’s right to say what they think.

13 01 2014
conniemcleod

I appreciate your opinion and I’m not going to delete it. Your comment is very respectful. I know nothing more about PL Travers than what I’ve read online. I do not pretend to be an expert. I just know that I’m being presented their side of the story. I don’t think Disney is bad either. I’m a marketer and they have a big brand to protect, I get that it’s their right. They actually do a really good job and I’ll continue to go to their movies and would go back to visit Disney World. The PR world is full of spin, I just know spin when I see it.

13 01 2014
reggiesgirl2

Thank you for replying. I agree on the spin. It’s everywhere. As the old saying goes, there are three sides to every story – his, hers and the complete truth! LOL

14 01 2014
lovelytl33

That’s okay too. Discussion is what makes these posts interesting. I have a love/hate relationship with Disney that is usually won over by the Pooh Bear little girl in me that owns nearly all of their cartoon movies and still watches them, even if I am 34. I don’t believe we all jumped on Connie’s band wagon. We simply discussed her side of it because, after all, that is what she specifically wrote about. Don’t worry about sounding your opinion. As long as you are respectful, no one is going to lash out at you and good bloggers don’t mind your having a different opinion.

14 01 2014
conniemcleod

Yes! I have been pleased with the lively discussion this post has created!

14 01 2014
Phoebe

When I saw the previews, I thought I just couldn’t wait to see the movie. I’ve not made it to the theater yet. I’ve heard mostly good things, but I’m glad I read your review. I know there’s always more to any story…and especially those made for movies!

14 01 2014
conniemcleod

Phoebe, it’s a good movie (not a great movie). Colin Farrell give a terrific performance and I will watch anything with Emma Thompson. It’s easy to enjoy. Let me know what you think after you see it.

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