That Special Elixir

A warm and extraordinary story of how a frowning, middle-aged, brillo-haired scold tried to berate kindly Walt Disney and his creative team into removing the songs and the animated penguins from Mary Poppins, and how the smiling forces of bubbly musical happiness pushed back and resisted these efforts…thank God! The frowning scold finally went home, and then three years later she invited herself to the Poppins premiere at Grauman’s Chinese. Your heart will melt, your spirit will soar.

  • Steven Gaydos

    “In the screenplay for “Saving Mr. Banks,” Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith very casually — and elegantly — let the audience in on the big secret of artists and writers, in the middle of a key conversation between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers. Disney, in trying to convince Travers to trust him with “Mary Poppins,” says: “We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again.” That took my breath away.

    For those of us whose childhoods have a crack down the center, and who have made our life’s work in both the playgrounds and the dark caverns of the imagination, those two sentences are more than a wise reflection on creativity, they are a mission statement.

    That scene, although a linchpin, is not just a great moment to be lifted out and reflected upon, but part of a graceful and muscular screenplay. It is so finely layered and seductive that I felt I was on the inside looking out of Travers, not an observer of her story.”
    – Rosanne Cash

    • Michael Gebert

      Yes, that scene is the key to the movie to me, and makes it the spiritual heir to Sullivan’s Travels.

      Walt doesn’t say trust me, I’m Walt. He says, basically, sometimes we’re all better off lying to people that life is happy. That’s a pretty harsh truth for what is (I admit) a feelgood movie overall.

      And the other thing to note: it’s not true that they make her knuckle under. She makes them work through her character to understand her. Which is surely what you’d like an author to have the chance to do, no?

  • hupto

    Saw it twice (so far) and bawled both times. A shame, Wells, that you lack the heart to appreciate a truly moving and largely non-cynical movie.

    • Carl LaFong

      Michael, I don’t think it is an instance of a lack of heart, but merely the discomfort of an otherwise fashionable pair of shoes during a long and ill-advised trip to London that has coloured his opinion…

    • GigglesForGigli

      Ebeneezer Scrooge, The Grinch, Jeffrey Wells. Only one still has his frozen heart intact.

  • Tucker Dimpy

    Oh yeah, I’d rather watch Robert Redford on a boat for 2 hours!

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      Don’t kid yourself — All Is Lost is a Blue Whale compared to the tuna fish that is All Is Lost.

      • GigglesForGigli

        “Don’t kid yourself — All Is Lost is a Blue Whale compared to the tuna fish that is All Is Lost.”

        Is this some sort of metaphor that I’m missing?

        • Brad

          It’s, umm, profound and shit.

    • GigglesForGigli

      Nothing like two hours of staring at Redford grimacing as if he was trying to dump a huge load. That’s Oscar-worthy stuff right there.

  • Bob

    I felt that there was a lot more to it than that. Wasn’t it about consolidating and giving closure to her relationship with her father? It was one of the most complexly emotional films I saw all year.

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      Oh, come on!

      • Brad

        “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.”"
        - Jeff Wells

      • Steven Gaydos

        I’m writing a movie about Jeff Wells’ reaction to “Saving Mr. Banks.” It’s called “The Blind Spot.”

  • Marty Guerre

    Maybe somebody didn’t get the metaphor.

  • http://www.stlcardinalbaseball.com/ Ray DeRousse

    This movie is a Travers-ty.

    • Brad

      Peter has nothing to do with this.

  • Brad

    “The script, which appeared on the 2011 Black List, is so wise and clean and well-crafted that you can hear Hanks and Thompson say the lines as you read them. It seems highly likely that Thompson will end up as a lead contender for Best Actress; Hanks will almost surely be nominated for playing Uncle Walt, although there might be a question as to whether his performance belongs in the lead or supporting category. No one knows how the film will turn out as a whole, but the director, John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie, The Alamo), is probably the most skilled guy in the business when it comes to giving G or PG-rated or family-friendly material a certain echo-y gravitas, so don’t be surprised ifSaving Mr. Banks ends up as a Best Picture contender. It also seems as if a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for Marcel is all but assured. The writing is so skilled, assured and articulate about conflict and the creative process.”
    - Jeff Wells

    • Armond White is my master now

      Agree. Are you the same Jeff Wells who praised Kelly Marcel script, again and again?

    • Marty Guerre

      That must have been the previous version of the script, when Walt Disney was a fucked up bipolar mental patient and P.L. Travers was a nymphomaniac dancer.

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      It was one thing on the page and a whole ‘nother thing when Hancock put it to film. The addition of a quasi-slapstick tone changed it a lot.

      • GigglesForGigli

        Not much that is slapsticky about Banks. WOWS leans much more heavily into slapsticky territory.

        • Terry McCarty

          Certainly the quasi-slapstick tone appears in much of the early Travers scenes–down to the casting of a TV commercial actress (known for her line reading of “I’m in deep, babe” in a Fiber One ad) as a nasal-voiced quasi-Snow White Disney/Sherman Brothers secretary

          • GigglesForGigli

            I’ll give you that one.

          • AnnaZed

            I’ve never seen this ad, but if you mean Melanie Paxson I liked that she was not yet another stick figure in a dress and I assume that you thought the slap-stick element was the motion of her flesh when she ran – I didn’t react to her that way.

            • Terry McCarty

              I didn’t react to her that way either. Only to the broad, TV-style performance.

        • Vinci_Smetana

          I thought WOWS leans into satire, or, er, metaphor territory?

      • Brad

        “John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie, The Alamo), is probably the most skilled guy in the business when it comes to giving G or PG-rated or family-friendly material a certain echo-y gravitas”

        - Jeff Wells

        “John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie, The Alamo), is probably the most skilled guy in the business”

        - Jeff Wells

      • Steven Gaydos

        “The addition of a quasi-slapstick tone changed it a lot.” Yeah, it was such a hoot when Travers’ early life was recounted in detail, especially seeing her father destroyed by alcoholism and disease while she was still a young girl. Perhaps this movie is just too close to the bones of Wells? I’m getting that impression. Or else you thought the scene of her father falling drunk off the stage in front of his boss and the crowd of townspeople was played for laughs.

      • AnnaZed

        I completely missed the ‘quasi-slapstick tone’ and am wondering if we saw the same film.

        I am not usually a sucker for this type of emotion milking movie (though I was surprised by how fine I thought ‘The Blind Side’ was) and I found this movie remarkable and affecting.

        Also, I loath about 50% of the Disney out-put from that period. ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in particular makes me shudder. I don’t even much like the Mary Poppins movie and I’m exactly the right age and saw it when I was a kid and reader of the book.

        Yet, the scene where Disney talks to Travers about fractured childhood and the power of story-telling was wonderful; wonderfully acted and beautifully written. I found the whole thing quite an experience and I think it’s a strong film.

        As a side note, Paul Giamatti is having a lucky career I must say.

    • criterionstalker

      Except for the flashbacks he skipped over.

      • Brad

        He didn’t. I just didn’t quote those passages: “the script is split between the present (1961, when Travers went to Los Angeles to collaborate on the Poppins screenplay) and her childhood past in 1907 Australia as she witnessed her banker father, Robert Goff Travers (Colin Farrell), suffer through profesional and financial hell. Her father was the model for Mary Poppins’ brusquely-mannered employer, Mr. Banks. About 40% to 45% of the film is set in 1907 Australia, and 55% to 60% happens in 1961 Los Angeles and London, but the percentages might be closer than that. 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 her Poppins 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.”

  • bentrane

    What’s with the vitriol for this sweet, well-acted and directed film? I’ve never read Mary Poppins, never seen the movie (and don’t care to), yet I was carried along by the story the movie tells, even though I didn’t believe a whole bunch of it (the Giamatti character, Walt’s trip to London to convince Travers to sign the rights, etc.). And really, it seems from evidence given by the remaining Sherman, and Thompson’s own research (Thompson not being the type to diss unnecessarily), plus the tapes themselves, that Travers was a real handful. To put it mildly. So what’s with the negativity? A lot of folks go to the movies to feel good, and this is a feel-good film. Is that a crime?

    • hupto

      Just FYI, Walt did indeed travel to London. Their dialogue was invented, but as Walt often talked about his hardscrabble life as a kid, it’s reasonable to assume it was part of the conversation. And Travers did have a driver while in L.A., though nothing is known about him, so in that sense Giamatti’s character is an invention. But he has no direct connection to any of the other characters, so it’s not really a big deal.

      And no, a feel-good movie is not a crime. Except to Wells, who’s a manly samurai poet who don’t truck wid dat shit.