P.L. Travers vs. Walt Disney

This year our family changed up the Christmas tradition. One of the changes was going to the movies. On Christmas Day we saw “Saving Mr. Banks,” the story of how the Mary Poppins stories penned by P.L. Travers made it to the big screen in the mid 1960s thanks to the persistence of Walt Disney.

Wonderfully portrayed in the film by Emma Thompson, Travers is seemingly the polar opposite–both personally and creatively–of Disney, who is ably played by the versatile Tom Hanks.

How did P.L. Travers, the prickly author of Mary Poppins, really fare against Walt Disney?

Historian Amy Henderson answered that exact question at Smithsonian.com.

From a money standpoint, Travers fared quite well. She received $100,000 ($750,000 in today’s dollars) and 5% of the gross earnings. From a creative standpoint, Disney won, mostly. Walt remade Mary Poppins in the Disney image, so to speak, and the rest is history.

Henderson concluded:

At the end of the movie after the final credits, an excerpt from the original rehearsal hall tapes rolls, allowing audiences to hear the real Mrs. Travers vociferously bleating “No No No.” It’s a purely Hollywood attempt to give this bio-pic a boffo factual finish, but P.L. Travers’ voice makes one ask how this sourpuss could have created the joyful movie musical Mary Poppins. The answer is that she didn’t—Disney did.

Mary Poppins would be the greatest live action success of Walt Disney’s career. It won five Oscars, including two—Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and Best Music, Original Score—for the Sherman brothers, whose music makes the entire production soar. It looks like Saving Mr. Banks will be an award favorite as well. Emma Thompson has just been nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe, and the season is just beginning.

I enjoyed the movie, although it was somewhat fictionalized, more than I might have hoped or imagined.

But what else should I have expected? It’s Disney made by Disney. A little truth and a little make believe have gone a long way in the magic kingdom.

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