This is an exceedingly bizarre movie. It is about two real people – Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers, and Disney founder Walt Disney – coming to an understanding and compromise about adapting a fictionalised story into a film. It presents itself as a true-to-life dramatisation of how such a thing really happened. But it is itself a fictionalised story. It’s not a usual case of a dramatisation of real events taking some dramatic liberties. The whole underpinning premise of the movie is fictional.
P. L. Travers had already handed over the rights by the time she went to America to consult with the team behind the film. The whole underlying conflict of the movie quite literally did not exist. Nor did Travers and Disney have extended meetings. It isn’t a case of the film taking some dramatic liberties with meetings they had. The meetings didn’t even exist. Several of the emotional moments and important narrative beats of the film (Travers enjoying one of the film’s songs in development, Travers being moved to tears at the premiere, etc.) are completely fictionalised. This isn’t a case of a film taking dramatic liberties with the truth. There is no truth. The film is in itself a fiction.
This is so fascinating to me, because the film itself is about the trials and tribulations that come with adapting a fictional story into a film. And it is itself such an adaption, rather than a dramatisation of true events and relationships as it presents itself. Disney construct a revisionist history of a woman now dead and unable to defend herself, making it appear as if she approved of things she never approved of. I personally find it ghastly, ghoulish, and above all else, completely bizarre. It feels like the premise of a very meta film, but the film exists.
As a film in its own right, it’s an enjoyable period piece. There’s really two films at play here. One is a 1960s shmaltzy typical biopic affair, with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks doing very enjoyable and very tame work. The other is a 1910s Australian drama, with Colin Farrell doing absolutely fantastic work. The Australian drama is legitimately enjoyable, but peters out in a disappointingly inconclusive non-ending. The 1960s biopic is mildly enjoyable, it never dips too low or rises too high.
I find it difficult to settle my thoughts on the film, as I can’t divorce my assessment of the quality of the film itself with the extremely strange nature of it. Disney have literally referred to the film as a “brand deposit”. It’s so relentless corporate and manipulative that the inoffensive content of the film itself, taken in a vacuum without context, makes for an extremely bizarre contrast. It’s a well-made film, and Colin Farrell really is fantastic in it, but the premise of it honestly does disturb me. I give it two umbrellas, and a pineapple.