The making of movies is a tricky thing when it comes to children’s stories. Especially when those children’s stories are deeply rooted in adult viewers’ memories. This season brings two such movies — Saving Mr. Banks and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
“Some of this actually happened.” As far as I know that disclaimer was not provided for Saving Mr. Banks, a movie I haven’t seen yet (ETA I have now*), but one based on the true story of Mary Poppins‘ author Pamela Travers in Hollywood during the creation of the Disney movie. Rather, that quote comes from the beginning of a very different movie, one also based on a true story, but absolutely not for children, American Hustle. I loved seeing that disclaimer and wish more filmmakers would start with some variation of it as it would be more honest of them. Certainly, it sounds like it would make Saving Mr. Banks go down a lot better with those who are not pleased with its fiddling with what actually happened. Now, again, I haven’t seen it so can’t comment, but I do think it is interesting how people are bringing their own childhood experiences with Mary Poppins to their viewing in a unique way. That is, many only know her from Disney and those who later came across Travers’ version don’t seem to much like her. So I’m guessing many are more sympathetic to Disney than to the author in this fictionalized movie version. For those interested in knowing more about the real story and Travers check out the following:
- Caitlin Flanagan’s Becoming Mary Poppins
- Jerry Griswold’s “Saving Mr. Banks” But Throwing P. L. Travers Under the Bus
- Laura Miller’s Saving Mary Poppins
- Margaret Lyon’s Saving Mr. Banks Left Out an Awful Lot About P. L. Travers
And then there is The Hobbit for which there is no disclaimer although there should be one along the lines of “Some of this actually is in the original book.” After seeing the first movie last December, I forcefully expressed my dismay about Peter Jackson’s decision to turn Tolkien’s charming book for children into something completely different in this HuffPo post, “Another Children’s Book Turned Into Young Adult: My Take on The Hobbit Movie (s).” So my expectations were minimal when I went to see the second movie a few days ago. And, yep, it was pretty much what I expected — even more epic-izing of a children’s original fairy story and a whole lotta horrid orcs. While I was happy to see Biblo here and there, especially with Smaug, I sure would have liked to see more of his clever repartee (say with the spiders). The pandering seemed even more pronounced this time — to fanatic Jackson LOTR fans (I agree with those who call this fan fiction), to those who wanted a kick-ass female in Tolkien’s totally male world with a Gale/Peta or Jacob/Edward (take your pick) quandary in store, and to those who can never get enough battling orcs. As for the final movie, I suppose some of it will have been in the original book — the battle and …no spoilers here…what happens to the dragon.
* I’ve now seen Saving Mr. Banks and my opinion about being honest when playing with historical fact hasn’t changed. I enjoyed the movie because it played on my nostalgic sensibilities big time (was tearful by the end), but can imagine how irritating it could feel to those who knew the players and the facts firsthand.