Not on my initial to-do list from the premise, I must admit, it wasn’t until hearing the music played on the piano in a scene in the trailer that my interest was piqued. The film also starts with the familiar ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ played just on the piano and it really reminds you how great the music is.
The story is that author of the Mary Poppins book P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is grappling with whether or not to take Walt Disney’s cash and allow him to make a film adaptation of her book. Financial concerns are pushing her towards accepting, but she is loathe to relinquish her beloved characters and her artistic decisions. She meets with Walt to discuss how they can proceed.
At the same time, there is a back story told in flashbacks of P. L.’s childhood which is initially confusing to people not current with their Mary Poppins knowledge. This back story actually takes up a huge chunk of the film, sometimes competing with the main story in the present and is quite jarring and broadly drawn, although one could argue that this is told as per P. L.’s slightly distorted childhood memories.
It is the music that again wins you over though. A scene with the two Disney songwriters and a scriptwriter showing P. L. Travers their ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ creation is fantastic and Emma Thompson again shows how to act in a physical way that is so emotional it makes you well-up.
It’s true that the two funniest bits are in the trailer (the sliding of the music notes behind another sheet on the piano and Walt’s Disneyland bet) and it’s true that the backstory is visited far too often, but Emma Thompson gives a great performance as the cranky old fusspot in this family film which will have you humming the tunes again for days afterwards.
3 on 5
Director: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, John Lee Hancock
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, B. J. Novak, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Kathy Baker, Melanie Paxson UK release: 29th November 2013