Recently there has been credible speculation that a new Disney feature is in work, tentatively titled “Saving Mr. Banks” starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Meryl Streep as Mary Poppins author, P.L. Travers. The script is about how Walt acquired the rights to the book for adaptation to the screen. Ironically, though the film raked in five Academy awards including Best Original Song and Score, Travers loathed the picture, and in particular, its animated sequences.
This got me to thinking, have I been viewing Mary Poppins all these years through Disney colored glasses, or is it really the film classic it has evolved to be. Indeed, have I applied that same predisposed opinion to all the Disney films I love today? Let’s face it; there have been a few stinkers in the Disney canon. Who can forget the unmitigated animated disasters, “Home on the Range” and “The Black Cauldron” or live action clunkers, “The Country Bears”, and “Mars Needs Moms”.
Then there are those features which while not “bad” per se, did middling business and received lukewarm reviews; among the modern films, “Meet the Robinsons”, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, and “G-Force”.
Then we come to the “classic” Disney films, such as “Pinocchio”, “Fantasia”, and “Bambi”. None of these films made very good box office and all three received mixed reviews from critics.
This raises the question, “Are these pictures now considered classic because they were masterpieces ahead of their time, or simply because they are antique?”
I set to watching Mary Poppins again, bound and determined to clear my mind of bias and see it as though it were the first time. Honestly, I failed. From the first downbeat of the overture, through the haunting refrain of, “Feed the Birds” to the jubilant end with “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” I was mesmerized by the spell the film had cast upon me. The television faded to black and I was a sated lump with a stupid grin on my face.
Perhaps predisposed ideas, I concluded, can work both ways. For Travers, she for years resisted Disney adapting her book to the screen before finally relenting (the reasons for which are inconclusive) and when she finally saw the finished product, was horrified because of how emotionally close she was to the original material. And perhaps non-Disney fans are much the same way in how they regard animated films and family fare, destined to disregard it as kiddy fodder and dismiss the product as not for them without giving it a chance.
For those of us with a Disney Driven Life, we will consistently root for the next film to become the next Disney classic.