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D23's Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks Preview Event (and Review)

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Who: PiC and I
What: D23's Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks Preview Event
Where: The Music Box Theater, Chicago, IL
When: December 4, 2013, 5:30pm
Why: I had been waiting to see Saving Mr. Banks since the trailer was release in July, and D23 was going to let me see it two weeks before general release. (Not to mention Mary Poppins on the big screen!)

On Thu, 11 Jul 2013 16:45:26 -0500, Keane wrote (in the Usenet group rec.arts.disney.parks):
>Well, hell. A movie that might actually get me to a theater. A movie
>about making a movie. Maybe D23 will have a preview. Heh.

And indeed, in mid-November, D23 announced (paid member) previews of Saving Mr. Banks in Long Beach, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia.

But in Chicago, they'd be showing a Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks double feature. Tickets would be available November 25.

For all the previous problems I've had registering for D23 events, this one would go off without a hitch. Got the tickets at noon local time. Except the electronic ticket says, Saving Mr Banks, 8:00PM, with the correct date and location, but no mention of Mary Poppins. So I send e-mail to guest relations to make sure the tickets are for Mary, too. (Poppins. Never just Mary.)

I hear back from guest services, "We are unable to answer questions about ticket availability..." I don't want to know about ticket availability. There is a difference between what the ticket says and what the event is. I seem to have a lot of trouble with boilerplate answers to questions I didn't ask when I contact Disney's guest relations, but I digress...

The tickets are being handled by a company called seeitfirst.com, and in a reminder message, they confirm the ticket is for both movies. That's good, I was going to show up for Mary Poppins anyway.

Arrived at the Music Box theater about 4:30pm (Mary Poppins was to start at 5:30), since dinner took less time than anticipated, and line to get in the theater was already a couple hundred yards long. We'd have a wait, but were extremely lucky that it was a balmy 50 degrees. It was warmer than when I was at Disney World in December 2010, but I digress again...

The Music Box theater is one of those restored, old-time theaters, with statues on the walls and shining stars on the ceiling. And you know the bathrooms are too small when there's a line for the men's room, too. But it's a typical old-time movie theater, where the lobby facing the street has a minimal facing, with the theater in the back as not to limit the retail store frontage on the street.

They operate every day of the year, and show about 300 different movies a year. When I was a few decades younger, this was the place to come and see (and participate in) The Rocky Horror Show. The theater is about 1/2 mile West of Wrigley Field. (If you've ever tried to get around this area during game day, well, just don't.)

At 5pm they turned on the marquee lights which says, "Disney Double Feature" (descriptive, huh?) and finally opened the doors about 5:10pm. As we entered, I noticed they were going to be showing that restored Harold Lloyd film. PiC (and the woman in front of us) had no idea who Harold Lloyd was. Sheesh. Youngsters. No wait. She isn't. But I digress yet again...

In typical D23 fashion, once we enter the theater, we have to stand in another line. Apparently, the deal Disney made with the Music Box, was to let their subscription ticket holders in to see the preview as well, so they didn't have to check in with D23 officials and went right into the theater.

The theater was about 75% full for Mary Poppins. Before the movie, I had forgotten my bottle of water in the car, so I went back and got it, and counted three kids in line. A good number of the people waiting could have seen Mary Poppins in the theater when it was first released. During the break between movies, I had to go out and feed the parking meter (don't ever get me started on parking meters in Chicago), and saw a couple of families with kids leaving. The average age of the audience for Mary Poppins had to be over 30. Probably more. Once all the kids left...

D23 had a minimal presence, only a couple of cast members, since the Music Box has their own Master of Ceremonies of sorts. But during the break, I did observe several large guys in black suits who were there to enforce the no camera/cell phone/recording device prohibition.

Mary Poppins looked great on the big screen. I admit to seeing Mary in the theaters 50 years ago, and I'll bet the viewing we had that night was a superior version. No cut scene flashes or scratches or dust, no pops or scratchy audio. It was a restored version for sure. I don't know what the source was, but I'll bet the film never looked better, and was probably the result of the Blu-Ray remaster that's coming out this month. (For Bambi, a D23 rep told me they used the Blu-Ray as the source for the projection. On the other hand, with hard-disk based systems today, I suppose they could just write a disk...)

The real reason I was there was to see Saving Mr. Banks. It's a movie I'd been waiting 5 months to see, since Disney's release of the trailer back in July. I had very high expectations for the film, and it actually met them, and in some ways, surpassed the story any Mary Poppins/Sherman Brothers fan already knows. Embellished or not, the acting was superb, and the story engrossing. (But you can read my review of the movie below...)

I should add PiC enjoyed both movies as well. She was very surprised at how much she liked Mary Poppins (she probably hasn't seen it in decades, and she doesn't like musicals) and was also impressed with the story and acting of Saving Mr. Banks.

D23 gets another thumbs up from me. It was a supercalifragalistic evening! (Sorry, had to do it...)
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Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review

Winds in the east, mist coming in
Like something is brewing and about to begin.
Can't put my finger on what lies in store
But I fear what's to happen, all happened before...

Saving Mr. Banks is the story of how Walt got P. L. Travers to give him the rights to Mary Poppins.

Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) is broke, and her agent finally gets her to go see Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who's been trying to get the rights to Mary Poppins for 20 years. She is loath to give up the rights to Mary, especially to a man who she's convinced will turn her into another Tinkerbell or Mickey Mouse.

She is obstinate and quite frankly, a bitch with a bad attitude. Pretty much from the outset, it's pretty clear she isn't going to agree to anything Walt, the boys (B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) or Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) want to do for the movie, making ridiculous demands that she knows won't be met. (At one point, she demands the color red not be allowed in the film.)

The story is sort of an odd duck, in that it's set in 1961, but probably a full third of the movie is another storyline in the form of flashbacks to 1906. Those flashbacks are of Travers as a child (Annie Rose Buckley), while she still lived in Australia, and are mostly about the relationship Travers had with her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell).

At the outset of the movie, the two storylines are seemingly quite divergent, but as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the reason Travers is so obstinate, why so many things are wrong with what the boys and DaGradi want to do, is because she strongly identifies Mr. Banks with her idolized father, but nobody at Disney understands this, nor the reasons for her seemingly inane demands. Things come to a head when the timelines actually converge, an extremely clever way to make you see why Travers is so against what the Studio wants to do.

The turning point comes when Ralph (Paul Giamatti), her driver, the only person she hasn't been able to annoy, connects with her in a way to make her re-think about where she is and the people she's dealing with. (I have to say, this scene could have been trite and contrived, but Giamatti and Thompson are brilliant in it.)


Now, I'm really not sure how much of this movie is fact and how much is fudged fact, it is after all, a movie, and doesn't claim to be a historical document. For instance, the way A Spoonful Of Sugar came about is different than how the Sherman's tell the story. Some of it is pretty accurate, like the way Travers complained about everything, since Disney still has the recordings. After one song, Walt remarks, "That'll work.", his highest praise he ever gave the Sherman Brothers, but it wasn't after Feed the Birds. (It was, however, a nice touch to include Walt's favorite song at his lowest point dealing with Travers.)

Regardless, this is a terrific film. Every Walter Elias Disney and/or Mary Poppins fan should see it. Just remember it's not a G-rated film, and probably wouldn't recommend it for kids. (It's PG-13, which for a Disney branded movie is pretty rare. Yes, movies like the Pirates franchise was rated PG-13, but like Saving Mr. Banks, by its very nature should be a Disney Movie.) While the 1961 timeline has some laugh out loud moments, much of the 1906 timeline is pretty dark.

Dick Sherman was an active consultant, which is probably one of the reasons why the movie seems so authentic. He is, after all, the last person still living who was in that room during those two weeks, over 50 years ago.

I'd also like to address some common misperceptions I've seen, mostly because of the trailer. Don't judge the movie by the trailer. The trailer really doesn't misrepresent, but it hardly touches on a very large aspect of the movie. I understand why it was done that way, but it's very easy to misperceive what the movie is about.

First, (and most important) it is not a movie about Walt Disney. Second, it is not Mary Poppins, nor the making of Mary Poppins.

It is about Walt attempting to secure the rights to Mary Poppins during Pamela Travers' two-week visit to the Burbank studios in 1961, and the reasons why Pamela Travers is so protective of Mary and Mr. Banks.

I also have to say that Hanks might not look a whole lot like Walt, but by the end of the movie he had me convinced he was Walt. After watching his performance, I decided I'd rather have an actor that can act like Walt than an actor that looks like Walt but can't act like Walt, and Hanks does a fantastic and credible job. And let's face it, Emma Thompson doesn't look like Travers, nor do the Sherman Brothers' or Don DaGradi's counterparts. But make the actors look superficially like them, and the performances are so good that you'll buy it. At least I did. (And from interviews, so did Karen Dotrice (who played Jane Banks in the original film) and Dick Sherman, who insist that Hanks' mannerisms and speech are very much like Walt's.)

Finally, I would add that if you haven't seen Mary Poppins recently, you might want to boot the DVD (or Blu-Ray, just released), and watch the movie. I'd also watch the segments about the making of the movie in the video "the boys, the sherman brothers' story." It's not strictly necessary, but it'll provide some background of a few things that just are in the movie without explanation, and there are some details that might otherwise be missed in Saving Mr. Banks.

Anyway, there's a pretty good chance I'll actually go to a theater to see the movie again during its general release to see the other little things I missed. If you know me, that's some high praise...
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Revisions:
  • 12/11/2013 - Page Added
  • 08/31/2014 - Update to v3.2