Saving Cordwainer Bird

One of the few places Saving Mr. Banks is getting negative buzz is in Harlan Ellison’s living room. Because, says he, somebody’s got to tell the truth.

It’s not that the movie lacks entertainment value. Despite pronouncing the title like he’s spitting out the taste of corked wine, Harlan says the movie’s well-made and Emma Thompson’s performance breathtaking – “She blows everybody off the screen.”

What he dislikes is that it’s just a “refurbishing of Walt Disney’s godlike image that he spent his entire life creating” and that “The movie is bullshit from one end to the other.” Because no matter what it says on the screen about the adaptation of her novel Mary Poppins, “P.L. Travers went to her grave despising the movie.”

He also defends Travers from any implied criticism about holding Disney at bay for 20 years before selling the rights by reminding listeners about his own history of defending his work against misinterpretation by studios and producers. (And unmentioned here, in some of the worst cases assigning his screen credit to Cordwainer Bird.)

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8 thoughts on “Saving Cordwainer Bird

  1. I’m generally no fan of Harlan Ellison, but he’s right on the money here. Though Travers supposedly had script approval, Walt Disney used technicalities in the contract to let him add animation and other changes that she hated. (The fact that she didn’t want animation in the film was one reason she held off for twenty years.) The result was that she never sold any film rights to her works again.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed the musical that Disney made, and found some of it even deeply moving. But I can’t compare it to the books for the simple reason that I haven’t read any of them. Children’s literature rarely seems to turn up in a box for a dollar, and I’m not prepared to spend $13.95 for a trade paperback with big print. The impression I had of Ms. Travers , though, was that she was a pretty prickly individual. And we all know that Walt Disney with an egomaniac who “improved” anything he touched … right? Even Stravinsky.

  3. I look forward to seeing “Saving Mr. Banks”, but I don’t expect it to be a full telling of the story (even now, I’m sure defenders of Pamela Travers are leaping to the Internet to defend her side of the story).

    But these alterations are what happens to every thing that’s turned into a Disney film. If you’re OK with it, it can be fun, but torture for the original author, otherwise.

    For myself, as a kid, I had read P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins books before seeing the movie, and I liked them both, even though my young and unformed mind could see the difference between Travers and Disney. I even liked the “Mary Poppins” movie novelization that Whitman Publishing issued for the juvenile market, competing with Travers’ original books.

    I think Disney made an honest version of “Mary Poppins” by its own reckoning — and saw the addition of the plot-line about restoring a family a necessity to give some structure to a movie made from a completely episodic book. That was the big alteration, and they probably thought the cartoon sequences in the “Jolly Holiday” segment (taken from “The Day Out” chapter in the book) were a relatively mild departure.

    Now, if you want to see the Disney studio doing a REAL disservice to a classic book, see their animated version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Victor Hugo’s original novel was a tragedy, in which all the important characters, good and evil, are killed off. The Disney version had so many surviving characters, they made a direct-to-video sequel.

  4. Some people may want to go from Mary Poppins the movie, to read Mary Poppins the book.

    To give an example: my son loved THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies. He tried to read the book, but couldn’t stand Tom Bombadoofis. (There is not Tom free edit of the book.) and watched movie versions: liked ERAGON. Loathed the film. THE DARK IS RISING. Books good, movie bad. Liked The Percy Jackson series, but won’t watch the films.

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