A Spoonful of Sucralose

Splenda has been challenged in court for saying that its artificial sweetener is — to quote the ad line — “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar”. At issue is the fact that key molecules have been changed in deriving sucralose from sucrose, with no actual sugar in the result, and that the majority of Splenda is filler supplementing the sucralose.

Tom Hanks as waving, smiling Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as stolid, unimpressed P.L. Travers at Disneyland
Photo: François Duhamel for Walt Disney Pictures © 2013.

Or something. You can go look it up if you want. My point is that Saving Mr.
, Walt Disney Pictures’ current release about the difficult adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins books into the eventual classic Disney movie, has roughly the same relationship to the truth as Splenda does to sugar.

I did enjoy much of the film. Emma Thompson is, not surprisingly, quite good as the intransigent author, born Helen Goff. Tom Hanks is, not surprisingly, Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself.

The question: How close is their interaction onscreen to what really transpired?

Richard Sherman, the legendary songwriter who crafted the musical numbers in Mary Poppins with his brother Robert, is still among us at 85 and reportedly did not care for Travers. He is said to have liked the new film; ditto Jim Korkis, animation historian and Disney expert, despite the significant departures from actual fact recently discussed in various forums — including on YouTube by noted curmudgeon, media critic, and speculative-fiction author Harlan Ellison.

Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak are fun as the Sherman Brothers, whom I’ve read
a bit about over the years. Annie Rose Buckley, who plays the young Helen Lyndon Goff — rechristened Pamela Lyndon Travers under her own authority in adulthood, known as “Ginty” to her dad — is going to be a star. Neither those performances, however, nor Thompson’s valiant effort at making an unlikeable character sympathetic as both hero and villain in a way, are enough to overcome the reality that Saving Mr. Banks is a fantasy.

Spoilers are coming.

I understand that biopics and their ilk have to, you know, make stuff up. Dialogue
must be invented for scenes that were not recorded or witnessed by those interpreting them, characters anonymized or composited for legal and/or dramatic purposes, the messy nature of life hewn into a narrative arc compressed into a couple of hours’ run time. But there’s making stuff up and there’s making stuff up. Two of Banks’ most important scenes, in which we see Disney escorting Travers during a trip to Disneyland and paying a surprise visit to her London home to make an impassioned plea for the movie rights to Poppins, never happened. While I’m well disposed to the sentiment of a good story merely needing to feel true, for me those fabrications are too much to reconcile, and since Banks’ story only has meaning insofar as it’s based on historical events, well, I can’t recommend the film or even fail to regret having watched it myself.

Related: Hide and Sneak Not So Frabjous Past of Future Days

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