Pirates devour Saving Mr Banks

31 December, 2013 by Don Groves

Disney’s movie about Walt Disney’s struggles to bring Australian author P. L. Travers’ novel Mary Poppins to the screen has earned a decent but not dazzling $US37.8 million after 10 days in wide release in the US.

One reason why Saving Mr Banks has not opened with bigger numbers in the US or the UK (where it has raked in just $US4.5 million after its third weekend), is pretty clear: millions of people are downloading it.


According to TorrentFreak, the Disney-financed production, which stars Tom Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers, was the most downloaded movie globally on BitTorrent sites last week, ahead of Rush, Gravity, Don Jon and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Other factors may include the sheer weight of competition in the US and media commentators who have accused the filmmakers of misrepresenting Travers and “Disney-fying” the story.

Directed by The Blind Side’s John Lee Hancock and produced by Essential Media & Entertainment’s Ian Collie and Ruby Films’ Alison Owen, the film opens in Australia on January 9.

Collie rejects the view that the film misrepresents Travers's story, he lauds the US  B.O. performance and predicts it will have a long run.

"I was a bit gobsmacked that SMB was the most downloaded film globally on BitTorrent last week but on reflection maybe it's not that surprising considering the large amount of publicity the film has generated and the fact that, to date, it has only been released in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada and Turkey," he tells IF.

"So really it's no different to those 'must see' TV shows where consumers are too impatient or too cheap to wait until it is released in their home territory.'"

Vulture magazine questioned the film's veracity, stating, "The movie distorts or just plain leaves out some interesting facets of Travers's life — omissions that would have created a deeper, more interesting depiction of Travers and would have made the Disney intellectual-property-gobbling machine a bit less sympathetic.”

Among the omissions in the screenplay by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel identified by the magazine: When she was 40, Travers adopted a son, Camillus, from whom she was estranged when she finally agreed to Walt Disney's years-long attempt to adapt Mary Poppins.

Contrary to her portrayal as an uptight old maid, she did have relationships with male and female partners. And her reaction at the premiere of Mary Poppins was misrepresented.

“What was presented as a joyless, loveless pedant finally giving herself over to the delight and imagination presented as a creative, passionate person, with dignity and real emotions, getting steamrolled by one of the most powerful companies in the world,” Vulture concluded.

Collie responds, "The Vulture review that we have misrepresented P.L. Travers's story is totally off the mark. We produced a full linear bio TV documentary of Travers called The Shadow of Mary Poppins which kickstarted this feature project ( it will be re-released as The Real Mary Poppins on ABC, PBS and other international broadcasters in January).

"It covers the unusual story concerning the adoption of her son Camillus and other aspects of her life which we did consider including in earlier drafts but for various dramatic and creative reasons they were dropped. Until the release of Saving Mr Banks very few people knew of Pamela Travers. Hopefully now we have opened the doors for more films, programmes and articles on this fascinating and complex Australian writer."

On the US results to date, Collie says, "In what is a very crowded and competitive marketplace, SMB is currently placed sixth for the weekend with an estimated $14M in three days, a remarkable +50% increase over last weekend (best performance in this measure among the top 12 films). The gross-to-date is now up to an estimated $37.8M, and with much more holiday play to come this week we are expecting near the $60M mark by next Sunday.

"Word of mouth is very strong for this film and the Cinemascore for audience reaction is a very strong A mark (by contrast American Hustle is B+ and The Wolf Of Wall Street C) . SMB may not have the mega hype of, say, an American Hustle ( and that's not to be critical as it is a very good film), but we expect SMB will have good longevity at the box-office as WOM spreads.

"In terms of reviews and media commentary, we have a 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which I would contend could only be construed as favourable. Sure there have been some veteran US and UK critics who feel we have been 'soft' on Walt Disney but this is not a biography on Disney."

To be fair, many other writers had no quarrel with the film’s credibility. “The best parts of Saving Mr Banks offer an embellished, tidied-up but nonetheless reasonably authentic glimpse of the Disney entertainment machine at work,” opined The New York Times’ critic A.O. Scott.

“Fans of the book and the earlier movie will know that Mr Banks is the father of the children cared for by Mary Poppins, but even those entirely innocent of her previous literary and cinematic incarnations — if such people exist — will find this movie accessible and enjoyable.”

After the US premiere, Deadline.com’s Oscars expert Pete Hammond rated the movie as a cinch to become the Disney studio’s first home grown, live action Best Picture nominee since the original Mary Poppins 49 years ago, the only other time the studio had such a distinction.

The Producers Guild of America has named the film as one of the nominees for its best feature film award, along with American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave, and Wolf Of Wall Streeet.

That followed the American Film Institute selecting the film among its 1O movies of the year, with 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle , Captain Phillips, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and The Wolf Of Wall Street.