Friday, July 18, 2014

Movie Write-Up: Saving Mr. Banks

I watched Saving Mr. Banks last night.  Saving Mr. Banks is a 2013 movie about Walt Disney’s attempt to get the rights of Mary Poppins from the book’s author, Pamela Travers, so he could make the movie Mary Poppins.  In the process, we learn about the demons with which both Travers and Disney are wrestling—-their difficult pasts and their attempts to move on.

The title Saving Mr. Banks refers to the father in the movie Mary Poppins, and also the book.  Mr. Banks in the movie is distant from his children and wants a nanny who will train his kids to be disciplined, like soldiers; he does not appreciate the new nanny, Mary Poppins, coming along and taking his kids on fun adventures.  At the end of the movie, however, Mr. Banks is flying a kite with his kids.

I do not know exactly how this played out in the book.  I was reading on wikipedia, and what I got is that Mr. Banks in the book is not that big of a character, and that he was actually rather kind to to his children.  The stern picture of Mr. Banks in the movie may have been based more on Walt Disney’s harsh father; Disney insisted that Mr. Banks have a mustache, against Mrs. Travers’ objections, and the reason was probably that his own father had a mustache.  Mrs. Travers’ father still had issues, however, for he was a drunk, and he dismissed a poem that his daughter wrote when she was a child.  He was still a fun, loving dad, though.  When Mrs. Travers was a child, her father was sick and dying in bed, and her mother unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  In swept her aunt, who was like the eccentric Mary Poppins of the books and was bringing order to the collapsing home.  Unfortunately, the aunt could not fix everything, and the father died, disappointing the little girl.  She would grow up to write Mary Poppins, about a nanny who really could save the day.

There are fact-checks all over the internet about this movie.  I would not be surprised, though, if there actually was some deep-felt need on the part of Mrs. Travers to save her father and to move on, even if Mr. Banks was not as prominent in her book as he was in Walt Disney’s movie.  The movie is based, at least in part, on audio recordings of actual meetings that Mrs. Travers had with Walt Disney’s employees, and we get to hear one of them at the end of the movie.

One aspect that I enjoyed about Saving Mr. Banks was the relationship between Mrs. Banks and her Disney-commissioned driver, Ralph (played by Paul Giamatti).  The curmudgeonly Mrs. Banks at first does not like Ralph’s chipper attitude, thinking that it reflects the typical Disney sap that is all around her.  But she gets to know Ralph better and learns that his daughter has polio and is consigned to a wheelchair, and Ralph tells her that he is so concerned about the weather because he wants for his daughter to enjoy the outdoors rather than being cooped up in her room.

Another part of the movie that I appreciated was when Walt Disney was talking with one of his songwriters, and Disney was telling the story of when he was a simple artist with a notepad, and a big shot was trying to buy Mickey Mouse.  Disney said no, for Mickey was family.  Although Disney struggled throughout the movie to understand Mrs. Travers, he could identify, on some level, with her feelings for her character.

The song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” has been in my head since I watched Saving Mr. Banks.  It has more of a sentimental association in my mind now than it did when I watched Mary Poppins itself, and the reason is that, now, it relates to the healing that Mrs. Travers found, at least in the movie.  It represents the attempts of Disney’s employees to understand where she was coming from—-to include a scene of redemption for the father because that was what she wanted.  And it brings to mind the moving scene of catharsis later on, as she watches Mary Poppins and cries as “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is being sung.

Some have criticized Saving Mr. Banks because they feel that it depicts Mrs. Travers ultimately giving in to superficial Disney sap, as if that can solve all the world’s problems.  In actuality, Mrs. Travers was disappointed with the movie Mary Poppins.  People are entitled to their opinion.  Speaking for myself, I like sap.  I enjoy stories about healing, love, reconciliation, and being compassionate to people where they are.  That includes Saving Mr. Banks, even if it diverged from what really happened, in significant areas.

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