Title: Saving Mr. Banks
Release Date: November 29, 2013
Director: John Lee Hancock
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Ruby Films | Essential Media and Entertainment | BBC Films | Hopscotch Features
This movie dramatizes the two week period when author P.L. Travers travels from her home in London to Los Angeles to work on the Walt Disney Studios adaptation of her Mary Poppins’ books. Since Travers is a British woman, Emma Thompson is, of course, cast to play her, while Walt Disney is obviously portrayed by American actor Tom Hanks. I jest, they both do a great job, although its more of a challenge for Hanks because Disney is already well-known from his tv appearances.
Travers is cranky and dismissive of the whimsy and sentiment that is the cornerstone of the Disney empire, and basically hopes to sabotage the adaptation. Disney comes off kind of creepy – a mansplainer who insists on calling her “Pam” when she asks to be called “Mrs. Travers” and acting as if Mary Poppins is his story as well. Hanks’ Disney sees Travers standoffishness as a characteristic of her womanhood rather than recognizing her as a fellow artist who wants to protect her creation.
Working with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and music composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) stirs up memories of Travers childhood in a remote part of Australia when she was known by her birthname Helen “Ginty” Goff. She is an imaginative child who looks up to her adventurous father (Colin Farrell) who takes greater interest in playing with her than his job as a bank manager. It’s slowly revealed that he is an alcoholic and that he is in failing health. An aunt who comes to help the family when he is bedridden is depicted as the firm and practical person who restores order to the household, and also the influence for Mary Poppins (albeit a surprisingly small part in this movie). Scenes in 1961 Los Angeles blend into flashbacks of the Australian outback in the early 1900s.
The movie is an excellent and emotionally-rewarding story. It’s also largely lacking in historical accuracy. But Hanks’ Disney states flatly that storytelling is creating the story we want to fix what happened in reality.
George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.
It’s up to the audience to decide if that is the correct use of imagination and creativity, or if something is lost in the artifice.