Disney’s Guide to Saving Mr. Banks

Why do writers write? Why do singers sing? Why do filmmakers, um… film-make? Saving Mr. Banks explores one of the most infamous creative collaborations of the 20th century to find an answer. We all know how the story ends, but now we’re asked: how did it begin?

As legend would have it, Walt Disney made a promise to his daughters that he would make their favorite book into a movie. Being that he’s Walt-effing-Disney, it’s not exactly the loftiest claim, but then again, he didn’t know a lick about the person he’d have to go through to make that happen. P.L. Travers, the author of the series, was notoriously, em, exact about her characters. And she wasn’t really into fun things like music or animation either.

So Walt picked away at this lady for 20 years, before she finally considered a Disney adaptation. All it took, thanks be Jeebus for the movie’s sake, was a thick slab of guilt spread atop a slice of tenacity.

But even that first “yes” was more of a “maybe” and it was hardly smooth sailing from there. Little things, like mustaches and the exterior of the Banks’ home and the use of red were met with hasty objections. In the beginning, it seemed downright nit-picky, but through a series of flashbacks we learned a bit more about her own private compass.

The “real” Mr. Banks, Travers’ father, was an alcoholic, her mother suicidal. And the women who allegedly came to directly inspire Mary herself was Travers’ Aunt Ellie. As one might imagine, when two parents are helplessly lost, the nanny often serves as a beacon of hope for the children. In Travers’ early life, her imagination didn’t “save” her from her situation or her father from his illness. Nothing really got better.


So then, why the fictional super-nanny? Why children’s books that provided whimsical adventures for its readers?

Whether Travers’ true intentions were ever documented, I’m not certain (though at the very least, there was a tape recording of an early script-reading that rolled after the credits). BUT, this movie did have some pretty compelling ethos that pointed to a reason. It’s all in the title, so I’m not really spoiling anything here, but she was rewriting her past. Giving those events a soft glow as a way to heal and inspire. Essentially, it was her spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Maybe not in the most DELIGHTFUL way, but at least with a much less icky after-taste. When Walt figured that out, he got his movie. Or so says SMB anyway.

AJ and I were both impressed by this one. The story was strong and, true to Disney form, it got me teary-eyed by the end. It certainly beat out Frozen in our year-end best list. If you’re not sold on the story alone, go for Emma Thompson, who makes good on a role initially offered to Meryl Streep (The woman, the myth, the legend).

The portrayal of Disney felt surprisingly authentic too. I mean, yes, this picture is owned by the dude’s film studio, so we’re not going to see the guy spit on children or push elderly folk into freeways, but he wasn’t all candy canes and gum drops either. Allegedly, Tom Hanks fought to portray Disney, the closet nicotine fiend, which did make it to the final cut. Well, sort of. We see him put out a cigarette as someone walks into his office and explain that he needs to retain his image. He’s also awfully pushy, and not very nice when it comes to inviting the author to her own film premiere. Bottom Line: he didn’t talk like Mickey or shoot rainbows from his palms, so I was satisfied.

Although, thinking out loud, it may not have been so bad if he did do all those aforementioned gay things. The Disney brand is all about the fantasy. Creating alternate realities so we can handle our own. And really, what’s so bad about that?

One thought on “Disney’s Guide to Saving Mr. Banks

  1. Cuppy Cake Laura says:

    I saw this New Years day and after the 20 minutes of previews was really excited to see a movie that I wasn’t entirely sure of from the get go but seemed like the best option for a Dad/Daughter date. By the middle of the film everything about “Mary Poppins” made sense to me finally, and at the end I felt like I understood the Disney classic so much more than just a wonderful family film with dancing penguins. I thought that BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman’s performances were standout for “background characters” as the Sherman Brothers. The Shermans were such a Disney cornerstone and I would love to see a movie about their careers; I think that they both did such a great job of the “happy Disney composers” who were shut down by Travers.

    Great post!

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