It's tough for a non-movie review blog to write a movie review. But I love movies and I'll take any good excuse I can to actually get out of the house and get immersed in a film. And Saving Mr Banks saved me.
Here's a quick synopsis for those who haven't heard of the film:
Walt Disney spent years pursuing the rights to create a movie based on the book, Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers. He's persistent in wanting to make the movie not only because he loved the story but because he wanted to fulfill a promise he made to his daughters. Mrs. Travers reluctantly agreed to work with Disney's team on the film but refused to sign away the rights during pre-production. Long story short, she eventually signed away the rights and the film's made.
But you knew that. Because most of us grew up with Mary Poppins as part of our childhood. We know the film, we know the songs, and we all loved Mary Poppins. Saving Mr. Banks doesn’t just take you behind the scenes as to how Walt Disney and P. L. Travers eventually struck a chord. This movie takes you into the childhood of Mrs. Travers and deep into her head where we really understand why this fictional character, Mary Poppins, is such an important and protected part of her life.
Let me state what I think is obvious. If you haven't ever seen Mary Poppins, you've got some homework to do. You need to watch it and then go see it. If you don't, you'll miss a lot of the subtle humor and inside jokes. And you'll be able to follow the story line but you won't really get it. If you've seen Mary Poppins and didn't love it, this movie might not be for you. And finally, if you've seen Mary Poppins but it's been so many years that you can't really remember if you liked it or not, go see this movie. You've probably forgotten that you loved it as a kid and this film will remind you. (Side note: This is NOT a movie to take your kids to. They'll simply be bored. It's an adult movie. Enjoy a night out.)
Well, I really loved it. It's because it was a movie that stayed with me. When I see a good movie, it usually has to sit with me for a day before I can really coherently come up with what I thought of it. That's a good sign because it means it got the wheels turning in my head. The next day, I was singing the songs from the film and just replaying some of the scenes in my mind and mostly just marveling over the amazing cast. Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, a middle-aged Australian born English writer of children's books. She wasn't pleasant and yet we're sympathetic and amused. And I love love Emma for facing the big screen with that awful 1960s hair. Oh she deserves Oscars. Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, the American icon who has never been portrayed on screen before. So Tom Hanks as Walt Disney? OF COURSE!
The biggest thrill for me in this film was feeling like I got a glimpse into the life of Walt Disney; who he was, what he was like to work with, and how he fought for what he believed in. In a beautiful but entirely fictional scene, Disney tells Travers about his own difficult childhood:
I love my life - it's a miracle. And I loved my daddy, boy, I loved him. But, there isn't a day goes by where I don't think of that little boy in the snow and old Elias with his fist and strap, and I'm just so tired - I'm tired of remembering it that way. Aren't you tired Mrs. Travers? We all have our tales but don't you want to find a way to finish the story? Let it all go and have a life that isn't dictated by a past?
Although Travers has created a magical world of imagination, it represents gritty reality to her. Mary Poppins shows the children hard truths, and fiction that reveals painful truths is important. But Disney sees another role for fiction, that we can use fiction to write the endings that we wish our stories had, and thus heal our griefs. I like Disney's idea.
There are many reasons why people love romance as a genre, and there are many reasons why I love it. One of my favorite things about romance is the promise that things will be okay. In real life, even though my life's one of great happiness, I worry all the time, about everything from asteroids (collisions!) to turtles (endangered!). Above all I worry about people who are suffering who I can't save, and I grieve for people who I've lost. So you can imagine my tearful response when, at the premiere of Mary Poppins, when Travers weeps because Mr. Banks has been fired, Disney leans over to her and whispers, "It's all right, Mrs. Travers. It's alright. Mr. Banks is going to be all right. I promise."
First of all, in terms of the movie itself, it's a powerful moment, because P.L. Travers' father, the model for Mr. Banks, wasn't alright. Not even her own Mary Poppins, a seemingly invincible aunt, could save him. And although in real life Travers was never happy with the film, this scene in Saving Mr. Banks is cathartic for the character and for the audience. From the standpoint of someone like me who likes romance, this moment was touching and affirming. We all know that things in life can be hard. Even happy endings have tough parts. But when you pick up a romance book, it says, "It's alright, I promise." And that's not trite or delusional. It's powerful and healing and freeing. It's a way of nurturing hope and it gives us something good to imagine and to aspire to.
We need stories that reveal the hardships we've faced historically and that we continue to face today. We need to be able to clearly see our past and our present. But we also need hope and optimism. If all stories end in doom, then we start to feel doomed. What I hadn't thought of before Saving Mr. Banks is that in writing happy endings we can also rewrite our own stories. What Disney's saying to Travers is that we can use fiction not only to reveal our reality but to shape it. There are a lot of things going on in this movie but for me, that aspect's the most interesting, and that aspect's why I think some of you would enjoy the film so much. That, and the fact that Emma Thompson plays the smartest, and bitchiest, smart bitch of all time! Oh please just give her that Oscars!
For the record, there are some interesting controversies surrounding the film. See, in the movie, Emma Thompson weeps with joy because she loves the film version of Mary Poppins so very much and the magic of Disney has healed her emotional wounds. But actually, in real life, P.L. Travers wept at the premier because she hated it. She liked the money, and she got a heap of it, but she still hated the movie. Lol.