Very few Mary Poppins fans would believe that her creator, P.L. Travers, was more anally retentive than Doc Martin. But, as Saving Mr. Banks reveals, Walt Disney took on an uphill battle when he promised his daughters he’d bring one of their favorite fictional characters onto the silver screen.
I walked into Saving Mr. Banks fearful that it would be dripping with the kind of cheery sappiness that grows less and less appealing as one makes the journey from childhood to full-fledged, reality-bound adulthood. Instead, I found myself surrounded by adults whose love for Mary Poppins still remained despite the stress of relentless responsibilities. Indeed, as the theater lights dimmed, one older man bearing a long white beard walked in wearing the longest Santa cap I’d ever seen. Apparently, even St. Nick longs to be a kid again.
The film is as much a biopic of the early life of P.L. Travers (real name: Pamela Goff) as it is a chronicle of the struggle to bring Mary Poppins to life on the screen. The daughter of a brilliant father, Travers Goff, who relied on alcohol to poorly negotiate his imagination with the boring reality of being a bank manager, Travers grew up in the Australian countryside in the early 1900s. The eldest of three daughters, Travers inherited her father’s creative spirit, admired him as a role model, and eventually would carry the guilt of his inevitable demise with her well into her adult life.
Unknowingly, the authors of the screenplay plan to portray Mr. Banks, the patriarch of the Mary Poppins tale, as the bad guy of the picture. It takes Mrs. Travers to explain to the Disney writers that Mary Poppins isn’t there to save the children; she is there to save Mr. Banks. And just when you think the screenplay will dive into sentimentality, with a warm and friendly hug from Mickey Mouse’s dad, it does not. In fact, it does just the opposite. As Disney struggles to relate to Travers, he relates stories of his own tough childhood. In doing so, he explains the freedom imagination can bring to a troubled soul.