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It’s a Jolly Holiday with Mary

Saving Mr. Banks is a much needed reminder to savor imagination this holiday season.

by
Susan L.M. Goldberg

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December 25, 2013 - 9:00 am
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savingmrbanks

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.

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Top Rated Comments   
If you've read the original Mary Poppins novels, I suspect you'll have a bit more sympathy for the author's perspective than for Disney's.

The original Mary Poppins was actually a very dark character. She was vain, "plain" (as described by the author), prone to fits of rage, and a bit of a bully - nothing like the sunshiny magical singing, dancing nanny played by Julie Andrews. The adventures themselves were frequently more terrifying than fun, and some (I'm thinking of the Banks children's tour around the world, which culminates in a nightmare vision in which they're almost devoured by "Hottentots") wouldn't be published today.

The real P.L. Travers was an odd character - a bisexual, an actress and dancer, and a lifelong devotee of the Russian mystic Gurdjieff, whose very peculiar beliefs informed the Poppins canon.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
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I liked this movie as a kid. After a combat tour in Afghanistan, I liked it more, and it was VERY clear that Mary Poppins was there to save Mr. Banks. The message about not missing out on your kids' childhoods is still very relevant. I'm now curious about this film.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read the script. PL Travers seemed extremely unlikeable on the page, no doubt Emma Thompson did her best on film. Anyone who "studied" Theosophy and Gurdieff is not someone I want to spend 90 minutes with.
As for Tom Hanks and his comments of late, thanks, but I'll pass.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you've read the original Mary Poppins novels, I suspect you'll have a bit more sympathy for the author's perspective than for Disney's.

The original Mary Poppins was actually a very dark character. She was vain, "plain" (as described by the author), prone to fits of rage, and a bit of a bully - nothing like the sunshiny magical singing, dancing nanny played by Julie Andrews. The adventures themselves were frequently more terrifying than fun, and some (I'm thinking of the Banks children's tour around the world, which culminates in a nightmare vision in which they're almost devoured by "Hottentots") wouldn't be published today.

The real P.L. Travers was an odd character - a bisexual, an actress and dancer, and a lifelong devotee of the Russian mystic Gurdjieff, whose very peculiar beliefs informed the Poppins canon.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
so ... is there anything Travers *didn't* hate?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Saving Mr Banks - I believe Disney points out to Travers that Mary Poppins arrives to save Mr Banks, moreso than to nana the children. The movie is a retread of all the old movies pushed out by Disney of the fifties and sixties. Best description - 'Based on a reality created by Disney screenwriters' to promote the fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of 'Mary Poppins.' Tom Hanks expended little energy in portraying Walt Disney - he played Tom Hanks. And, as with most Disney pics of the period, we have the mandatory tears, reconciliation and redemption at the end.

Save your money and rent the DVD - It will be available on disc afore too long.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Mary Poppins books are among my most cherished childhood books. For years I shunned the movie because I simply could not believe that Julie Andrews could do Mary justice. When I finally did watch it, I found that Ms. Andrews, and Mr. Disney, did indeed do Mary--and P. L. Travers--justice.

Anyone who has read the original Grimm Brothers (another of my cherished childhood books) knows what "disneyfied" means. And Poppins was very definitely disneyfied. It's nevertheless a fine film (although Ms. Travers didn't much care for it). I look forward to seeing Saving Mr. Banks.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I very much want to see this movie, since I believe Mary Poppins is one of the greatest films Disney has ever produced.
I'm looking forward to seeing if the film acknowledges that despite all of Walt Disney's efforts, Travers hated the finished movie and continued to do so until her death.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
You will be disappointed, then.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
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