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.
[jwplayer config=”pjm_lifestyle” mediaid=”67803″]
Not everyone experiences the kind of trauma Travers lived through as a child. Everyone with an imaginative spirit, however, struggles in some way with the sometimes mind-numbing realities of paying bills, working a dead-end job, caring for elderly parents or young children, and bearing responsibility on their weary shoulders like Atlas. In our daily lives it becomes easy to let our imagination go by the wayside as the stuff of childhood nonsense.
But we can’t, and we shouldn’t. L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series, managed her family’s business and house before retiring to her room at 11 o’clock at night to spend a few minutes with her imagination before dark. Those precious minutes became special, not only to Montgomery but to millions of readers, her kindred spirits, the world over. That is how important imagination truly is.
And that is the lesson of Saving Mr. Banks. Reality can be confronted with a spoonful of mental sugar. While we cannot change the past, we do not have to be bound by it. In fact, we have within us the endless ability to create something anew out of the darkest of experiences. In so doing, we can connect with one another in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
Emma Thompson’s performance brings a nuance of character to the uptight Travers that instantly endears you to an otherwise eccentric and easily unlikable character. Her dynamic with Tom Hanks’s Walt Disney is admirable as well as entertaining. Embracing the childish fervor familiar from his early hit Big, Hanks tempers Disney’s fanciful nature with a fatherly maturity, making the persona of Walt Disney accessible to a new generation born long after Disneyland and the infamous Mouse.
While Saving Mr. Banks is not for the young of age, it is an uplifting film for the young at heart. A much-needed reminder to savor the gift of wonder and the thrill of joy, Saving Mr. Banks is a must-see for the holiday season.
[jwplayer config=”pjm_lifestyle” mediaid=”67804″]