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Film Review: Saving Mr. Banks

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★★★★

Call me heartless, but a film has never quite managed to reduce me to tears. For all the pain and emotions that Hollywood’s characters endure, I generally manage to stay strong and hold back the waterworks. Let the records show; however, that Saving Mr. Banks brought me pretty close. What a truly phenomenal film.

Saving Mr BanksCentred on the 1964 Walt Disney Studios film Mary Poppins we gain an insight into the relationship between producer Walt Disney, and author P.L. Travers.

It’s a rusty one, to say the least. We see the clash of two incredibly strong personalities and we learn of how neither party back down, thereby finding themselves embroiled in a twenty-year long battle. Disney wants the rights to produce Mary Poppins, whereas Travers consistently refuses, despite strong opposition from her own agent.

Walt made a promise to his two daughters when they were children, stating that he would one day make Mary Poppins into a motion picture. A promise, as Walt says himself, should never be broken – and that’s the story we follow.

Travers despised Disney’s sentimentality, favouring more “dark and realistic” stories. She wasn’t impressed by his cartoons or musicals, which meant she was going to have quite a few issues with the production of her beloved Mary Poppins. In the end, Travers received $100,000 up-front, a 5% cut and editing privileges.

Saving Mr. Banks features a whole range of “laugh out loud” moments – most of them taking place in the “Rehearsal Room”. This was the room where Travers (Emma Thompson) sat down with co-writer Don DeGradi (Bradley Whitford), and the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) to work on the movie together. Their interactions are just hilarious, seeing Travers desperately trying to battle the “magic of Disney” that is so ingrained in these men (and it’s also the place where one of the most moving scenes takes place – the dance between DeGradi and Travers). For the large part, the three enthusiastic men, who happen to pull off some damn good voices and dance moves, find themselves under fire from Travers, who seems upset by the whole script.

“Mary Poppins and the Bankses are family to me,” she says.

After the creation of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney can understand this better than anyone. He tries taking a gentler approach to Travers and, as it turns out, the characters are based on her very own childhood. We gain an insight into Travers’ real-life alcoholic father and suicidal mother, and we watch her childhood slowly evaporate as she has more responsibility forced upon her at a young age. In the original story, Mr Banks is saved by Mary Poppins; he’s able to regain his happiness and “fly a kite”.

In reality, whilst Travers’ Aunt agreed to help take care of her unstable family; she was unable to keep her father alive. The references in Mary Poppins suggest that Travers wanted a magical nanny to save her father from alcoholism. The act of writing gave her a creative outlet, a place for her to recreate her childhood, and dream of perfection. In the words of Walt Disney: “That’s what we storytellers do. We instil hope, again and again and again.”

Saving Mr. Banks is only semi-autobiographical, and it should by no means be judged by its credibility against real events. Whilst it does give a good indication, there are a whole number of very delicate and personal topics which Travers herself never discussed publicly.

The ending is controversial, whereby we follow the premiere of Mary Poppins in the Chinese Theatre (Hollywood, LA). Travers finds herself reduced to tears with childhood flashbacks, suggesting she has been won over by Disney’s sentimentality.

In reality; however, she apparently had a very different reaction. Reports suggest that she wanted every last trace of the animation removing before the film’s release. In true Disney style, he replied with “Pamela, the ship has sailed.” Travers responded by withholding rights to the rest of her books. Here, we see two incredible minds, locked firmly in disagreement; such tenacity is rare, and it’s a fantastic trait to have. I’d say we’re privileged to have had two such great storytellers in our midst.

The whole production of Saving Mr. Banks is, in my opinion, a huge step for The Walt Disney Company. It’s the first time that a film has depicted Walt Disney himself, and it was an absolutely huge responsibility for Tom Hanks. It was daring and risky, but he pulled it off fantastically.

One wrong line or facial expression could have resulted in the tarnished reputation of a multi-billion dollar company. It is for this reason that you’d expect Disney to be cautious, and it’s surprising just how much trust they put in the producers. One of their main worries was having Walt seen smoking on camera, and so he is seen simply stubbing out a cigarette, and having a drink of whiskey mixed in with tea.

I’m glad The Walt Disney Company realised the need to delegate control, because it just wouldn’t have been right giving the company ultimate say. There were scenes where the film even poked fun at the Disney ethos, referring to the theme parks as a “money-printing machine”. It was a risky strategy for the company, but it worked well.

Saving Mr. Banks is impressive. I really didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t sure how a film, based on a relationship between producer and author, could be created. It’s clever, moving, original, and thought-inspiring. We learn a lot about the childhood of Travers, and we also gain an insight into the interactions between Walt Disney and his clients. It’s absolutely fascinating, and it’s really made me appreciate just how much passion is put into Disney’s motion pictures. As a huge fan of the The Walt Disney Company, and as someone who is interested in Walt’s personal history I feel it was a fitting tribute to both Disney and Travers.

You could even say that it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.




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