Saturday, December 21, 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks (and a plug for Marry Poppins)

Our oldest (at age 2) dressed like Bert, the chimney sweep

Before I married Justin, he told me that one of his all time favorite movies as an adult was Mary Poppins. Though I loved the film too, my first reaction was, "But it's a kids movie?". In other words, I was saying, "I can't wait to show it to our children someday because I have that childhood nostalgia, too" but I soon learned that is not what he meant. I was like Walt Disney telling P.L. Travers in the Saving Mr. Banks trailer that he thought Mary came to save the children.

Justin knew Mr. Banks was the one who had to learn the lesson, not the kids. I think he was always in awe of how Disney was able to make Mary Poppins accessible to children, yet pack such a punch for adults. For instance, do you remember Bert saying this to the children?

Bert: You know, begging your pardon, but the one my heart goes out to is your father. There he is in that cold, heartless bank day after day, hemmed in by mounds of cold, heartless money. I don't like to see any living thing caged up.

Jane: Father? In a cage?

Bert: They makes cages in all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped, some of 'em, carpets and all.

or perhaps this interaction at the fireplace between Bert and Mr. Banks

Bert: You're a man of high position, esteemed by your peers. And when your little tykes are crying, you haven't time to dry their tears... And see their thankful little faces smiling up at you... 'Cause their dad, he always knows just what to do...

George Banks: Well, look - I...

Bert: Say no more, Gov'ner. You've got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone... Though childhood slips like sand through a sieve... And all too soon they've up and grown, and then they've flown... And it's too late for you to give - just that spoonful of sugar to 'elp the medicine go down - medicine go dow-wown, medicine go down. Well, goodbye, Gov'ner. Sorry to trouble you. [Bert exits, whistling "A Spoonful of Sugar"]

Mr. Banks may not have been P.L. Travers' impression of her father, but Mr. Banks is certainly many people's father. Justin says that the full circle Mr. Banks achieves (where he becomes who he always needed to be) is because his identity changes. He is no longer George Banks the Banker, but George Banks the Father. He claims that Mary Poppins has the best 3rd act of any movie he's ever seen, the final beautiful, resolving chord at the end of a symphony. 

Here's where things get interesting though. You might think that after you've watched the Saving Mr. Banks trailer you're going to side with Walt Disney more than P.L. Travers. Well, you just might surprise yourself. I think this will particularly ring true with those of you who are avid readers. I'm talking about those of you who usually always read the book before watching (and screaming at) the movie adaptation. It hurts to see those characters (who you feel are like family) being turned into a "ghastly mess" :) The tone is wrong, the person's build is wrong, the clothes are wrong, the motivation is wrong. You get what I'm saying? Sometimes the movie version feels like a cast of strangers. I felt very much on Travers' side for most of the movie, all the way up to the scene with the movie's Hollywood premiere. I mean, I've read a Mary Poppins book and she is no Julie Andrews. However, as soon as they started showing clips from the movie, I started to cry. I just could not imagine my life (both as a child and now a mother) without having Disney's Mary Poppins for my family to cherish. I felt this uncontrollable emotional pull of, "Sheesh! Disney really did know what he was doing!" The movie somehow balances the highs and lows, the funny and the melancholy, the strict with the whimsical so well. After seeing Saving Mr. Banks, I felt like Mary Poppins the movie is actually the perfect marriage of Disney personality (carefree) and Travers personality (gravitas).  

As far as performances go, Emma Thompson is exquisite. I had high hopes for her and she did not disappoint. Tom Hanks is good at being Tom Hanks, the warm, lovable guy we all feel like we know. He doesn't convince me he's Walt Disney, especially with that accent. He tries so hard to be folksy he somehow ends up being Southern. It struck both of us that there was a grand irony in this -- Dick Van Dyke, the American, was roundly panned for his portrayal of a Cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. Colin Farrell was an excellent choice for Travers' father. Every woman knows that Farrell is a handsome guy by his own right, but having him be that handsome, sanguine man in the movie added to the idealized version Travers clearly had of her father. As far as the Disney staff, the Ralph character was an unnecessary plot device, but the other important people on the Mary Poppins production team were endearing as they struggled to meet Travers' high (if not unreasonable) standards.        

So I can say that I heartily recommend this movie even if it was loosely based on real life events**


I came into this movie knowing that this "Disney version" of Disney events wasn't actually real. P. L. Travers went to her grave regretting ever signing the deal with Disney. She was initially on board with the movie after her consultation, but later in life she began to get aggravated with the film more and more. She never let the Disney corporation touch anything else ever having to do with Mary Poppins because she felt she they twisted her beloved creation.

It was very clear from reading up on P.L. Travers when I got home that her life was an outpouring of many unresolved emotional issues (see here for more on that) most of which seem to be daddy related. There was not any evidence that she had the emotional catharsis as shown in the movie. It's tragic to see someone succumb to such childhood trauma, to the point where it colors everything she is and does. However, wouldn't you say that personal suffering is how many of our most adored classics come to existence?