Saving Mr. Banks

This movie tugged at my heartstrings as I recalled many fond memories of the classic Mary Poppins. After leaving the theater, I rented the DVD and watched as Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke sang and danced in a magical production that continues to delight viewers of all ages.

While Saving Mr. Banks may not achieve the same acclaim as Mary Poppins, the contemporary film provides an extraordinary back story to the beloved classic.

I was surprised to learn that author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) was a difficult woman who did not like children and often spoke her mind. Early in the film, she asks a woman seated near her on the flight to Los Angeles: “Will the child be a nuisance?”

Appalled by the excesses in Los Angeles, Mrs. Travers constantly reprimands the pleasant Disney secretary (Kathy Baker) when she brings in platefuls of food. In her hotel room, she turns a large Mickey Mouse doll to the wall with the following reprimand: “You can stay there until you learn the art of subtlety.”

Mrs. Travers appears petty and demanding as she questions every step of the creative process. As the film progresses, however, we discover why she is so protective of Mary Poppins and determined not to depict Mr. Banks as cruel and insensitive. Through a series of flashbacks, we are given glimpses of a dysfunctional childhood with an alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), a suicidal mother (Ruth Wilson) and an upbeat, orderly aunt (Rachel Giffiths).

Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks deliver Oscar-worthy performances in one of the best films of the season. Hanks is very convincing as Walt Disney, effectively capturing the revered founder’s mannerisms, boyishness, and optimism while Thompson nails the part of the prickly author, determined to save Mary Poppins from the excesses of the Disney empire.

Interesting Disney anecdotes involving P.L. Travers…

At the Mary Poppins premiere, Mrs. Travers informed Walt Disney there was still “a lot of work to do” on the movie. Disney responded, “Pamela, the ship has sailed.” The two never spoke again.

Years later, when J.K. Rowling outlined her expectations for a Harry Potter attraction in a theme park, several of the Disney executives recalled the Travers debacle and decided to take a pass. Universal stepped in and acquired the rights.

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