MPAA Rating, PG-13
USCCB Rating, A-II
Reel Rating: (3 Reels out of 5)
There are two wars being waged in Saving Mr. Banks. First,
an external battle between the impeccably proper and British Mrs. P. L.
Travers (Emma Thompson) and the handshaking bigger-than-life American
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) over the film version of the classic book series
Mary Poppins. There is also an internal battle Travers wages
privately against her own broken childhood that spills over the pages of
her literary treasures. She fights the former in order to get her way
in the latter. Mr. Banks is a pleasant film with excellent
performances that has a little bit to say about the role of the
imagination, but, similar its central protagonist, feels a bit
stodgylike day-old tea. It’s a good movie, but it is just a small
asterisk next to the 1964 classic Mary Poppins, one of the greatest films in cinematic history.
Travers and Walt Disney are perfectly matched: both are strong willed
and use their imaginations to work out their hopes and fears of life.
However, Disney is a shrewd businessman and entertainer while Travers
refuses to publish any more books. Despite her immense disdain for
Disney’s world of pixie dust and undeserved smiles, he has money to
give, and she needs it badly. Disney has been hounding her for twenty
years hoping to get the rights to Travers’ books on a promise he made to
his daughters. When he relents to giving her final script approval, she
Despite their arrangement, the story process is
anything but smooth. Right from the beginning, Disney fills Travers’
hotel room with stuffed animals and fruit baskets thinking it will
placate her, but only infuriating her even more (too badthose early
'60s plush Mickeys are probably worth thousands today). Travers likes
almost nothing about Don DaGradi’s script including the songs, the
animation, and Mr. Banks’ mustache, which was personally requested by
Disney himself. It seems as if Mary Poppins will never fly.
“These characters are family to me,” Travers explains, “and I won’t have
you turn them into one of your silly cartoons.” Travers is speaking
literally; through a series of flashbacks, it is learned that she came
from a very troubled home that included an alcoholic father and suicidal
mother. Things only start to look up a little when her aunt Ellie comes
to take care of the family.
As a film, Saving Mr. Banks
feels oddly constricted. Thompson and Hanks are fantastic as the title
charactersEmma a little more than Tom. Apart from its star talent,
however, the film is restrained, claustrophobic, and a little slow.
Ninety percent of the movie occurs on only four sets that are sparsely
decorated, as if the producers ran out of money (but this is Walt Disney
Pictures, so that is improbable).
Everybody is born broken by
original sin, and humanity creates stories to help itself work out its
problems. From Pandora to Osiris to Loki, ancient peoples have tried to
make sense of suffering. This continues today in fiction. Tolkein wrote
that fantasy is the highest form of art because it allows men to be a
“sub-creator.” The difference between paganism and fantasy is that
pagans worship their creations while fantasy writers understand their
works are only symbols of a greater reality. And that includes Mary Poppins.
first Disney doesn’t recognize this aspect of Travers’ writing, but
neither does Travers appreciate the work of Disney. She thinks his creations are “silly
cartoons” but Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, and The Jungle Book
are Disney’s ways of working out his inner demons as well. A good
example of this is the Missing Mother Syndrome that permeates almost
every Disney film from Snow White to Frozen. Contrary
to popular myth, Disney’s mother did not die when he was young, but it’s
a great way to identify with a main character. We are all orphans
separated from God. Travers, too, creates these stories to give the
father she loved dearly the redemption he never found in real life.
Disney tells Travers that sharing this pain will help rather than hurt
her father, and even shares his own marred past with his father Elias.
“Children will rejoice” when Mr. Banks is reconciled with Jane and
Michael, he tells her. Only when she sees that he understands does she
relinquish the rights to her work.
Peter Kreeft has observed that
“Christianity has always been a little suspicious of the imagination.”
The real Mr. Banks died an alcoholic estranged from his heartbroken
daughter; is the happy ending of Mary Poppins a terrible lie?
It is untruthful as a historical fact, but it is truthful as a spark of
hope from an older and wiser Travers. It is her expression of
forgiveness towards her father, and that is not a lie.
neither Travers nor Disney understands is while imagination is good,
real life is better. In his desire to make a world of happiness and
boundless creativity, Disney neglected those closest to him. Travers
never got married, but she did adopt one son later in life. Christianity
is unique in being both a compelling archetypical story and amazingly
true history. If you liked the Book, you’ll love the Real Presence. Life
must be imagined and then lived. Live vicariously through yourself.