Sunday, March 30, 2014

DVD: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is an entertaining if somewhat  inaccurate portrayal of Walt Disney's efforts to make the book, Mary Poppins, written by P.L. Travers into a movie. Disney made a promise to his daughter, Diane, to make a Mary Poppins into movie. It would be a promise that would take him twenty years to fulfill because he didn't count on the calculated resistance of Pamela Lyndon Travers, author of the beloved children's novel. Walt Disney was a man accustomed to having things done his way, but he would have to wait twenty years to make his Mary Poppins movie. Saving Mr. Banks is about the process Disney and his company went through in collaboration with P.L. Travers to make Mary Poppins happen.

Saving Mr. Banks alternates between the present and the past; the present in which Mrs. Travers travels to and collaborates at Disney studios and the past as flashbacks about her life growing up in Allora. The movie opens with Pamela Travers reluctantly journeying to Los Angeles to meet Walt Disney with the intention of refusing to sign over the rights to the movie. When she does meet Disney, she refuses to sign over the rights, but does meet with the Sherman brothers, Robert and Richard, who are composing the songs for the musical. They find Mrs. Travers prickly and stubborn;  she is critical of almost everything Disney has planned for the movie. Among her criticisms: the Banks house is too grand, Mary Poppins is not proper enough, she can't abide words like "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"  and the character of Mr. Banks is too severe. The Sherman brothers manage to win Pamela over to some degree with their song, Let's Go Fly A Kite!

In the midst of all this are P.L. Travers' recollections of her difficult childhood in Australia. In flashbacks she remembers her experiences as young Helen Goff (her real name) who adored her quirky father, Travers Goff. Helen's father moved the family from it's genteel existence in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia to the dusty, small town of Allora where he was to work in a bank. Helen was close to her father who told stories and encouraged her to develop her imagination. Her mother however, was left to struggle with the fallout from Travers Goff's drinking. After her mother considering suicide, her aunt arrives to bring some order to the Travers household.

When Pamela flees Los Angeles and returns home to London with the rights still unsigned, Walt Disney reflects on what might have happened. He eventually seeks out Pamela in London and convinces her to let him make Mary Poppins.

It all makes for a heartwarming story about an obstreperous author who cares very much for the characters she created and who is convinced to let the lovable, charismatic Walt Disney make her book into a wonderful movie.

P.L. Travers is portrayed in Saving Mr. Banks as a quiet, lonely spinster but in fact her life was much more complicated and interesting. At the age of seventeen, according to biographer, Valerie Lawson, Pamela met Lawrence Campbell, an actor in London. She had hoped to become an actress in London, but it was eventually her writing that got her noticed.  She also had a relationship with George William Russell, an Irish writer and poet. Pamela eventually lived for ten years with Madge Burnand in what was thought to be a lesbian relationship. At the age of forty, and unlikely to be married, Pamela decided to adopt a child. She adopted only one of twin boys, as advised by her astrologer. That boy, Camillus Hone was never told he was a twin nor that he was adopted, facts he later learned as an adult when he met his twin brother in a bar. All of this is something that Disney would not want in its film about a much loved children's movie.

However, this film did capture the frustration both the Sherman brothers and Walt Disney experienced in dealing with Pamela Travers. Although she seemed happy with Mary Poppins when it was released, as the years went by, Pamela became increasingly unhappy with the Disney movie version of her book and never agreed to it becoming a broadway musical.

Viewers will enjoy Emma Thompson's performance and she really is the star of this movie capturing the essence of P.L. Travers. Tom Hanks is a passable Walt Disney, effectively portraying his ever-present enthusiasm and positive outlook. Travers' chauffeur, "Ralph",  played by Paul Giamatti was a compilation of several men who drove her around Los Angeles.  An interesting look at the making of one of Disney's most popular classic movies.

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