Saving Mr. Banks is loosely based on the preproduction meetings between author P.L. Travers and the Disney team for the film version of Mary Poppins. In Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney has Travers flown in from London to Burbank, in order to get her to sign over the rights to her novel. Travers is incredibly reluctant to give over the rights, feeling that Disney will make a mockery of the characters that she considers family. Disney soon discovers that he must understand Travers in order to win her over.
The film alternates between her trip to the Burbank and Traver's childhood growing up in Australia, where you learn that her own family was the inspiration for the characters in Mary Poppins. The film is much darker than most Disney films, aiming for an adult audience. The scenes depicting Traver's childhood show the toll that alcoholism takes on an entire family and are often difficult to watch. Travers was very much shaped by her childhood and as an adult, she cannot let go of the past.
I'm completely confused regarding my opinion over this film.
On many levels, it's a solid piece of storytelling and is very compelling. The acting is fantastic, in particular Emma Thompson nails Travers. Travers is a very difficult personality, but Thompson manages to portray her with a lot of depth and sympathy. She makes her likable. Tom Hanks makes a great Walt Disney. Disney is so iconic, I imagine that it was hard to cast the role, but Hanks does a wonderful job. I really liked Annie Rose Buckley, who plays the young P.L. Travers. Buckely carries many of the emotional scenes in the film and was the heart of the story.
The best parts of the film were the costumes, sets and general Disney nostalgia. As a huge Disney fan, I loved it on an overall fan level. I enjoyed the parallels that explained where P.L. Travers got her real inspiration for Mary Poppins. It was often in unexpected ways. The film was often very funny, especially with the banter between Travers and Disney company.
The worst part of the film was the cloying sentimentality. The film deals with many very painful and sad situations, but it also works double time to make the audience member feel a reaction. It felt unnatural to me and I had the reverse effect of being fairly numb to many of the more emotional moments in the film. It didn't make me cry, it just made me feel vaguely melancholy. It was manipulative, but I forgave it, as many aspects of the film were so well done.
I walked out of the theater feeling like I had seen one of the better films of the year.
Knowing that it was based on real events, I naturally rushed home to see how much of it was true. This was the kicker. Most of it was fabricated or twisted enough to alter reality and make the film a totally different story from the true events.
Travers never came to Burbank to be woed by Disney, she had already signed over the rights to the film and just came after as a consultant. Disney trying to convince Travers to sign the rights was one of the principal plot points. Also, Travers very publicly hated Mary Poppins. She played nice and went to the Hollywood premiere, but she was not a fan. The movie makes it seem like she had a cathartic experience watching it at the premiere and that Disney had kept to his promise, treating her characters with the care that she requested. Travers actually spent the remainder of her life very anti-Disney.
There are many things about the movie that left a bitter taste in my mouth. This is a story of two artists with different visions. Although Travers signed over her rights, it felt like the movie was driving home the message that it was okay to disregard her original vision, because Disney had his idea and that it was better. Disney was going to make a film that everyone was going to love and he did. In the film Travers is on the brink of bankruptcy and Disney swoops in to offer her money in exchange for her artistic integrity. In the film, he has the gall to tell her that he held on to the rights for Mickey Mouse, even when he was down and out. It sends a mixed message.
This movie made me feel crappy about Mary Poppins, a childhood favorite film. I enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks when I came out of the theater, but the more that I dissect it, the more I wish that I hadn't seen it.
SPOILER ALERT- SPOILER ALERT- SPOILER ALERT
There is a part of the movie that sums up my feelings towards Saving Mr. Banks... Towards the end of the film, Travers is having an emotional breakdown because she feels that in the script, Mr. Banks is shown as a bad father. The real life inspiration for Banks, is Traver's own father, who was loving, but a dreamer and a raging alcoholic. Disney asks Travers to trust him and that in the film, Mr. Banks will have his redemption and the world will see him as a kind and loving father. It's through Disney's version of the film that Travers will have the happy ending for her own father, even if it's only in a film.
Well, this is what I think Saving Mr. Banks is really about. In making Mary Poppins, Disney made an amazing and beloved film. However, he did not stay true to Travers vision and did not honor her wishes. Frankly, he pissed her off. Saving Mr. Banks is not a historically accurate version of the real events, but it is their fantasy version and a way of rewriting history and having redemption. In this version, they make nice with Travers.
The more that I read up on Travers, the more I fell her pain. Sure, she comes across as kind of mean and a nutball, but she is also an artist. Yes, she sold her rights to Disney, but it also seemed like they railroaded some of the conditions of her contract or at the very least, they didn't consider the spirit of her original story. It's not that Disney is so much the big, evil corporation in this scenario, but the whole situation feels bad. It's a lesson being careful about giving up your rights as an artist. A cautionary tale. I love Mary Poppins and I'm happy that the film was made, but I didn't like learning about the pain that it caused Travers. The situation is not as cutesy as it is portrayed in this Disney film.