Saving Mr. Banks

saving mrs. banks imageLast weekend, Chris and I went to see the movie Saving Mr. Banks. It was a toss-up between that and The Book Thief, but the Disney movie won out because we were in the mood to see a feel-good film and expected the story behind Mary Poppins to deliver. Besides, I recently finished the novel, The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and needed to distance myself from Nazi Germany for a time.

The trailers I’ve seen for Saving Mr. Banks raves about Tom Hanks performance, and I love Tom Hanks (who doesn’t?) But I was entranced by Emma Thompson’s portrayal of P.L. Travers—the author of the Mary Poppins series (eight in number) written from 1934 to 1988. And although one would expect the creator of an eventual popular Disney movie to be…lighthearted, Pamela Travers was anything but. And that’s what made the movie both entertaining and moving.

As a former middle school teacher, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to know that I like sarcastic humor—if it’s done well. And though Saving Mr. Banks surprised me with its depth of emotion, I spent as much time laughing as I did empathizing for both young Helen Goff (Pamela’s birth name) and the adult P.L. Travers. Take a woman brought up in London with its proper ways, add a dose of in-your-face-honesty and a truly sarcastic nature and I couldn’t help but be both taken aback by her attitude while at the same time, admiring it.

For twenty years, Walt Disney attempted to buy the movie rights to Mary Poppins from Mrs. Travers (as she insisted she be called, although she was never actually married.) He finally convinces her—through her frustrated agent—to go to Los Angeles and meet with Mr. Disney (or Walt as he preferred) which is where the present story begins. It’s through flashbacks to Pamela’s childhood in Australia and her relationship with her father that we learn where the idea of Mary Poppins was born—and why Mrs. Travers was so hesitant to give control of it to a man she believed was lacking in many of the finer points of decorum.

If you’ve never seen the movie Mary Poppins, I suggest you rent it before viewing Saving Mr. Banks. It’ll give you a greater appreciation for the creativity that went into shifting it from a book to a movie—as well as the struggle the poor song writers went through to appease the author who had no intention of completing the project.

Every character, from young Helen Goff to Walt Disney to Ralph (Mrs. Travers’ chauffeur) will win a place in your heart. But I believe P.L. Travers will be the character you remember long after you leave the movie theater. You will laugh, I have no doubt, and if you’re like me, you’ll shed a tear or two, as well.

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