Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
I’m not too sure if I overhyped this film, or it was just not as magical as I had hoped. It’s difficult to explain. Here are two very magical people, Pamela “P.L.” Travers (played by Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks), and yet throughout the film I never really sensed any magic. But thats the point of the film, the same way that we wanted Walt (first name to distinguish between the man and the business) to gain the rights to the book.
I’m not trying to dismiss any instance that this film is still in fact a Disney film, and being so makes it undeniably biased toward portraying Walt as the charismatic person we’d all expect. Not only that, but that he fought, and fought hard to bring us joy and happiness not for himself, but us. It’s really difficult to separate the hidden agenda from the film, and the realistic expectations of the viewer. Are we ready to hear that Walt was nothing more than a businessman trying to make a book into a magical film and garner profit? I do not. I actually don’t think we’ll ever be ready to see the man as a business. He made Mickey Mouse for heaven’s sake!
But Ms. Travers “made” Mary Poppins and for that well I don’t think there is a parent in the world that cannot thank her enough. But what struck me as the most interesting plot of the film are the flashbacks (yes, I’ll get into them in a moment) and how we learn about the lady who crafted such perfection of a character.
Her childhood was bright, adventurous, and forever changing. Her father was an alcoholic, and her mother developed severe mental stress. These are some of the most powerful scenes (besides the day at Disney Land and when Walt visits London) in the film that really question if this is a Disney film or did we just change companies? This is not to suggest Disney have never created dark story lines, deep themes, or morally challenging scenes but for most of this film is is fairly plain. There isn’t much action or adventure – it seems at times that scenes are re-enacted directly from the Mary Poppins recordings conducted in the development meetings – slight instances of unnatural conjunctures.
What turned the film around for me though was the flashback during the meeting where Ms. Travers was staring out the window, and then when she danced. These two moments began that feeling of, “happiness is there is you want it,” and I felt that these were the people to make it happen. We all knew the ending, we all know that Mary Poppins was made, so we weren’t investing our time in the “will she or won’t she” game but rather why.
It’s a difficult argument to make from my standpoint, for as I see it here was this very stubborn woman that no one from the Disney scripting company knew what happened when she went back to her apartment. It was driven entirely off recounted events, a biopic, and the magic we call scriptwriting filler. I can sympathise with Ms. Travers and not wanting to let go of her identity, but I wish the film had done a little more with Walt’s equal feeling. As far as I understand, there is quite a process to get Walt’s portrayal into Disney films, and for no doubt an equally valid reason but to have him touch on the subject and not deepen the connection was hard to watch.
NOW the flashbacks. Bloody hell. I was honestly weighing up if I would be able to make it to the end of the film with the structuring of the film. It was quite structured, real life – flashback – real life – flashback – etc. and it became a distracting feature. If you can hold out for the first quarter of the film, then you should be fine. But I do believe the structure of the film could have been improved to have a far greater impact to the viewer.
So what does this film try to tell us? I do believe every film has a message, whether strong and forceful like Avatar or subtle like Saving Mr. Banks. I feel this film is two things depending on where you lie in the spectrum of films. If you are a viewer, an audience member, then this film is purely to tell you how Walt, and his team secured the rights to a book that had more protection than the Philosopher’s Stone. But if you fall into the category of creator, inventor, and protective owner then I believe it tries to tell you something more deeper than every story has a backstory. I think it’s aim is to tell us to share our works, let them be distributed and let people enjoy them. It is definitely not saying write them directly over to the public domain, but don’t hold on to them with a tight (strangling) hold. Not only in the sense of completion, but also development (which is a main chunk of this film). When you collaborate allow ideas to flow from others and allow them to tinker with your creation – but definitely do not allow them to change the original meaning.
In the end, Saving Mr. Banks is a film that disguises itself as the portrayal of two powerhouse creators, but by the end shows us that sometimes trusting people to make the impossible possible is just as powerful.