Saving Mr. Banks is purportedly the story of how the Disney movie "Mary Poppins" got made with the supposedly very reluctant cooperation of Mary Poppins' creator, P.L. Travers (pen name of Helen Lyndon Goff). Interwoven with the story of making the movie are flashbacks purporting to be the story of Helen's young life, from her family's move to the Australian town of Allora, Queensland, in 1905, to the death of her father, Travers Goff, in 1907. Both narratives are substantially fictionalized, and the backstory in particular, sentimentalized. For example, Mr. Goff is portrayed as dying of consumption (complicated by alcoholism), whereas in fact, his cause of death was influenza.
The actors in the backstory, Colin Farrell as Travers, Ruth Wilson as Helen's mother, Annie Rose Buckley as young Helen (nicknamed "Ginty") and Rachael Griffiths as the supposedly "very nearly perfect" aunt, do a good job of selling their portion, predictable as it is.
But, the real reason we went was to see Emma Thompson work, and she does give a memorable performance as the "fussbudget" version of P.L. Travers we see in the movie. Tom Hanks isn't quite the Walt Disney I remember from television, but close enough that he's believable, and his honest pleasure in his accomplishments, such as Disneyland, is quite credible.
What's kind of incredible, but endearing, is the Disney-ised story of making the movie, where California warmth and openness, exhibited by everyone from Disney down to her driver, Ralph, (Paul Giamatti), gradually thaw Travers' objections and get her on board. It appears from the preserved tape-recordings of the script sessions that Travers was just as exacting to work with as portrayed, but much more likely that she was fiercely defending the integrity of her intellectual property than that she was acting out unresolved grief at her father's death. Nor was she the xenophobe the movie shows. At the invitation of her friend, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, Travers spent two summers living among the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo peoples studying their mythology and folklore. After the war, she became Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe College and Smith College, so she was no stranger to American ways (although Hollywood IS its own country--). In 1960, she went to Japan to study Zen, so she was actually well-traveled.
In real life, the happy ending never happened, and Travers vowed never to let Disney have rights to any other of her works. She cooperated with the making of the "Mary Poppins" stage musical, only on the condition that no one else involved with the movie participate, freezing out Robert and Richard Sherman, who did the movie score, from providing any new music.
So, "Saving Mr. Banks" is humbug, but enjoyable and often amusing humbug.
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