Saving Mr. Banks: Practically Perfect In Every Way

Rachel Tropp
EE Senior Entertainment Editor

Most people are familiar with the movie Mary Poppins.  We’ve all watched it as kids, and we probably all used to know every lyric to the songs, like “Chim Chim Cheree,”  “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” What we probably didn’t know was exactly how difficult this film was to make, and I don’t mean in terms of animation and special effects.  The movie Saving Mr. Banks is all about how this favorite childhood movie came to be.

The struggle existed behind the scenes, between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books. For 20 years, Mrs. Travers refused to allow her beloved stories to become a movie, despite Mr. Disney’s repeated attempts to secure the rights. In fact, his 7-year old daughter had made him promise to get Mary Poppins on the big screen, and he refused to break that promise, even though his daughter was in her late twenties when the movie finally came out. The only reason Mrs. Travers agreed to produce the movie was because after 20 years in print, the money from the book was starting to run out, and, as she said, “I’d like to keep my house.” As the audience finds out, keeping her house was pretty much the only thing she’d like. But despite her misgivings and dislikes, she packed up her bags and went to California to put her two cents, and more, into the movie script.

One of her conditions was that every word of the production meetings be recorded–these  recordings created the factual backbone of the movie, as well as providing a glimpse into P.L. Travers’ own character.

Familiarity with the movie Mary Poppins makes it very amusing to hear Travers’ initial demands: she didn’t want any animation, she wanted a clean-shaven Mr. Banks, she didn’t want the color red in the movie, and she wanted absolutely no songs. Well, as we all know, she didn’t get any of these wishes; and I for one am glad–the movie wouldn’t be the same without them.

But the portrayal of P.L. Travers as a demanding witch, who also hates babies, stuffed animals, balloons, and pretty much any sign of joy, isn’t complete without the flashbacks of her past. About half the movie takes place in 1906, when Travers was just seven years old. In fact, the movie begins with a shot of Travers as a little girl, building a little house out of leaves and twigs. The opening line is: “Winds in the east, mist coming in.  Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin. Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, But I fear what’s to happen all happened before.” This is the same opening line as in the Mary Poppins movie, making clear that the story of P. L. Travers’ life is what has happened before, and that her life is the same story.

As the movie progresses, this only becomes more and more clear. Mr. and Mrs. Banks are her own parents, the Goffs; she and her sister are Jane and Michael. And Mary Poppins is real, too. It’s no wonder Travers resisted Disney’s ideas, as the characters were “family.” Really, really they were. Soon, it becomes clear that Travers’ family had no happily ever after. Her father was an alcoholic, and their family was deep in debt. But he always told his little daughter, whose real name was Helen “Ginty” Goff, to never stop dreaming. He said that this world isn’t real, and no one could force them to live in this reality.

Travers Goff was a banker, like Mr. Banks in the Mary Poppins story. It becomes clear that it was his struggle written into the story, although his redemption was only imagined. P. L. Travers, the coldhearted lonely woman, had layers. There were reasons she chose her lifestyle, and the Mary Poppins movie went against everything she wanted to feel about the people she once knew.

Saving Mr. Banks was brilliantly written and paralleled to Mary Poppins.  Every little detail of the movie was carefully designed to reveal something about P.L. Travers’ life, or to give some hidden meaning to the artistic choices in Mary Poppins. For instance, in Mary Poppins, we see tea poured milk first. Saving Mr. Banks shows that this was a personal habit of Mary Poppins’ author–its inclusion in Mary Poppins had been a tribute. Countless other details like this combined to make this movie simply profound.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. After all, “how-this-movie-was-made” movies are never great. But Saving Mr. Banks was simply fantastic, with its beautiful story and actors like Emma Thompson (P.L. Travers) and Tom Hanks (Walt Disney), and scenery that brought to life 1906 Australia and 1961 Disneyland with vivid color and accuracy . This movie was just so worth seeing; I ran home afterward to watch Mary Poppins and enjoyed it more than I ever had in my life. Although Mary Poppins had to leave when the wind changed, this beautiful story will never leave us.

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