Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

SavingMrBanks2by Brad Nelson   6/3/14
This is a somewhat fictionalized and sentimentalized account of the strained negotiations and birthing of the Disney film, Mary Poppins. The book’s author was the decidedly prickly P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson.

Tom Hanks plays the folksy Walt Disney. I think they’ve woven (created, perhaps) a very nice story out of the somewhat charred remains of the collaboration between Travers and the Disney team back in 1961. There could be some truth in the idea of Walt Disney as the intellectual property rights raider looking to Disneyize everything he could find.

And there could be some truth to the idealized Pamela Travers who so loved Mary Poppins that she resisted for decades any attempt by Disney to exploit these characters. However, Disney and “Big Animation” haters of the Marxist/socialist bent will find much to dislike in this movie. Walt (and, yes, I can call him “Walt”) is shown not as a corporate raider but a lover of good stories and a keeper of promises to his children.

And Travers is not seen only as a crusty old kook, but as a woman dealing with some past issues with her father that come to some resolution in the making of this feature film. And at some point you just have to agree that it’s okay to make a lovely story, regardless of what the truth is. And if you’ve read a bit around the web regarding this story, you’ll perhaps understand how much we need a good, pleasant, loving, and hopeful story — particularly because there are so many people these days who hate what is dismissed as “schmaltz,” their hearts hardened and tainted by Cultural Marxism and its disdain for the Disney ethos and all success stories not achieved via government.

No, this isn’t a political picture. But one should understand that we live in rotten times where so many people want to line up to piss on a good story, let alone a bit of Americana such as Disney. Well, I’m not one of them, and the Marxists can all go to hell. If you’re one of them, stay with this site. We can help de-program you. Just say the magic word: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Saving Mr. Banks is a title that won’t make much sense until you’ve seen the movie. Even then, it’s perhaps a bit of a reach. That final theme seems just a bit tacked-on. Nevertheless, it’s interesting watching this story — two stories, really — play out. Your time is almost evenly split between flashbacks to Pamela Traver’s life as a child with her father (played by Colin Farrell) and the 1960’s story set mostly in Southern California in and around the Disney headquarters.

Hanks is not a particularly good fit for Disney, but he’s become the dean of the “nice guy,” so I guess he works in this role for that purpose. A nice side story is that between Travers and her limousine driver, played subtly and convincingly by Paul Giamatti who, besides Emma Thompson, gives the best performance in this film.

And Thompson really does shine (grate, actually) as the prickly and caustic Mrs. Travers. She is an angry, picky, persnickety, and pugnacious old prune. How the Disney crew kept from drop-kicking her out the window is a near miracle.

Another welcome feature of this film is seeing Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman (played by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) construct the music for Mary Poppins, for whatever one thinks about the film itself, it’s surely the music that makes it work. It’s a blast seeing the tunes take shape, and I only wish the movie had spent a little more time with this great music.

Whatever the real story is between Disney and Travers, I just don’t care, particularly because I liked the one presented. But I am interested in how the book compares with the movie, so I started reading it last night. And you might be thinking as I am: Can such an iconic and charming book and character really have flowed out of the heart and mind of this caustic old crank?

So far in reading just the first couple of chapters, the movie squares very well with the book. And an entire Mary Poppins extravaganza could unfold, for now I must watch the movie again as well. This is one of the few features I remember seeing in the theatre as a kid. It was pure magic. And I’m glad that the producers of Saving Mr. Banks at least had the sympathy to not crap all over that magic with some modernesque “real” interpretation that was nothing but a dour and wanton exposition of warts. Instead, they have spun another layer of charm and magic around this beloved character.

Brad is editor and publisher of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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12 Responses to Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I saw Mary Poppins as a child, though I’ve never read any of the books.; but several friends have read at least some of the stories. I probably would like to see this at some point, though it would be better if it were more accurate. Indeed, I’ve seen it suggested that the movie does to the actual relationship between Disney and Travers what Mary Poppins itself does to the original story (and especially the nanny’s character).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And sometimes those changes in the story can be an improvement. Often the books are better than the movie. But none of those great songs are in the book. I think both have to be seen as unique things unto themselves, the movie not necessarily being a bastardization of the book. The two mediums are just so different that it’s unreasonable not to expect some artistic interpretation regarding making a book into a movie (although so many times this has been done so badly).

      But like I said, reading the first two chapters of the book, the movie looks just like the book…almost exactly. I’m sure it will diverge at some point. Apparently there are many more characters in the book than in the movie.

      And as for accuracy, I say “accuracy, smaccuracy.” This isn’t a documentary. It’s a movie. It’s meant to entertain. Granted, this having been put out by (or at least approved by) Disney makes it unlikely that it’s going to be an anti-Disney piece. But so what? Only the Left revels in self-immolation.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        My main concern with Mary Poppins was that they made the title nanny’s character treacly sweet, apparently unlike the original. (This sort of sweetness also appears in the cartoon of The Sword in the Stone, which — as with Mary Poppins — didn’t keep me from enjoying it. But I could use with a little less of it sometimes.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I will report back on the treacle aspect when I finish the book. But so far, she seems to match the Julie Andrews character (I watched a bit of the movie last night as well).

          Andrews is far less treacly in the movie than you may think. She’s a stern headmaster type, always just barely giving into a little playfulness — and then just as quickly denying that it ever happened.

          But I wouldn’t doubt that the Julie Andrews portrayal is going to be warmer than anything in the book — after all, this is Julie Andrews. She could read the phone book and bring on the warm-fuzzies.

  2. glenn fairman says:

    Definitely not what I expected. But it was a strangely beautiful film. When Travers views the finished product it was Niagara Falls for her….. and for myself.

    Greetings from lovely Catalina. They had free Wi-Fi at the arcade………..

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Hope the weather is nice. It was absolutely beautiful here yesterday on the upper part of the Left Coast. But it’s overcast today.

      I’m not sure what I was expecting with this film. I hadn’t heard a thing about it. My biggest surprise was seeing Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. I did a double-take on that. He’s not a good fit, in my opinion.

      And at lunch today I finished watching Mary Poppins, in Blu Ray no less. I doubt that I had seen this film all the way through (and not chopped up by commercials) since it’s original release in 1964 (possibly seeing it in 1965 in the theatres).

      Since then, I’ve only ever gave it a sidelong glance, never taking it particularly seriously. It’s not really the type of movie that you can just pop in on. There is a story there you have to get involved in. Any one slice of it caught out of context is going to look hyper-frenetic and like your typical mindless musical.

      I’m not likely to do a full review of the movie. Suffice it to say, I thought it was good. The music was excellent. And what struck me as the most superb part of the movie was the Step In Time number. This reminded me of the simple charm — and sophistication — of With A Little Bit of Luck from My Fair Lady which I consider one of the best song-and-dance numbers ever to be filmed. Period.

      Also, I was struck by just how many songs were in this, most of which I did not remember. Yes, everyone knows the great “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and possibly “I Love to Laugh.” But there are a couple other good ones as well, including “Jolly Holiday.” And most were pleasant enough.

      And if you ripped out all the songs you might end up with 15 or 20 minutes of actual normal dialogue. But because the music and dance numbers are generally superb, that’s a good thing.

      And while I consider “The Sound of Music” to be Julie Andrew’s magnum opus, I think for Dick Van Dyke this is true of “Mary Poppins.” And it’s interesting (a pleasure) to note that both Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews are still with us. The wind has not yet changed.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I would also mention Bye, Bye Birdie as a notable vehicle for Dick Van Dyke (starring in this case with Janet Leigh as well as Ann-Margret and Paul Lynde, among others — including an actual appearance by Ed Sullivan).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Yes, Bye Bye Birdie may be the movie that put Dick Van Dyke on the map. And he was great in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as well. But most of his unique talent was put into his TV shows rather than movies. Come to think of it, we have no Dick Van Dykes today, nor possibly is even such a persona comprehensible by today’s despoiled culture.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            He was also a nice middle-America type. I remember a radio ad he did a few decades back for King’s Island in Cincinnati (which I heard while listening to the Reds’ games).

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It’s also interesting to note the themes of “Mary Poppins,” and this connects with the subject matter of “Saving Mr. Banks” as well, of course.

    If the “Banks” movie is accurate, Mrs. Travers was a bit of a nut. Probably a libtard, especially if you take a look at the themes in “Mary Poppins.”

    The father, Mr. Banks, is the bad guy because, first of all, he’s a banker (prima facie evidence from the Left that there is something wrong with him). Mr. Banks is also suspect because he takes his job seriously. He works hard. He keeps his nose to the grindstone and expects others to do so as well (what we used to call a healthy work ethic).

    But all that is bad because we know that the perfect father is the loosey-goosey guy who is forever child-like and doesn’t take anything too seriously (sort of like the real father of Travers portrayed in “Saving Mr. Banks” who drank himself to death, but at least he would sometimes play games with his children).

    And all the bankers in this are shown as the crude stereotypes we see today. All they care about is money. And surely there is some truth in those stereotypes. But our modern world could not exist without banks and bankers. We have the (Marxist) luxury (for now) to berate them in light musicals and such. But we’d be screwed without them.

    Don’t you sometimes long to watch a film where the hard-working father (perhaps due to his hard work, is a little more distant from his children then he should be, but life’s not perfect) who is held in high esteem and the guy who is a bum and has multiple bastard children out of wedlock is shown to be the true menace to society? I know that’s the movie I would tend to write.

    Doubly odd is that, if the details are true as we in “Saving Mr. Banks,” Mrs. Travers’ father was a banker…and a drunk as well. And apparently he was fired for being a drunk (or nearly so). So you have this situation where the daughter (typical of liberals) is dealing with her issues of having a bad father by taking it out on bankers (and capitalism in general).

    So I’m cutting Disney and the makers of this film some slack. Whatever the truth is, it seems plausibly (as portrayed in “Saving Mr. Banks”) that she needed some “closure” regarding these father issues. And that these issues propelled her to write her books in the first place is our gain (well…I’m still reading her first book, so we’ll see about that).

    No, I don’t want to spoil the charm of either movie or of the character of Mary Poppins. But it’s interesting to note that way back in 1934 (when Mary Poppins was first published), these anti-capitalist, pro-forever-young themes were already a hit, at least in England.

    And most normal Americans agree that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Men, no matter how hard they work, need to also be fathers to their daughters and sons. I get that, and that aspect of “Mary Poppins” is a good one. And yet, seen in a larger context wherein today’s Left wants us all to be Bohemian-like artists and just flitter through life without a care in our silly little heads, perhaps the tonic for us is not to shirk all responsibility and to go fly kites but to honor the value of honest work.

    Is it any wonder that entire societies who have been propagandized on these themes have found it so easy to wander into the weeds of socialism and anti-social (anti-family) behavior? I’m not going to lay all that on Mrs. Travers. But there is that clear element in her writing.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m up to about chapter six in the original “Mary Poppins” book. You can get the Kindle edition for just $3.74.

    Maybe I misjudged Travers a bit. (Or not, considering general propensities). According to one reviewer in regards to this edition:

    Reading the books that I loved as a child was wonderful – until I realized that it had been edited to make it more socially acceptable. The chapter called “Bad Tuesday” involves a magical compass that transports the characters all over the world. The original work used the author’s vision of what the people would be like, and had used some pretty offensive stereotypes of the time. But the altered version completely changed the story, not only using animals instead of people, but changing even the storyline. Would have liked to be able to see the original work also, or at least been warned that the newer version was altered to that extent.

    I think I’ve started that chapter just now. I’ll see if it’s been politically corrected.

    And speaking of real stories, perhaps the real story of P.L. Travers would make for a good movie (or at least a suitably bleak one). Yes, I thought I smelled libtard and I was right. She’d fit right in with the typical intellectual Bohemian of the Left, living a trainwreck of a life in slow motion.

    Still, it’s often our wickedness (or at least pain) that can create great art. So far I would call the book, “Mary Poppins,” a pleasant enough read, but not quite great. But you can certainly see why certain people and events were chosen from the book for the movie and others left out. And it’s not because these bits are not interesting. But it’s just that they work better in book form and/or would have required animation (such as with a dancing cow who goes to the king to find out how she can stop dancing…the answer?…jump over the moon).

    On the other hand, you gain a real appreciation for some of the stupendously fine work Disney did with the film version with the bits they did use. The scene with can’t-stop-laughing Uncle Albert (Mr. Wigg) is just so-so in the book. The movie (especially with Ed Wynn playing Uncle Albert) adds so much sparkle to this scene that you can appreciate what creative movie people can really do with cinema.

    And this scene with Uncle “I Love to Laugh” Albert doesn’t just make up stuff. It follows the book almost item by item. It just enlivens it. The description in the book doesn’t capture 1/4 the liveliness or humor.

    The scene after this in the book (and the book thus far does seem to be somewhat comprised of one semi-independent “bon mot” scene after another) involves a dolled-up dog named Andrew. This is a good and funny piece of writing. This toy dog distinctly does not like being dressed up, pampered, and taken to be shampooed and bathed twice a week. He just wants to be a normal dog. It’s a wonderful send-up of those people who, shall we say, give their pets perhaps too much affection.

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    this story is certainly as unhitched from the reality of events as Traver’s book was from Mary Poppins

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