Hello everyone and welcome back to another #moviemonday. Last week I talked about The Devil Wears Prada which you should check out if you haven’t already and today I am going to be discussing Saving Mr. Banks. This movie is one of my favourite movies and when you watch as many movies as I do and when you study so many movies in great detail the way I do, picking a favourite is hard because you love so many but Saving Mr. Banks is without a doubt on my list so let’s dive into Movie Monday.
Saving Mr. Banks was directed by John Lee Hancock. The movie was released in 2013 and the plot revolves around the development of the 1964 movie Mary Poppins. Emma Thompson stars as P.L Travers, the very particular and proper author of the magical Mary Poppins. Tom Hanks plays the one and only Walt Disney and throughout this movie audiences watch him struggle to get the rights to get his movie made and accompanied by flashbacks to her childhood, we learn why Mary Poppins is so important to P.L Travers and why she struggles so much to let her go.
If you are a fan of watching behind-the-scenes specials then this movie will be your cup of tea because we get to see how the classic songs we all know and love such as Let’s Go Fly A Kite and the very poignant Feed The Birds were written and developed by the talented Sherman Brothers, along with many more scenes about how Walt Disney planned to take Mary Poppins from the pages of the book to the cinema screen all under the very strict eye of P.L Travers.
The movie’s main protagonist is P.L Travers. She is a very proper and rather serious woman who struggles to understand the magic of Disney. She is very protective over her character of Mary Poppins and she clings to the rights for dear life as she watches over the movie proceedings with very strict eyes. She seems impossible to please. She does not want singing, she does not want dancing, she especially does not want animation and if Walt wants the rights then he had better make her happy. Thompson plays Travers with wonderful levels of nuance. It would be so easy to simply write Travers off as a mean old lady but instead, Thompson gives us a woman who is lonely, a woman who is still grieving, a woman who had quite a difficult childhood, and most importantly, a woman who created Mary Poppins because when she was a child she needed her own Mary Poppins and now she is an adult and really the only thing that she is asking is that the story gets told properly. Her connection to Mary Poppins but more specifically to Mr. Banks is crucial to this plot and it is very moving and in my opinion, it will make you watch Mary Poppins in a new light however I will discuss this more when I am discussing the movie’s themes.
The movie shows us flashbacks of the childhood of P.L Travers, there we see her as a young girl. She was called Ginty by her family. Ginty is an imaginative child who adores her father. It seems almost impossible that this creative and wonder driven child would grow up to become so serious but as this movie plays out, we see that her childhood was not so idyllic.
Travers Robert Goff is Ginty’s father. He is a doting father, he is imaginative. He encourages Ginty to dream and play and use her imagination but his struggles with alcoholism cause him to repeatedly lose jobs, which puts financial strain on his family and mental strain on his worried and overwhelmed wife, Ginty’s mother. Despite Ginty’s rose-tinted view of her father, he is an ill man and her world crashes down when he becomes fatally ill when she is only a young girl. His illness caused the arrival of Ginty’s put together and rather stern aunt and it becomes clear that this aunt is the inspiration behind Mary Poppins.
Her relationship with her father is why Travers struggles so much to let Walt Disney have the rights to Mary Poppins because she is afraid of how Mr. Banks will be portrayed. She insists he is not cold or cruel and he does love his children but he’s just struggling and it soon becomes clear that Mr. Banks is not some fictional father she created, but her father – and I will elaborate on this point in the themes section of this discussion.
Tom Hanks plays a charming Walt Disney and despite his frustrations with her, he always treats Travers with respect. He wants to make a magical movie. He promised his daughter he would, because she loves the book Mary Poppins. He wants to create magic that children can share with their parents and he is an imaginative man, he sees the wonder that Mary Poppins can be, he wants her to be a beloved character and he believes she will be, but he can’t do it without the rights so while Travers is in Los Angeles, he is determined to win her over. As the movie goes on, Walt begins to see that this story is deeply personal to Travers and he understands this, he shares his own experience with her in a wonderfully delivered monologue about Mickey Mouse. The two weeks Travers spends in Los Angeles with Walt Disney allow her to remember the imaginative little girl she used to be and both Thompson and Hanks play their parts extremely well.
At Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Travers meets an ensemble of new characters, the creative team – Don DaGradi the screenwriter and Richard and Robert Sherman the music composers and her driver – Ralph who she develops a sweet friendship with during her two weeks.
The team are surprised by Travers’ lack of enthusiasm about the movie, and they do not know that Disney does not yet have the rights, but over time they understand how personal this is to Travers and they strive to make the movie something she will be happy with. I love this ensemble because it is so much fun seeing the songs being written and developed and the frustration behind the creative process but I also love this ensemble because it is clear that these characters love what they do and they are at their best when they are in the studio creating.
This movie is an incredibly poignant movie and the themes it presents are very emotional and at times I do believe that people will be moved to tears.
The relationship between children and their fathers is a very obvious theme but I would argue it is the most crucial one because the relationship that Travers had with her father is the key to understanding Mary Poppins. Young Ginty idolised her father and it is heartbreaking when you see the look of devastation on that child’s face when she learns that he is drunk and he is ill. This fun, creative, imaginative man, her hero is ill and she knows she will lose him and this loss impacts her greatly. As an adult, Travers reflects on her childhood and of course as an adult, she understands her father more. He loved her but he couldn’t help himself. He was gripped too tightly by his struggles with alcoholism and then he got sick but as an adult, Travers understands that it was not his fault.
The character of Mr. Banks is so important. We know from the movie Mary Poppins that he is quite an absent father. He is always working very hard in order to provide for his family, and while he does love his family, he does not always make time for his children and he does not listen to them. He has become so wrapped up in his world of work that he does not understand the simple wonders of childhood, such as flying a kite which is why he cannot understand his children’s disappointment when he tells them he does not have time to mend the kite. The children of course don’t just want the kite, they want to spend time with him because children love their parents despite their flaws and very often, we don’t understand the flaws of our parents until we grow up and realise that our parents are also real people too and not just ‘mam and dad’.
Mr. Banks is not just a father. Travers is writing about her own father and that is why she is so emotionally attached to him. She does not want him to be portrayed as cruel and cold because he wasn’t. He just had some worries of his own. The key thing Travers wants is for the story to be told correctly. Mary Poppins is not there to save the children, she is there to save Mr. Banks. It is an incredibly moving scene when it finally clicks and Walt realises that Mr. Banks is her father and so then the story finally makes sense. The fictional Mary Poppins does what the inspiration behind her could not – save the father before it’s too late and so, the ending is changed. Mr. Banks wakes up and finally realises that his children will be grown before he knows it. He does not want to wish their childhood away so he fixes the kite and the movie ends with him and his wife skipping off with their children to go fly a kite, and the children are delighted to be spending time with their parents. The change makes Travers weep and again, Thompson gives a wonderful performance when she learns that Mr. Banks will fix the kite, that he will be redeemed, that her own father will be redeemed and in the movie anyways (because I’ll admit, I suspect some historical accuracy was overlooked for cinematic purposes) this is what finally convinces her to trust Disney with the rights to Mary Poppins because he and the creative team finally understand that it is not the children who are saved, but their father and she will sign over the rights because the story is finally being told properly.
There are other themes that run through this movie, imagination versus logic – which of course runs through Mary Poppins too. Both films deal with the idea that although logic is of course important, it is also important to acknowledge the importance of one’s imagination and creativity. Without imagination, without creativity and wonder, something is lacking and we must always leave a little room for the impossible.
Ownership is another theme running through this movie. Both Travers and Walt Disney feel a sense of ownership over Mary Poppins. Travers because of how personal it is to her and also because it is her book, she wrote it, she created these characters so her ownership is much more valid than Disney’s however Disney feels that he can tell this story, he wants to create something magical, not just for his own child but for all children and for their parents. He believes this is a story worth telling and he believes it will be a classic and he too understands turbulent relationships with parents so he sees some of his own father in Mr. Banks and I feel that many people will too. Mr. Banks is not just Travers’ father, he becomes everyone’s father because in him, we see the flaws of our own fathers but ultimately we love them and they love us and that is why this movie is so poignant.
Although it is covered in the flashbacks, alcoholism is touched upon in this movie, we see how much Ginty’s father relies upon drinking in order to get through his days, and we see him lose jobs and become argumentative and we see him spiral to his lowest. It is a tough watch because when watching, you just know that this can only end badly.
The movie jumps between the past and the present very fluidly. As certain things happen in the development room, we see the past because the current happenings are triggering memories for Travers and we get brought back to her childhood. We see crucial moments of her childhood and you can begin to piece together how those fundamental moments shaped the idea behind Mary Poppins. Something that I really enjoyed is the colours that this movie chose to use. Walt Disney Studios looks practically perfect. It is bright, it is airy, it is cheerful. It seems like a place where it is impossible to be unhappy but Travers somehow manages it. The flashbacks to her childhood get progressively more dull. At first when she is remembering her father and the games they played, it is bright and idyllic looking but as time goes on and he can no longer hide his alcoholism from his daughter, the picture seems duller, as though that rose-tinted view is becoming dusty. It’s very subtle but very powerful. The music breaks up the poignant atmosphere and within this very moving movie, there are moments of pure joy. The scenes in the studio are so much fun and despite the creative differences and the tensions, the creative scenes are always bursting with life and ideas and songs and it is great fun to watch talented people do what they do best and love what they are doing.
I could talk about this movie all day. It is one of my favourites and although it is very emotional and very moving and not exactly the happiest of movies, it will always be one that I say is a must see movie. I believe that everyone should watch this movie at least once. The actors did a wonderful job. The story is compelling. The music is so wonderful and it provides that perfect touch of nostalgia. This is a movie that will make you laugh and make you cry and you will walk away feeling moved and I do believe that after seeing Saving Mr. Banks, you will always see Mary Poppins differently too but in a good way as I feel the movie has become more layered and more meaningful.
Have you seen Saving Mr. Banks? If so, let me know what you think of this movie. I love reading your comments.
This has been Movie Monday. I hope you enjoyed it.