Tuesday, 4 February 2014

"Saving Mr. Banks": a review

The film "Saving Mr. Banks" is one that's well worth a trip to the cinema. 

The film is about the conflict between Pamela (P.L.) Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) over Disney's adaptation of Travers's "Mary Poppins" stories into the classic children's film.   Both Travers and Disney are portrayed as supremely difficult people who irritate each other magnificently.

By the time portrayed in the film (early 1960s), Disney had been seeking Travers's permission to make a film out of her books for decades, particularly given the fact that Travers's books were a childhood favourite of one of Disney's daughters.  Travers had been refusing, essentially on the grounds that she didn't want her quintessentially British "Mary Poppins" stories to receive a "Mickey Mouse"-like Disney treatment.

The cultural clash between Travers's British reserve and Disney's Midwestern hyper-familiarity was stereotyped at times.

The film frequently flashes back to Travers's Australian childhood in small-town Queensland (Maryborough), and her relationship with her Irish parents, an alcoholic father and a suicidal mother.  The flashbacks convey the distinct impression that, in her story of the nanny with the magical powers, Travers was seeking to redeem her childhood and the significant adults in her life as she grew up.  As a result, she was in no mood for a "Mickey Mouse" or "Donald Duck" treatment of the stories.  Dancing penguins definitely need not apply.

Much more could be said about both Travers (a penchant for Eastern mysticism) and Disney (a pronounced leaning toward extreme right-wing politics) than the film chooses to do.

There is a strong supporting cast, with some notable cast members being Bradley Whitford ("The West Wing"), Rachel Griffiths ("Muriel's Wedding"), and Paul Giamatti ("John Adams").

All in all, this is an excellent film.  The honest portrayal of Travers's father's alcoholism and her mother's attempted suicide means that "Saving Mr. Banks" is not really a childrens' film, even if it is about the making of a classic childrens' film.

"Saving Mr. Banks" has much to say about how personal conflict between highly committed people affects the creative process, and about how our childhood experiences affect our perception of life as adults.

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