Saving Mr Banks: The Spoon Full of Sugar that Makes Disney History Go Down

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Movies


With Tom Hanks as one of the stars it will be a forgivable error for some moviegoers to think that Saving Mr. Banks is a Saving Private Ryan sequel.  Sure this story about the battle between Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers over securing the film rights for Poppins does involve trench warfare, back lot subterfuge and eyes like daggers exchanges but there are no casualties.

Depending on the movie critic there is even a split divide as to whether Walt Disney is the real villain of the story.  Half claim that this Disney produced feature hides the secret Walt: the bullying patriarch all smiles until crossed, the slave driver, the union buster.  The other half decries the closeting of the essential Travers who was definitely not the prim and proper English (she grew up in Australia) woman and stern harridan who eventually yields to the Disney soft peddle depicted in Mr. Banks.  Travers had numerous not so secret affairs with women (and some men), dabbled in Gurdjieff mysticism, and probably smoked Peyote and took Mescaline during her two year sojourn with the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo Indian Nations.  Disney won the war and thus the right to show the Disney version, which by necessity cannot be rated higher than a PG-13.  Travers so hated the Disney Mary Poppins, especially the animated sequences that she never consented to a sequel being made.

In Saving Mr. Banks the Disney version gets the foreground and the Travers version the background.  The back story told in flashbacks and winces on Emma Thompsons’s face whenever a precious Freudian moment is needed to explain her constipated reply for anything that veers from stricture to its Disney-fication, involves the sad turn of the 19th century Outback tale of Helen Goff devoted daughter of Travers Goff and the slow realization that her father was an chivalrous alcoholic with a big imagination and gift of gab living an undersized and debt ridden life as a bank officer.   That childhood trauma works itself out as Disney and his devoted staff sings, dances, and takes Travers to the happiest place on earth in an attempt to get reasonable concessions that will get her to sign on the dotted line.  It’s all a little too neat and psychotheraputic, becoming more of I’ll tell you my sad formative childhood trauma if you tell me yours.   Director John Lee Hancock as he did in The Blind Side takes a true story and massages the trauma until it releases a happy ending.


Still, this off kilter little sexless rom-com works.  The soothing idea that imagination is the miracle that allows children to rework their parents into the story and family that they all want and deserve, well that is just pure…. Disney.  Yes, it may have all started with a mouse but that sad back story is the reason that Disney Princesses have taken over the animated world.  Giving order to chaos and painting despair with the bright crayons of hope is the reason Hollywood dreams.

Saving Mr. Banks gets an A- from me. 

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