The Connection Between "Saving Mr Banks" and "Mary Poppins?"

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
January 15th, 2014

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"Saving Mr. Banks" is a historical drama that documents the cooperation that took place between Pamela "P.L." Travers and Walt Disney in order to create a film adaptation of Travers' "Mary Poppins" book. Through flashbacks, the movie also illustrates the inspiration for much of the book: Travers' own childhood. It is an origin story of sorts, showing the inception of one of Disney's greatest works.

After 20 years of protest, an aging P.L. Travers reluctantly begins considering negotiations with Walt Disney. He has been trying to buy the film rights to her "Mary Poppins" for the last two decades, after vowing to bring his children's favorite childhood novel to the big screen. Despite her misgivings about movies, cartoons and general jolliness, Travers reluctantly gives in, because she is in dire financial need and at risk of losing her beautiful London home. Worried that Disney will defile her greatest work with cartoonish whimsy and sentimentality, she flies to Los Angeles to oversee the production of the film.

As she expected, the stern and rather dry Travers is sickened by the whimsical optimism and bombastic extroversion of Los Angeles. She sees these traits most clearly personified in her chauffeur, Ralph, and takes an instant disliking to him.

Upon her arrival at Walt Disney Studios, she is mortified by the movie's inclusion of songs and animation against her wishes. She is so disgusted by the liberties taken in the script that she casts it out a window. However, the thing that troubles her the most, and creates the most conflict between herself and the film team, is the studio's depiction of the father in the story-- George Banks. She feels that they portray him as overly harsh, unfeeling and not at all true to the original character. After a very emotional outburst about the butchered character, the team begins to realize how personal the story of Mary Poppins really is to her.

All the while, Travers is haunted by increasingly painful flashbacks to her childhood in Australia. She grew up with a suicidal mother and a charismatic, but severely alcoholic father. The only reprieve from her troubled youth was her sternly loving aunt, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the character of Mary Poppins.

Disney invites her to Disneyland in an attempt to get her mind off of everything that has been troubling her. Refreshed by the adventure to Disneyland and beginning to kindle a friendship with her friendly chauffeur, she becomes much more enthusiastic about the film. Much to her delight, she returns to the studio to find a much-improved George Banks. For a time, she enjoys working with the team, and everything goes swimmingly.

However, as soon as Travers discovers that an animated sequence is confirmed to be featured in the film, she confronts Disney before storming off. She had expressly forbidden the use of animation, and was furious that the studio had gone against her wishes. She revoked the film rights of her story from Disney, and returned to London.

After dredging up a bit of information about Travers' childhood, Disney gains new insight into her past and pursues her to London. He confides in her about the abuse that took place throughout his own childhood, and explains how therapeutic it is to work on cheerful children's films. He suggests that the same might hold true for her, and might help her move beyond her troubled childhood. Touched, Travers agrees to return the film rights.

Years later, Travers unexpectedly surfaces in Los Angeles, requesting an invitation to the premiere of the movie, from which she had been intentionally excluded. Against his better judgment, Disney allows her to attend.

While still scornful of the animation and some of the liberties taken with the story, the film gradually begins to grow on her. At the very end, when the character of George Banks is redeemed, she is touched to the point of tears.

Despite glossing over some of the more extraneous or controversial facets of the two main characters, "Saving Mr. Banks" stays remarkably true to the facts. The film is, at its core, a non-fiction tale, though liberties are taken with the parts of the story that were not well documented in history. Such ambiguities include the reason for Travers' opposition to the use of the color red in the film, her reason for crying at the premiere, or what exactly Walt Disney said to her at her London home to force her to reconsider the film. However, the fictionalized elements are portrayed very believably, and they mesh well with the angle of the rest of the film.