On Christmas Day, my parents and I went to see “Saving Mr. Banks,” a film about the story of Walt Disney’s decades-long quest to secure the film rights to Mary Poppins from her creator, P.L. Travers. Intertwined with this was a narrative about Travers’ rather bittersweet childhood, her father’s alcoholism, her mother’s issues with depression and the legacy of that history in her own life and her writing. As an author myself, it’s impossible not to realize that life experiences do inform creative work–even works of fantasy. Writing never happens in a vacuum, and most of the best fiction contains buried and transformed biography.
I won’t spoil the film for those who might see it, for it’s an interesting story, one I had little idea about, despite my lifelong love for Disney films. Tom Hanks, as Walt Disney, and Emma Thompson, as P.L. Travers, both acquit themselves wonderfully, as does Colin Farrell, as Travers’ alcoholic, ne’er-do-well but always well-meaning father.
Yet somehow the film is a very bitter pill to swallow, and doesn’t quite deliver on the idea that Travers’ fiction–and, by extension, Disney’s film of it–serves as a redemptive act that transforms Travers’ bitter memories. I think “Saving Mr. Banks” will likely enrich viewings of the film “Mary Poppins” for those who love it, as I do, but there were too many times I found myself wishing I were watching that film rather than this one. I’d recommend this movie for the performances and not so much the content.