May contain some spoilers, though minor, because we all obviously should know that she does indeed sign over the rights, otherwise we wouldn’t have the movie “Mary Poppins.”
Chris and I get advanced screenings to a ton of movies since he’s in radio, and it is awesome. Last night, we went to see “Saving Mr. Banks,” the story about how P.L. Travers signed over the rights to her “Mary Poppins” to Walt Disney. My initial feelings about it were really positive, but after thinking about it for a while, I have some issues.
First off, it is an excellent film. That is not what is in question here. Emma Thompson is flawless, per usual. What I have a problem with is the whole “true story” thing.
This is a film about Walt Disney made by Disney. Disney is known for guarding its name like a dragon guards its gold, and so I was hardly surprised that Disney is portrayed as a smiling, insightful fatherly figure who just wants to keep his promise to his beloved daughters by making a Mary Poppins movie. There are no hints about the disturbing parts of his personality: his anti-Semitic beliefs, his exploitation of his workers, and his approval of countless racist characters in classic Disney films. Disney was a ruthless business man who built one of the world’s biggest corporations, he was complicated, and unfortunately, “Saving Mr. Banks” does not show that.
What was also frustrating to me pretty much immediately was a scene towards the end between Travers and Disney. It was right before Travers chooses to sign over the rights to her beloved book, and Walt Disney graciously pours her a cup of tea (just as she likes it) and tells a story about his childhood. He then tells her that he knows why Mary Poppins is so important to her and that she needs to forgive herself for her failings and release Mary Poppins into the world for all to share. Travers then signs over the rights in the presence of the giant stuffed Mickey Mouse she has been cuddling up with (something the real P.L. Travers would probably rather die then do). We then see her in brighter, looser clothes and writing again. Applause! Walt Disney cracked the shell of this unreasonable, bitter British lady and inspired her to live life differently now! Huzzah! Yeah, right. The end of the film shows her watching the final “Mary Poppins” product and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes (which were full of tears, mind you, simply because Emma Thompson is awe-inspiring). We don’t know this was how she reacted. This is entirely made up by the Disney corporation. This is how they WANTED her to respond, this is how they are rewriting the truth, or at least filling in the gaps, so we don’t walk away thinking, “Wow, this is basically a movie about how the Disney empire manipulated a writer into signing away her life’s work and ended up not actually following most of the instructions she had about the film.”
It’s a super well-done film, but it’s also basically another Disney fairy tale. Please keep that in mind.
Can we talk about how the two lead actors look SIGNIFICANTLY younger than the actual people involved in this story? This is typical Hollywood, but it was SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO obvious. It looks like they even made Tom Hanks look younger as Walt Disney than he does as himself. Come on.