One and a half weeks ago I went to see “Saving Mr. Banks” with my mom. It was an incredible film that has left me grappling with how to clearly communicate what it meant to me. I’m still not sure I can do it justice, but I will try. I will preface this by saying “Saving Mr. Banks” is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. The acting, the attention to detail, the weaving of the storylines, the heart, everything is practically perfect in every way. Mary Poppins is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve seen lots of documentaries and features about the making of the movie and what it meant to Mr. Disney. Perhaps for that reason, “Saving Mr. Banks” struck a deep chord with me as I watched PL Travers’ childhood and Disney’s struggle to bring her book to the screen. The screenwriters did an amazing job of interlacing Travers’ childhood with the making of the film and they left lots of little love notes to the original Mary Poppins for fans to find. I didn’t know much about PL Travers’ background and it was insightful to see how her formative years coalesced into her writing of the Poppins books. Without giving too much away, her father was very loving and well-meaning, but struggled with alcoholism and difficulty providing for the family – an “all play and no work” kind of guy. Walt Disney’s father was just the opposite – stern and hardworking, he made Walt work in his newspaper business at just 8 years old.
And here we come to the heart of the film – two adults struggling with the legacy of their fathers. Both knew they were loved by their fathers, but loved brokenly. Though I can’t prove it, I expect both Travers and Disney spent their adult lives unconsciously working to earn their father’s approval in their hearts, feeling that somehow their parent’s inability to fulfill their deepest need was a fault of their own. This tension is what makes this a brilliant “coming of age” film for adults. Disney movies specialize in “coming of age” stories for children, in which the main character learns an important truth about the real world and how to take one’s place in it. Mary Poppins is such a story. “Saving Mr. Banks” is the exact opposite – it’s the story of two adults reclaiming the joy of child-like living.
At the climax of the film PL Travers is upset and leaves without signing the rights of the film to Disney Studios. Walt Disney follows her home to England and shares his childhood with her. He tells her that he loves his father, but like her, there’s not a day that his bad memories don’t haunt him. And he’s tired of living that way. With the story of Mary Poppins, Disney promises Travers that Mr. Banks will be saved, that his memory will be redeemed, and they’ll both feel the joy of remembering their parents with kindness. Stories, Disney tells Travers, are the most powerful vehicles of hope that we have. Children for generations have looked into Mr. Banks’ face and seen their fathers. And, if we’re honest, we’ve all seen ourselves in Mr. Banks’ reflection too. Because he is all of us – he loves brokenly- but more importantly, he loves. And Mary Poppins reminds us all of this. But is this just revisionist history? A way to forget what really happened in their past? Our past? No, Mary Poppins does not change the past, doesn’t remake a new history. It gives us a new heart, a new way of looking at our past as a gift, new eyes to view ourselves and our family with grace and love. It gives us to hope to love, imperfectly yes, but to love nonetheless. “Saving Mr Banks” is a remarkable story of the creators of Mary Poppins and of the woman whose story saved them all.
Blessings to you,