Why Disney Didn’t Save Mr. Banks: A Review of Saving Mr. Banks

It’s a little startling when a movie starts out with an extreme closeup of someone’s face. Saving Mr. Banks does just that–thankfully, though, it isn’t repeated. That being said, the extreme closeup did make for a good opening, and a good introduction, to the main character: P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. In addition, the opening shot indicates what is to be the strength of this film: the characters.

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Saving Mr. Banks is, simply put, the story of the making of Mary Poppins. It revolves around Walt Disney and his employees, and their attempt to convince P.L Travers to sign away the rights of the book to them. Travers, though, doesn’t want to be compliant. She’s a perfectionist, picky, and demanding of everyone’s time and resources. In short, it’s not an easy experience for anyone involved.

The story follows Disney’s attempts to understand Travers’ connection to Mary Poppins, and what ensues is an oftentimes heartbreaking emotional roller-coaster.

I think that probably best describes this movie–it’s a roller-coaster. The movie plays out two plot lines simultaneously. The first is the story of Travers’ inspiration for Mary Poppins. This story takes place in Travers’ childhood. The second story is the story described above. Both stories influence each other.

By that I mean that it goes both ways; sometimes events in Travers’ childhood clarify or foreshadow events in Travers’ adventure getting the script written and the film made, and sometimes that’s reversed. Obviously there is a chronological order, but the way we perceive the film is with both plot lines playing out in conjunction, and affecting or foreshadowing each other.

That was a fascinating–and very effective–way of approaching this story. That’s not the greatest part of the movie, though. That’s just the set up for the best part of this film.

The characters in Saving Mr. Banks were absolutely stunning. Completely believable and rounded, each character was important. Instead of introducing secondary characters simply to push a plot point, each one was developed. Each one was a person.

Sometimes, when I’m writing, I find myself forgetting that I’m supposed to make the characters people. I think about “character development” and forget that all that is is a fancy way of saying “don’t leave the characters as characters; make them people.” These characters are people, and that is the strength of the film. The cinematography is good, the direction is as well. The acting, the score, everything is good–but ultimately this is a character story.

Sadly, though, the film didn’t finish as well as it could have. What do I mean by this? Let me explain.

There’s a line, somewhere near the middle of the film, where adult Travers says, in essence: “The movie you’re making is too whimsical. There’s too much silliness and absurdity. You aren’t giving children reality–you’re giving them an imaginative, but ultimately foolish, fantasy.”

The rest of the film is about Travers trying to come to grips with her past–to face reality. But at the end (and I won’t give details in order to avoid spoilers) she ends up living in a fantasy. I’ll leave it at that for those who haven’t seen it, but for those who have this will clarify a bit more: Disney saved Mr. Banks, which is supposed to be a symbol of, as you know, Travers’ father. And Travers’ loved it. She felt like Mr. Banks was saved. But given the events preceding this, we know that he wasn’t saved.

Travers ends up living in a fantasy–a story. Ultimately, her attempt to come to grips with reality only led to her fleeing from it. It seems an unintentional destruction of Travers’ earlier assertion, but it is a destruction nonetheless. The film makes it seem like Disney saved Travers. But really, Disney didn’t save anyone–Disney simply gave Travers an alternate reality in which to believe.

All in all, Saving Mr. Banks is an excellent film with a few drawbacks. The characters are superb. I highly suggest seeing it.

Note: This film includes many emotionally intense moments, as well as some complex themes (suicide, depression, alcoholism, etc.) that may not be appropriate for young children. It’s rated PG-13 for a reason. Take care in letting young children see it.

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8 thoughts on “Why Disney Didn’t Save Mr. Banks: A Review of Saving Mr. Banks

  1. I have not seen the movie yet. After reading your blog, I may give it a try. You are right about characters. It’s not enough to tell who they are. It is vital to experience who they are. You have to spend time in their shoes, and feel what they feel to understand their perspective. Good job CAL!

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  2. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant.
    On another topic, P.L. Travers’ comment about the “alternate reality” reminds me of the critiques faced by J. R. R. Tolkien about his books being a childish “escape from the real world”.
    Anyways, your review was great. I found the movie to be good other than the facts that they omitted relating to how Disney apparently “saved” Mr. Banks. The thing that they forgot to mention though was that Travers’ books were good and the Disney movie was… not.

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  3. I approached this movie with nothing but a one-line synopsis. And really, I’m surprised that I loved it as much as I did. I agree with pretty much all of your points on the good parts of the movie. The storytelling was superb – and I find I like character-driven movies much more than plot-driven movies. (Which is why Desolation of Smaug was a disappointment.)

    However, I think I must disagree with you as to the end of the movie. I don’t think that Disney necessarily saved Mr. Banks, only that he helped Travers to save him. And while there were some *minor* contradictions in the “reality versus fantasy” theme, I don’t think that the theme was “live in a fantasy to cope with reality”. It was, rather, that she came to grips with the good parts of her father’s life by embodying him in a fairy tale, so that she could forgive the bad parts of his life. Disney helped the process along by making the cycle complete – redeeming Mr. Banks in the movie, and completing the person that her father should have been.

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    1. Thanks for reading!

      Interesting take…I think I still stand by what I said, though. I didn’t see Travers forgiving her father, but ignoring her father’s bad by seeing Mr. Banks saved. I think they tried to push for the “accept reality as it is” theme. I’m just not sure the storytellers here recognized that they contradicted that theme at the end. Travers, as I saw it, accepted that Mr. Banks was saved. She was happy he was saved. But in real life, her father wasn’t saved. He did a lot of bad things, and, like I said, I never saw her forgiving him, only ignoring the bad.

      But regardless, thanks for commenting!

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  4. Ben size doğduğunuz güne pişman yapacağız! Ben size Karl adında kahverengi bir peysaj mimarı olsaydım yapacağız!

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  5. I’m an old friend of your parents. I have read a couple of your posts and I just wanted to say they are very well writted. I loved Saving Mr. Banks so much! I loved how the 2 story lines wove together to reveal the similar pasts of Travers and Disney. I liked the fantacy ending of Mr. Banks. I think it just gave Travers hope that not all lives end in such tragedy which helped her cope with her father’s tragic end. Whether she forgave him, or dealt with his reality, I don’t know. Anyway, well done review!

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    1. Thanks, Mrs. Donovan! I really appreciate it! That certainly is a very viable reading of the film, it’s always difficult to tell exactly what happens thematically in a story.

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