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.
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.