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Reviewing Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks"

Posted by hughrandle@gmail.com on December 25, 2013 at 9:05pm


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of checking out the new Disney movie, "Saving Mr. Banks". I had been anticipating the release after seeing the previews late in the summer and I have to say that in spite of several months of expectation, the film exceeded my best hopes for it. For those who don't know who Mr Banks is, let me give you a little lesson. In 1964, Walt Disney, after a 23 year negotiation with Australian author PL Travers finally released his film version of her book Mary Poppins. The film, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Vandyke, was an immediate success and was one of the amazing accomplishments of Walt Disney's last two years of life (the four exhibits of the 1964-65 New York Worlds Fair, Mineral King ski resort in California, the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion attractions at Disney, and the Winnie the Pooh movie were some others). In the film, Mary Poppins comes to the Banks family- Mr.Banks, a proper English gentleman of early 1900's London, his wife, Winnifred, a suffragette and fairly absent in her childrens lifes and the children Jane and Michael. Throughout the film, Mr. Banks is portrayed as obsessed with his banking career and the "perks" of being a man of the era- pipe and slippers ready when he arrives home, children seldom seen and never heard and everything in its place. English actor David Tomlinson plays Mr. Banks and gives an amazing performance. Getting back to the movie. Without ruining the film for those who wish to see it ( and I highly recommend it to any parent), I will give you a brief synopsis. PL Travers, played fantastically by Emma Thompson, was a prim, proper and pretty blunt woman with an almost fanatical devotion and protection of her Mary Poppins character. Walt Disney, played with equal aplomb by Tom Hanks, was a creative genius who had promised his daughters Sharon and Diane early in the 1940's that he would acquire the rights to the Poppins stories and bring them to the silver screen. In 1961, Walt finally convinces Travers to come to California to continue negotiations. The movie hilariously portrays what had to be a stressful first few meetings between Mrs. Travers and Disney's creative team of Don DiGradi, and Robert and Richard Sherman. Travers had many demands of Disney among them not using the color red anywhere in the movie, not using any animation, and not using Dick Van Dyke for the chimney sweep Bert. Eventually, Disney is able to do all of these things in the finished movie, but not without many trials and tribulations. The movie flashes back to Mrs Travers' childhood on the Australian outback of the early 1900's. It deals with her father and throughout the use of flashback, we find out exactly why she was so protective of the Mary Poppins character. Finally, with much coaxing and a trip to England, Walt Disney in a very touching scene gets the consent he is looking for from Mrs. Travers. It is with the last scene that I want to add some personal reflection into this film review. It is difficult to do so without spoiling the main part of movie. P.L. Travers invites herself to the 1964 premier of the movie in Hollywood. Disney hadn't invited her largely because he felt she would be critical of the movie to reporters and ruin the box office returns. She appears anyways and snidely comments that her invitation must have been lost by " that U.S. Postal Service of yours". During the screening of the movie, Emma Thompson exhibits what must have closely mirrored the reaction of Mrs Travers brilliantly. From head shaking, to out and out bawling, it must certainly be a Academy Award nominated portrayal. It was during this scene also that I realized how much Mary Poppins, a movie I have watched over and over with my children really means to me. My 18 year old son, who has autism has loved Mary Poppins from infancy, and knows the songs and dialogue inside out. During the final scene, he turned to me and said "Isn't it lovely?" I could see that this movie, just as the Mary Poppins movie originally did, touched him- it reached beyond the autism and touched him in a powerful way. My 16 year old daughter, who finds things nowadays less and less impressive wiped a tear from her eyes. She claims she had something in her eye, which I knew was untrue, but I could see that the scene had touched her as well. Me? Well, anyone that knows me knows that I am a softie during movies and my goal is to only view movies that move me. I don't have enough hours in my life to waste on a movie that doesn't motivate, stimulate me to action or invoke my emotions. I had tears rolling down my face. As a divorced father who many times over the years wish that he had given his children a more "traditional" upbringing ( if that truly exists anymore), I saw my relationship through the eyes of Mr. Banks. I had my years of paying more attention to work, and being oblivious to how much my kids didn't care how much money I made compared to the time that I spent with them. As we sat in the theater, years of an evolving relationship with my children flashed before my eyes. How quickly they had grown, how amazing they have become as young adults, how I learned before it was too late what parenting really means, and how I feel for so many of my friends and others that I see everyday who still haven't learned the priorities. The songs of Mary Poppins have such meaningful lyrics and it is in the last song of the movie "Let's Go Fly A Kite" that Mr. Banks is truly saved. You need to watch the movie to get the full emotion of it, but I will say this- go in preparing to be taught. Go in with a mind willing to see your relationship with your children in an honest light. Go in with the mindset that what you do or don't do for your children now ( and I am NOT talking about the material things) will affect them for the rest of their lives. As the song says "With tuppence for paper and string, you can have your own set of wings". Tuppence is English for a small amount- a pittance. Its not the amount, its the attitude. Enjoy "Saving Mr. Banks" for the acting of two brilliant actors Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. Enjoy it for the story of the making of Mary Poppins. But most of all enjoy it for the lesson that Mary Poppins teaches us as parents, particularly us dads about what it takes to be a father. It is a biological reaction that makes a person a birth father or mother. It is seeing what your children need most from you that makes you a parent. The lessons are there....enjoy the learning.

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