There are some people who just despise the Walt Disney Company, and to them, anything the Mouse produces must somehow be garbage, culturally deviant or both.
Many, I suspect, are part of the generations who grew up with Disney as the flagship of family entertainment, only to be mortified by the company’s later acquiescence to the homosexual agenda and betrayal of the values that made the Mouse a media juggernaut in the first place. And after Disney acquired ABC in 1996, many of these disgruntled viewers, it seems, swore off the Mouse as the maker of sewer stuff rather than family fun.
And that’s unfortunate – because Disney is still making some top-quality, family-friendly and value-affirming films, including “Toy Story 3” and the movie I’m convinced may just be the best of 2013: the incredibly moving, often funny, brilliantly made and redeeming film, “Saving Mr. Banks.”
The film is based on the true story of how Walt Disney convinced British novelist P.L. Travers to grant the rights to make her “Mary Poppins” books into a film, which, of course, became the classic Disney hit starring Julie Andrews that went on to win five Academy Awards.
Yet Walt Disney had to twist Travers’ arm for 20 years before she granted the rights, and even then, the particular novelist demanded creative input and final approval on many aspects of the movie. The two titans of arts and entertainment clashed repeatedly over the direction of the film, both before and after it was made, a relationship that was formed in fire and was still smoking when Travers died, 32 years after Julie Andrews lit up the screen.
So who better to play these sparring partners than the amazing actress Emma Thompson and accomplished actor Tom Hanks?
In “Saving Mr. Banks,” audiences are treated – nay, I say privileged – to witness Thompson at the peak of her Oscar-worthy talent, playing a complex and wounded woman who has put on so many facades, she has to cling to her character Mary Poppins like a life preserver against Disney’s creative waves, all to protect the traumatized little girl within still grieving the pains of childhood.
When Disney talks about his theme park and the “child in all of us,” Travers responds of said child, “Maybe in you, Mr. Disney, but certainly not in me” – yet the feisty novelist is more than any in the film fiercely guarding the child within and the all-too-fresh wounds she still feels decades later.
“Saving Mr. Banks” gives us bits and pieces of that childhood, weaves them in agonizing parallel with Travers’ process of releasing creative control over her character, and the result is a powerful, moving picture of healing, hope, forgiveness and redemption that left my wife and me speechless afterward.
At a critical junction in the film, where the two key characters sit and discuss the novelist’s father, Disney says to Mrs. Travers, “Forgiveness. It’s what I learned from your books.”
But Travers will need to take her own books’ medicine – spoonful of sugar or not – to reach the film’s tear-jerking, inspiring, breathtaking conclusion.
Now, for some audiences, there’s still no way they will see “Saving Mr. Banks” – no matter how glowing my review or well-deserving the film is – because after all, it’s still made by Disney. But I would recommend instead, rather than boycott everything Disney makes, boycott the bad stuff and bless the company with your box-office dollars when it makes the kinds of films you actually want to see. And I’m telling you, you want to see “Saving Mr. Banks.”
For I have hope that if audiences give movies like “Saving Mr. Banks” the attention they deserve, Walt Disney’s company can be redeemed, just like Mr. Banks.
And as Disney himself (or at least his character) says in “Saving Mr. Banks,” “We storytellers, we instill hope – again and again and again.”
*P.S. – Stay to watch the credits, as some audio is played from the actual P.L. Travers and the making of “Mary Poppins.”
- “Saving Mr. Banks” is rated PG-13, but not for language, as it contains only 9 minor profanities.
- The film has only a few instances of some very veiled innuendo and no significant romantic or sexual content.
- The movie also has nearly no violence, but parents should be warned: There are some hard-hitting themes in the film about mortality, suicide, sickness and death. This really isn’t a children’s movie anyway, but Travers’ traumatic childhood is depicted in heartbreaking detail. There is some blood seen.
- The film makes a couple of reference to religion, as Travers displays a book on the teachings of mystic G.I. Gurdjieff and travels with a statue of Buddha, seen a couple of times in the film.