Making the Grades
One might imagine that anyone who would devote their life to creating children’s entertainment or writing children’s literature, would themselves be a bit of a kid at heart. While that is likely true of Walt Disney (the animation giant who built a life-sized model railroad and village that he turned into Disneyland), it is surprisingly untrue of P.L. Travers, author of a series of books featuring Mary Poppins.
These two opposites finally meet after twenty years of negotiations fails to secure Disney the rights to turn Travers’ flying nanny into a movie. Walt (played by Tom Hanks) hopes a trip to Los Angeles, and the promise of collaboration with the production team, will woo the Londoner into signing the required legal papers. However, Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) is only considering the invitation and lucrative offer because of financial necessity. Still, she is too principled to just sell off her beloved characters. For her to even consider a deal, the film will have to be made to her specific instructions, with none of Disney’s magical flourishes, or worse yet—animation.
If anyone involved with the project ever thought the caregiver in the book sounded rather strict (Mary Poppins is described as “practically perfect in every way”), they are about to learn that the fictional character is nothing compared to the woman who penned her. Quibbling over everything from proper grammar to costume colors, Mrs. Travers tries the patience of Disney Studio personnel such as screenplay creator Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman). Even Walt Disney himself can’t seem to sweeten her sour disposition.
As the movie depicts this battle of creative titans, glimpses of P.L. Travers’ childhood are carefully intercut with the story. Here we learn about a young girl nicknamed Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley), her imaginative but often-irresponsible father (Colin Farrell) and her desperate mother (Ruth Wilson). As this tale of the past unfolds, so do clues to the author’s inspiration for her books and possible reasons for her present controlling personality.
Just as one can’t assume all producers of juvenile products have playful depositions, parents should be aware that this Disney film about a children’s novel being adapted into a kid’s movie is really not intended for young viewers. Instead it is a mature look at the impact childhood can have on adulthood, and the recovery that sometimes needs to happen to find peace in old age. Other themes that may be more than little minds wish to wrestle with include disappointments, depression, alcoholism and suicide.
Yet all that heavy content doesn’t mean Saving Mr. Banks isn’t appropriate for older teens and adults. This beautifully made movie combines superb acting, strong story telling and compelling lessons about growing up, no matter how old we may be. Watching these characters come to terms with their past brings great hope for the future, and offers sweet solace for anyone trying to heal the wounded child within.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Saving Mr. Banks.
The character of Mary Poppins carries a bag full of surprises, including cures for all ailments. Why might the idea of such a person with magical remedies be appealing to young children, and even some adults? Where can the real cures for life’s ailments be found?
In the movie we learn both P.L. Travers and Walt Disney faced challenges in their childhoods. Why do you think they responded so differently as they grew up? What does Disney offer as a solution to Mrs. Travers’ disappointments? How did he use that same approach in his life? Is there an application in his advice for the lives of others with emotional scars?
How does the relationship between Mrs. Travers and her driver (played by Paul Giamatti) evolve over the time she spends in Los Angeles? What things does she learn about him? What things does he accept about her? How does his outlook and deposition eventually influence the way she sees and feels about the world?