Go See 'Saving Mr. Banks' But Not With Your Kids

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If you are planning on taking your children to Saving Mr. Banks for a reanimation of the  feeling of seeing Mary Poppins forget it.  

Saving Mr. Banks isn't for the Janes and Michaels of today. I believe it is for us, the aging Baby Boomers who were the age of the Banks children when the Poppins movie premiered in 1964.

Image from Saving Mr. Banks
Image: Walt Disney Studios

Based on a PL Travers book, the original Mary Poppins movie is considered by many one of the top children's movies. For those weaned on the pixel artistry in today's animated flicks, Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews giant leap into a  chalk-drawn sidewalk doesn't impress. In 1964, it was revolutionary.

Saving Mr. Banks is the  fictionalized story about Walt Disney's quest to make the P.L. Travers book into a movie.  Emma Thompson plays the fussy, uptight, angry author  who flies to sunny Los Angeles from grey, dreary London to work on the screenplay.  During her two-weeks in L.A, Travers does everything  to thwart the movie as a musical and steal the thunder of the writer and musical directors.  (We all know the outcome of that battle, and have multiple earworms from the award-winning "Mary Poppins" songs.  I'll just leave it at that, in a most delightful way.)

Paul Giamatti makes the most of a recurring small role as her driver. Tom Hanks, who put on a pound or two and certainly had some cheek enhancements, is  good as Walt Disney. As my  fellow Baby Boomer husband said after the movie, "It's difficult to play someone convincingly that so many in the audience saw for years on television."

Interwoven into the story are scenes from Travers' dramatic childhood in Australia, her fragile mother, her alcoholic father, and the last-minute appearance of an aunt who comes to make order out of chaos.  Spit.  Spot. 

While it's hard to know what is fiction and what is fact, the movie is about the past.  Anyone over thirty will find a piece of themselves in many of the characters as we all have a past.  The question the movie poses is: Are we still living with our past?

The making of Mary Poppins is almost secondary to the plot going on inside P.L. Travers as she ponders how much control of the project to give up to the talented writers and musicians.

I said, "almost secondary."  If it were a Broadway show, the end of the first act torch song would be "Let's Go Fly A Kite."  But no spoilers.  

The musical score is one of the best things about this movie.  Listen closely and you'll hear "Hi, Ho, Hi, Ho, It's Off to Work We Go" under conversation in an early scene.  The score helps the plot flow through several scenes that I found unbelievable, including one where Disney takes Travers to Disneyland.  Implausible to believe that the Unhappiest Woman in the United Kingdom visited the Happiest Place on Earth.

The movie lasts exactly two hours -- I thought there were several possible endings before the real ending, but my family disagreed.  They felt each scene after the movie debuted at the old wonderful Grauman's Chinese Theatre tied the backstory from Australia to the California part.  Note: some of the scenes from Australia are why I don't think it is a movie appropriate for children.

The movie is worth whatever your village holiday rate is,  probably up a dollar or two to celebrate the season. We were afraid the theatre would be packed; there was a long line, all waiting to see Frozen.

I did not read the P.L. Travers book, but I was seven-and-a-half when I saw the movie; I remember everything about the day I saw Mary Poppins in a theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Palm Sunday 1965 was a memorable day for other reasons, but it also seered the memory of the movie into my personal archive. 

That day hundreds of tornadoes swept across the Midwest and killed dozens of Hoosiers and residents in nearby states.

We saw the first matinee of the afternoon, singing and dancing to the magic on the screen. I had never seen anything quite like it.  The colors were sharper; the animation wasn't like Saturday morning cartoons but woven right in with the live actors.  

The set, a word I didn't know at seven-and-a-half,  stuck with me until I went to London in 2011.  I was thrilled to see streets that looked like Cherry Tree Lane.  The Occupy movement closed down St. Paul's Cathedral for the first time since World War II, and I was heartbroken at not being able to sit on the "Tuppenence a bag" steps.  (I am aware that my little fantasy was probably filmed on a soundstage in Buena Vista, California, but let me have this.)

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