January 14, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks

Interesting commentary on the new film:
Perhaps if you love Disney’s Mary Poppins, you can shake your head indulgently at Travers’ misguided efforts to thwart the cinematic apotheosis of her magical nanny: Some people just don’t know what’s good for them. I confess I’ve never fallen under Mary Poppins’ spell, either on the screen or on the page, but for what it’s worth, my sympathies are rather more with Travers than with Disney.

Here’s how I see it: What makes Saving Mr. Banks different from Finding Neverland and Becoming Jane is that it’s precisely about the tendency of Hollywood in general and Disney in particular to reshape everything they touch, repackaging it into a palatable, reassuring something the masses want, or what the filmmakers think they want, instead of what it really is.
“Maybe not in life, but in imagination” is how Disney, in a crucial scene toward the end, describes the sort of “salvation” stories offer. He suspects Travers’ own stories are all about trying to “save” a Mr. Banks in her own life, not in life, but in imagination. Whatever liberties have been taken, at least the film confesses that’s what storytellers do.

Travers feels strongly that magical nannies should prepare children to face up to the realities of life and disapproves of leading children down the garden path of whimsy and sentiment. On the other hand, the realities of life do not include magical nannies, but they do include whimsy and sentiment. Wounded souls find respite from this vale of tears in different ways. Some turn to comforting, cheery tales like Disney’s Mary Poppins; Travers turned a different way, but the tenacity with which we cling to our preferred narratives, whatever they are, tells the same story.

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