The Wife and I saw Saving Mr. Banks a few weeks ago at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, and it was well-crafted, with Emma Thompson quite good as P. L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins. Even more impressive was Annie Rose Buckley, in her first film, as the writer as a child. I immediately “recognized” the composing Sherman brothers (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), and other performers, including Bradley Whitford as a Disney creator and Collin Farrell in the flashbacks as the future writer’s father.
So why has it taken me so long to write about this film? Was it about Meryl Streep lashing out at the memory of the real Walt Disney over his purported sexism, at an event honoring Thompson? Nah, that’s not it.
Was it that Tom Hanks was snubbed for an Oscar? Did not see Saving Captain Phillips (yet), but there were stronger folks in the supporting actor category, where his portrayal of Walt Disney would have been placed.
It’s that, from everything I’ve read, the movie is just too far from the truth for my taste. I expect biopics to combine characters, mess with timelines, and the like. This, though, is what my friend Steve Bissette called “the usual corporate product revamps of reality”, though “far less terrible than projected by many.” Bissette, citing the 1999 book MARY POPPINS, SHE WROTE: THE LIFE OF P.L. TRAVERS by Valerie Lawson:
It was Julie Andrew and her husband Tony Dalton Disney personally toured Disneyland with [not Travers], Disney made no trip to London to seal the deal (contracts were signed before Travers went to L.A. to work with the team, and were revised/renegotiated on fine points afterwards), Julie Andrews kept Travers personally up-to-date on the changes being made and fidelity to her character/books, there were no words between Disney and Travers at the L.A. premiere, the whole relationship with the limo driver is pure confection—and as a Gurdjieff devotee, Travers would have reviled the Freudian conceit of the movie.
Although, he adds:
Much of the film IS reflective of what went down, with far more attention to the actual history than most Hollywood films ever, ever give to their own… It’s clear from Lawson’s bio that Travers profited mightily and knew going in and through the process what was going to be done and was done, and did her utmost to ensure some control. The contract Disney extended and honored was extraordinary in its day and today is even moreso.
But knowing SO much is made up – the driver is the one character who humanized her – made it more disappointing, in retrospect.
Still, it LOOKED right. I bought that this was Disneyland, that these were Walt’s employees who he insisted call him by his first name.
Bottom line: you may very well enjoy Saving Mr. Banks. Indeed, I rather did, in spite of my reservations, though the aforementioned Freudian stuff was a little weird. Just don’t believe everything you see.