By Laura Speek (Denver, CO)


Saving Mr. Banks did not start out well for me at all. Because of my great admiration for Tom Hanks, my true enjoyment of the deep psychological drama of Captain Phillips, and the indelible memories I have of Walt Disney on Sunday night TV, I expected to be wooed and wowed. I thought for sure this would be a no-brainer, top ten hit. An hour into the film, I found myself thinking, “OMG, I love Tom, I love Walt – but I am NOT loving this movie.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting for a story line. I knew Mrs. P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books, (played by Emma Thompson) would be dreadful and tiresome with her negative, pernickety unreasonableness. Hats off to Emma, she out-prigged the most stalwart of English prim-and-proper behavior.

What turned me off was the flashback format, which started from the very first scene and persisted until the end of the movie. The flashbacks focused on Mrs. Travers as a little girl, cursed with a dashing, but hopelessly self-destructing alcoholic father. For starters, it was hard to determine that the child in the flashbacks was indeed Pamela Travers, as the child had so many names (Helen, Ginty, Princess, and Goff) that I wondered where in the heck “Pamela” actually came from.

Second, the alcoholic father continued to look healthy and dashing even as his alcoholism slowly took hold. I decided to dismiss this shortcoming however, when I realized that all parents, even alcoholic ones, are seen by devoted young children as brave and perfect.

In flashback, the family moves to an old farmhouse in outback Australia. The farm’s resident horse, referred in the movie as a “nag,” was actually quite gorgeous – maybe even a Lipizzaner – presenting yet another incongruity. Then there was a contrived and totally unbelievable scene when Helen-Pamela-Ginty’s mother reaches the end of her rope. Add in some heartsick enabling, the jarring strobe of constant flashbacks, and I was about at the end of my own rope.

In one glorious scene however, my dissatisfaction faded, and finally, finally, finally the movie started to come together and make sense. That scene was when Walt takes Mrs. Travers to the original, the real, the one and only – Disneyland. Seeing the flowers at the gorgeous entrance to the “happiest place on earth,” where I spent so many sun-filled days growing up in Southern California, brought tears, and memories, and opened a door to this movie’s redemption.

Watching Walt and Pamela walk down Disneyland’s Main Street as it looked in 1961 was a treat. I was so disappointed there wasn’t more of 1961 Disneyland in the film – and that the sole featured ride was “King Arthur’s Carousel.” I know it’s a landmark, and it’s easier to shoot than one of the darker attractions like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” but I so wanted more. Even “Dumbo” would have been good.

Nevertheless, the brief trip to the Magic Kingdom did seem to work some magic on the movie, at least for me. Walt was able to unlock Pamela’s secret past, to understand what was driving her ramrod rigidity, and to discover Mary Poppins’ true mission. The very best scene in the movie is Walt’s promise to Mrs. Travers to create a film where Mary Poppins succeeds in that mission, giving hope to struggling families and to children who still see the world through a lens of goodness. That scene should win Tom an Oscar nomination, though in truth, the movie is much more about Mrs. P.L. Travers than Walt Disney.

My bottom line on Saving Mr. Banks? This movie requires an investment in the first half, so the pieces can fall deliciously, but emotionally into place in the second half. In my opinion, it turned out to be a very good investment.

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