The comedic historical drama, Saving Mr. Banks brings to light the true story of Walt Disney’s attempts to persuade Ms. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins to surrender the rights. Played by Tom Hanks, Disney, who had promised his daughters two decades before that he would turn their favorite bedtime story into a movie, sought every method to persuade the obstinate author. The movie chronicles Ms. Travers’ eventual journey to L.A. and the resulting struggle over every detail. Above all, though, Ms. Travers refused that her book be trivialized into a cartoon. And before she would turn over the rights, she would put Disney and his small studio team to the test by asking continually more absurd requests, such as banning the color red from the film.
Still, it is when the movie leaves the comedy aside to approach the time-transcending theme of a creator’s rights that it concretizes into a discussion-worthy film that asks daunting questions. Is giving up rights to a work, truly selling out? Are important and personal details, like the names of characters in a novel, a betrayal of the work as a whole when neglected or changed?
Ms. Travers says of the characters of the book “they are family to me”, refusing to let them be infantilized by Disney’s studio. By conceding that they be immortalized in a musical Technicolor movie, she fears she would be betraying them rather than honoring them.
All her requests seem capricious until the well-timed flash-backs reveal the sweet but often traumatic occurrences in the author’s life that inspired the stories. Most centered around her father, the flawed character who inspired the Mr. Banks character.
“I’m at war with myself,” Ms. Travers said as she struggled between her less than rosy memories of her father with her self-righteous indignation of their characterization in the movie.
The youthful entrepreneur, Mr. Disney, or Walt as he preferred, tries to make her realize that even though her past torments her, she should not discard the good with her haunting memories. After all, it was the optimism of her stories that won over the laughs and minds of millions of children around the world. He said with the conviction, not of an entrepreneur but of an artist, “That’s what we do, we story tellers. We instill hope again and again and again”
If you go:
Stay past the credits for a surprise clip at the end.
In theaters, December 20.