One has to wonder what was going through the minds of the Disney company when they decided to make the movie Saving Mr Banks. Did they truly think that in the internet age they could control their image as the company has in the past? Did they think the real story wouldn’t come out? Or were they banking on the extreme likeability of Tom Hanks* and the immense talent of Emma Thompson** to overcome a story with no real tension, because we all know the movie got made? Let me be super cynical here and guess that they knew someone would cry foul over their rewrite of history and hoped the controversy would spark interest in what otherwise sounds like the sort of film I’d possibly watch on cable three years from now while working out when I couldn’t find anything else to watch. (That should be a new Oscar category)
But why bend history until it broke, unless Walt Disney went to hell and he’s coming before Satan’s parole board, so the company decided to make a PR film to bolster his plea for early release. I’m just guessing here. Really, why did this story NEED to be told this way? Why did it NEED to be such an unctuous lie? “See the Feel Bad Movie of the Year!” Is the company coming up on a special anniversary or something? Maybe the 100th year of all things Disney and they wanted remind everyone who built the empire? (It was actually Roy, the financial genius brother, but facts should never get in the way of a good story. Even original source material should never interfere with Disney’s version.)
The aims of the story told in this film seem to be twofold: make everyone believe that P.L. Travers was ultimately won over by the folksy charm of Walt Disney and she was happy with the movie he created; and convince us that she was a real cunt who deserved to be lied to anyway so it was okay that he did it, because his right to make the movie he wanted to trumped her right to protect her creation.
By every profile of her I’ve read, P.L. Travers did not suffer fools gladly. Amazing, talented, pioneering, intelligent, opinionated people often aren’t nice, except when you’re a woman because when you’re female, your personality will always be the main focus of criticism of your creative output. It’s unfair, but that’s how the game is played. Unless you’re P.L. Travers and you don’t give a damn, or perhaps you simply feel that strongly about some matters. Then you dig in your heels and say “No,” for personal reasons, for artistic reasons, for whatever reason you want to because it’s your art and you should have a right to protect it from the things you most despise. And what Ms Travers despised was animation, American film, and all things Disney.
If you squint hard enough at this movie, you see P.L. Travers fighting hard for artistic integrity. Those who don’t work to see her in a better light will only see an unreasonable woman being mean to America’s Uncle Walt. What a bitch! Amirite? But even that doesn’t bother me as much as the utter lack of honesty about what really happened. They didn’t show her crying in misery at the premier that she (allegedly) had to beg for an invitation to. Because Saving Mr Banks was made by the Disney Company, they decided to Mary Sue it rather than give an honest depiction of the rather callous way Walt Disney lied to her.*** Showing her being drastically unhappy with the finished product would
have made a much more interesting film. I wish they would have had the balls to reveal him as a ruthless bastard. Show him betraying his word, his honor, and not giving a damn because he got what he wanted. That would be braver. That would be a film worthy of critical acclaim. Poor P.L. Travers was dead right all along to mistrust him. Alas, because the winner got to write the script, she will go down in cinematic history as the villain of the piece. So I’m here to say that it doesn’t matter if she was the bitterest pill ever, she still had the right to protect her work without being criticized as a person for doing it.
* remember when he used to be allowed to play assholes in film? I miss that.
** Isn’t she the best? If I were ever to be stuck in a country house in England for a week, she’d be at the top of my list for people I’d like to hang out with, because, hey, writer and actor! And she’s funny. Plus she seems like the type who’d know how to play sardines.
***I will not argue that he understood much better than she how to make a
hit movie.She wasn’t the intended audience for his film. And it’s possible that nothing he did would have ever made her happy. That still doesn’t make it all right to promise something knowing full well you aren’t going to keep your word.