Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Saving Mr. Banks
As if in response to Randy Moore's comic horror film "Escape from Tomorrow" which appeared at this year's Key West Film Festival, comes John Lee Hancock's (The Blind Side) solidly entertaining "Saving Mr. Banks", a somewhat revisionist expose on Walt Disney's working relationship with the author of the book Mary Poppins.
The wonder of the film is that with the liberties that it does appear to take with the author's life (there is scant evidence that author Travers saw her mother's suicide attempt, or that the father died from alcoholism) the film is absolutely riveting in its drama of the charismatic Walt in a perpetual maze with Pamela, or more properly, Miss Travers.
The excellent Emma Thompson plays the Australian author and she is perfectly on point. Disney is incarnated in the body of Tom Hanks and Hanks' transformation seems to possess something easeful and supernatural. Gone is his Everyman persona. Hanks has a Los Angeles shark's smile with P.T. Barnum in the pluck of his white gloved fingers.
A friend of Mickey is born every minute.
Disney will stop at nothing to acquire the rights to Miss Travers' beloved Mary Poppins and he turns on an overload of sweet charm that would make many a used car salesmen roll his eyes in caution.
But Travers won't stand for it.
Arriving at a bright blue vision of Southern California reminiscent of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" and TV's "Mad Men", Travers is assaulted by an avalanche of stuffed Disney animals in her hotel room straightaway. She breaks into a fit of nerves, chucking the plush bestiary in the closet.
It is a panic that is almost religious in its intensity.
Disney has his own monomaniac vision; he wants a wondrous musical for all ages complete with avian animation.
Travers cuts Disney to the quick and the happiest man on earth resorts to smoking, although it is not depicted onscreen.
The grinning and candy-striped Sherman Brothers who constantly consume sugar (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) dandily take to the piano in the hopes of coming up with silly affectionate songs.
"No! No No!" is the invariable response.
Walt is vexed.
Poppins is family to the author, modeled after her own great aunt. Travers can't let her iconic characters become cheapened to a juvenile cartoon. This vehemence especially arises concerning the character of the father when Disney requests that he have a mustache very much like Walt's own.
In the film, Mr. Robert Goff (portrayed with pathos and warmth by Colin Farrell) is playful and sensitive, moonlighting with revolutionary socialist ideals.
Alas, he is a banker by day and turns to the bottle.
Travers is bitten by daydreams of guilt.
This makes some stirring emotional impact with episodes not aimed for the extremely young at heart.
More profound though is the role of the driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti). In his cherubic round face, wide eyes and sable spectacles, he is The Mouse in human form. While Ralph is forever buoyant, Travers is unflappably sullen and damp, shut like a valise. Ralph never alters in mood and when he pulls up from out of the background as a churning figure of non-ego and joy, your heart will unfold like an umbrella.
Also provocative are the scenes of Thompson at the Poppins premiere, looking like a bejeweled pencil, put aside and forgotten.
Disney purposely left the author out of the invited circle.
The piece de resistance is the sight of Travers watching the film. In observing her favorite dance number, she bursts into tears, as much from recollection as from hurt in seeing those animated penguins.
Although P.L. Travers no doubt had an acute aversion to the Disney film, she had been known to watch "Mary Poppins" numerous times and to have had a respect for the maestro.
That being said, it's safe to say she never forgave Mr. Disney, forbidding further adaptations from her books.
With the portrayal of Tom Hanks, we see a slick Mickey, smarmy and honest by turns who even reveals his own inky imps of anxiety as well as his heart.
In the instant that Miss Travers signs on the dotted line, however, it is a deal with a devil who lords over his compulsorily cheerful, yet unalterably anal dominion.
"Saving Mr. Banks" does one better in showing both Walt and Pamela as two peas in a Poppins pod, both obstinate in creation: one championing Goofy, the other Gurdjieff.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org