saving  banks

To be sure, the film bears little resemblance to what's known of the events. It's a work of historical fiction (the screenplay was not commissioned by Disney itself, but rather written independently and picked up by the studio when it made a splash on the famous Black List Survey) that uses this especially well-known example of creative-disagreement to tell a more general story about the nature of adaptations and artistic collaboration. Walt Disney and Pamela Travers are here not as much themselves as they are avatars for The Producer and The Writer. The most obvious liberty taken: Travers and Disney didn't actually spend very much time with one another - he was busy on other projects at the time, and largely left mollifying "The Writer" in the hands of his underlings. By contrast, in the film he's omnipresent, his famous charm being the weapon of the last resort in breaking through her tough skin.

And yet, to write the film off as a "whitewashing" of Walt isn't precisely accurate - tempting though it may be. The fact is, there's very little to wash: The complicated and difficult Walter Elias Disney who built an empire out of Mickey Mouse and cold, ruthless business savvy was a distant memory by this point in the man's life; when to hear some tell it he'd become a puckish grandpa figure who might have begun to believe his own legend. If anyone is being lionized here, it's the audience with fond memories for the now-classic movie. The film treats Disney's version of Mary Poppins as a predestined thing of greatness, something that the not-terribly-introspective Walt and the imperious Travers both had to give up some ego to bring to fruition. That, more than anything, is the balm is selling: "Here's a version of the making of a movie you love that takes some of the edge off that nasty business you heard about how much it's original author hated it." It even goes so far as to cast the project of a particular obsession of Disney's, when in reality he pursued a lot of projects just as tenaciously if not more.

The great irony, though, is that there is some serious revisionism and whitewashing going on to make one of the characters more agreeable... it's just not Walt Disney. It's P.L. Travers.

As played (quite well) by Emma Thompson, the film's Travers is as much a caricature of mannered English stoicism as Hanks' Disney is of Midwestern geniality. Vacillating back and forth from iron-willed to porcelain-delicate as fast as her tight-necked head can pivot on unmoving shoulders, she spits out the real Travers' well-documented issues with the production: She hated cartoons, rolled her eyes at musicals, loathed the notion of fantasy-escapism as a coping mechanism for children, and detested Dick Van Dyke. It gives voice to the most common critiques of Walt and his fairy-dust empire, making it eminently clear that she runs in too many prestigious literary and academic circles to be wowed by Mickey and Donald.

To be clear: Saving Mr. Banks is about Travers - Hanks' Disney is the colorful co-star, but the story is hers and the significant interactions are between her, the screenwriter and the songwriting Sherman Brothers. And while the plot indeed hinges on a late-period heart-to-heart between her and Walt, her emotional arc is conveyed through interactions with Paul Giamatti as a Los Angeles chauffer whom she chastises for his fixation on the West Coast's sunny weather (she feels he gives insufficient credit to the necessity of rain) only to later learn that he's weather-conscious because sunny days are the ones when his wheelchair-bound daughter can enjoy the outdoors. (Yeah... it's a good movie, but it's that kind of good movie.)

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