saving banks 2

In reality, the bulk of Travers' (documented) issues with the film as planned by Disney could be chalked up to the age-old issue of a protective writer not quite grasping the different rules and expectations of filmmaking; but Banks imagines a bigger overhanging issue that serves to not only add drama but humanize the author in a way she'd likely have objected to more strongly than anything The Sherman Brothers tapped out: Her most strenuous story objections are in regard to new backstories and personalities being imposed on the Banks Family (Disney's writers felt U.S. audiences wouldn't understand the British institution of a middle-class family having a live-in Nanny without contriving a reason for the parents to be otherwise occupied), which are generally understood to have been a fictionalized version of her own parents. After a particularly bitter argument, she (briefly) calls it quits and disembarks for London - which leads Walt to briefly take up the role of detective-therapist, digging into her well-buried childhood in Australia (playful but alcoholic dad, suicidally-depressed mom) to figure out what unsorted trauma makes her so protective of The Bankses and what he can do to allay her worry about their Hollywoodization.

The thing is, not only would the real Travers have objected to all this sentimentality over youthful psychic wounds and talking-cure healing... there isn't much evidence to suggest that she even was wounded enough for it to have been such an easy explanation for her later-life unpleasantness (her youth, like Disney's, was more interesting: A gleefully scandalous social climber and ambitious poet who paid her bills writing erotica and enjoyed proving she could out-party her male literary colleagues). In the film she hero-worships her hard-drinking father, blind to the chemical source of his "fun" behavior, and rides to the rescue (literally - as in on a horse) to thwart her mother's suicide. In reality, the suicide attempt simply failed and Travers purportedly came away (understandably) anti-affectionate toward both of them; preferring the influence of a hard-nosed aunt that many (including Banks) see as the original inspiration for Mary Poppins.

The film also omits reference to Travers' female partner and adopted (by then grown) son, likely to increase the sense of self-isolation inherent to this version of the character. But in doing so, it also sands even more "edge" off of reality: She didn't make or keep friends easily, and her relationship with her son was famously difficult - he had been born a twin, but Travers elected to adopt only one of the two boys and deceive him of his origins because a psychic medium told her to, leading to furious arguments when the unspoken-of abandoned brother turned up on their doorstep as an adult. One imagines there aren't enough plush Mickeys for Thompson's Travers to reluctantly cuddle during nighttime anxiety attacks (no, really) to make audiences sympathize with that sort of baggage.

Oddly enough, along with polishing the sharp edges off Travers as a character - framing her as endearingly stubborn rather than biting and egocentric - Saving Mr. Banks gives her a gift even Walt Disney didn't dare: The last word. The film's end credits play over actual voice recordings (preserved at her insistence) of Travers picking through screenplay issues with the Disney folks.

All movies about "history" - especially the minor events therein - are fiction to some degree. They have to be, or they'd be either ungainly or boring. But history itself can come in multiple forms, to, and those who are quick to call "propaganda" would do well to check and see who really gets the better deal from the rewrite.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet. Aside from his work at The Escapist, he wrote a book and does a videogame criticism show.

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