Bored with the over-dramatic pieces of cinema on the TV, I decided to watch a simple kids’ film to save my precious Sunday. It was a Google search that ordained my rendezvous with 'Saving Mr. Banks' and I remember hearing that name at the BAFTA's last year.
The film fetched Emma Thompson the BAFTA award for the best actress in 2013 and now I had the perfect opportunity to see the film. Saving Mr. Banks was quite an odd name that left my mind perplexed. But as I sat through the movie, it made perfect sense. It was not a child-genre movie as I thought. But one cannot certainly say it is not.
The beauty of the movie is that audience of any age group can associate themselves with the plot at some point or the other. At the early minutes of the movie, Mrs Travers (Pamela), as she prefers herself to be called, shows the most annoying disposition and seemed to be a queer thing to be the protagonist of the movie.
The popular author is forced to depart with her magnum opus on Mary Poppins to sustain her living in London. She reluctantly agrees to travel all the way to Los Angeles, at the insistence of her agent Diarmuid Russell (Ronan Vibert), to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) who has been attempting to buy the film rights of her story since the past twenty years.
Now as Mrs Travers is preparing for her journey to Los Angeles, a parallel view of her childhood is portrayed. It takes a while for the two depictions to synchronize. But as they do, one gets to see the formation of Mary Poppins in flesh and blood. Mrs Travers' childhood set in Allora, Queensland, depicts her evolution as an author and as a daughter who considers herself responsible for the ill fate of her alcoholic father.
Mrs Travers is determined to think of Walt Disney as a shrewd businessman who would go to any extent to buy her favourite characters for money and the characters are to her ‘family’. She at one point says all that Disney can offer is fluff and nothing to arm the children to face the real world. She opines jolly good Disney dolls are but a waste and does nothing to equip children with life's tools.
Mrs Traverse makes it clear that her story cannot be a musical filled with fairy tale stuff. 'Mary Poppins is the enemy of whimsy or sentiment' and she is no porcelain doll. Now as the Allora story line progresses, the audience get to reason out why it is so.
An extremely touching bit of the story is the depiction of how Mrs Travers' father teaches her to spread the wings of her imagination. Her father tells little Pamela (Mrs Traverse) that his horse is their uncle Albert who was turned into a nag by a wicked witch. Their hen is none other than their 'horrendiferous' aunt Ellie.
Pamela is asked to dream and she is introduced to a new diction which is not bound by the rules of the English language. She is asked to pursue her dreams. Unlike her younger sisters, Pamela shares a strong bond with her father. A bond that haunts her conscience with an unreasonable sense of guilt even after his death. Travers Robert Goff (Colin Farrell), the father of Pamela, is a charismatic young man who adores his beautiful daughters and loves to spend time with them.
As Pamela grows up he imparts to her the sense of futility that evades him and turns him into an alcoholic. In those precious moments that the father and daughter get to spend together, he conveys to her his deep regrets about his life.
Travers is a gentleman who loves to stick to his world of fantasy and his beautiful family and he is definitely not the man to go about a job at the bank. But he has mouths to feed. His sense of regret turns him into a bitter alcoholic. He tells Pamela that the world is but a meaningless illusion. 'We share a celtic soul, you and I. This world is just an illusion. As long as we hold that thought they can't break us...They can't make us endure their reality. Bleak and Bloody it is. Money, money, money..Don't you buy into it Ginty (Pamela’s pet name). It'll bite you on the bottom.'
'It'll bit you in the bottom', the sentence reverberates in Pamela's mind as she realizes that she cannot depart with Mary Poppins. She decides to leave Los Angeles for good when even after a fortnight she fithat Walt Disney cannot do justice to Mary Poppins.
Despite the sincere most efforts of Walt's boys - screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and music composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively), Pamela is displeased with the cartoon-type depiction of Mary Poppins. She disapproves use of animation and when it is proposed, she catches the flight back to London. But Walt follows Pamela all the way to London to resume the war for fetching the film rights. For Walt, it is all about honoring a promise he made to his daughters twenty years ago and for Pamela, it is all about striking reconciliation with her conscience.
All through the development of the plot, the presence of Pamela's limo driver Ralph ((Paul Giamatti) helps to work up a change in Pamela. Ralph utters some of the fondly remembered quotes of her father, a coincidence, and Pamela is influenced by Ralph to take leave of the past and occupy herself in the present.
Pamela slowly opens her eyes to the beauty of Los Angeles city, the impact that her writings have on the young readers and the hope of two fathers (Walt and Ralph) to see Mary Poppins on screen. Ralph who was initially a bitter intruder into Pamela's preoccupied mind becomes the only man she likes in America (she autographs this for him). Later when Walt convinces Pamela that Mary Poppins with all her pristine empathies would be safe in Disney's hands, she decides to take leave of Poppins for good.
Pamela resumes her peaceful life in London, but is convinced by her agent to attend the premiere in Los Angeles. So she flies back for the premiere and is welcomed by Ralph, Walt and his production house. Pamela sits through the movie relieving her fond memories that barricaded her from the present. Walt fulfills his promise to his daughters, Pamela lets Mary Poppins go on screen and Ralph departs with the feeling of a lucky father.
Saving Mr Banks takes one through the highs and lows of life like the kite that shares an important role in the movie. It is comically rich and this arises with ease as the non-sociable 'etiquettes' of Pamela clashes with the mega-friendly disposition of Walt and his boys.
The moments that Pamela share with her father are priced take-aways from the movie. Little Pamela wonders why her father shaves everyday and is told by him that 'A man must shave for to spare his daughter's cheeks'. The tidbits of comedy that arise incessantly from Pamela's self-sufficient behaviour keeps the movie alight throughout as it successfully conveys the complexity of an author's thoughts and the deep sentiments that she has develops towards her characters.