Not everybody's life has been rosy and filled with happiness. In fact, I believe that most people's lives aren't. I mean we find ways to be happy and some people's lives are better than others, but we all have dark things in our lives that we wish we could forget. We can't forget them, however. In fact, even though these things are painful to think about, it is important that we do remember them because they give us a frame of reference. The bad moments in our lives help us understand what the truly good moments of our lives are and allow us to appreciate them all the more.
All that said, it is best not to get too caught up in thinking about the bad moments in our lives. Thinking about the past too much can prevent you from being in the present, where life happens. P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins series of books and focus of the movie Saving Mr. Banks, spent most of her life focusing on the past. At least, that is what she has been portrayed to have done by Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks.
P.L. Travers seemed to have a mix of a sort of whimsical and sad childhood via the comforting imagination of her father and the harsh reality of what was really going on. Her father would act as if she was a princess and tried to give her a view of the world that was more like the view of a world found in a fantasy novel. Everything had a bit of a magical touch to it through her father's eyes. Unfortunately, the reality was that her father was a barely functioning alcoholic with deteriorating health. As much as her father tried to hide this from her, P.L. Travers was not blind to the darkness surrounding her.
It is clear in the movie that P.L. Travers has not gotten over the dark moments in her past. In fact, the only reason we know about these moments in her past is that she is seen thinking about them constantly throughout the movie. The glimpses into her past are really glimpses into her mind and into what she has never been able to fully move on from. Really, everything about this can be understood just by looking at her name.
P.L. Travers is not the name given at birth to the Mary Poppins author. It is actually a name she created for herself. It is not just a typical pen name of which to write under, however. Her name is more important than that. Her birth name was Helen Lyndon Goff. In her chosen name, the middle name stayed the same, but how did Goff become Travers and why did Helen become Pamela? Well, the truth is that Travers was her father's name. The fact that she clung to this name so tightly as to adopt it as her own shows how much she was not able to move on from the past with her father. What is also interesting is the name of Pamela. I do not know where she got that name from, but I think perhaps a reason she used it instead of her real name is that she wanted to get away from the reality of her situation. She didn't want to be Helen, the child with a sick and barely hanging on father. She wanted to be someone else.
So, P.L. Travers was really a woman of two minds. She wanted to escape from her past by changing her name, but was also too caught up in it that she went so far as to adopt her father's name as part of her own. It is this conflict between moving on and not being able to move on that is at the heart of Saving Mr. Banks. The movie shifts back and forth frequently between the past and the present. It never fully gets taken over by one or the other. Just as things begin to move along in the present, flashbacks to the past come creeping back in. The flashbacks are increasingly depressing in nature so it leaves the movie with a very somber tone that is uncharacteristic of what one thinks about when they think of the word "Disney". If you are expecting a feel good movie from this Walt Disney Picture then you may leave the theater disappointed.
It is especially hard to walk away feeling good from this movie when the main character rarely ever feels good herself. She is either quietly, depressingly, being haunted by images of her past or just being totally dissatisfied at everyone and everything in the present. I read somewhere, of which I unfortunately can not remember where, that this movie could be seen as an apology from Disney to P.L. Travers for how they turned her book into something she didn't want it to be. However, I feel, if this is an apology, it is one of the worst apologies I have have ever seen or heard. P.L. Travers is portrayed as a person who is pretty much as unlikable as any person could be. She seems to hate everything and doesn't hesitate to express her hate at any given moment. Yes, the movie tries to make us understand how P.L. Travers got to be this way through the glimpses into her past, but it doesn't really ever make me like her much more.
In Saving Mr. Banks, P.L. Travers is a woman struggling to escape from her dark past. Walt Disney and the Disney brand is all about creating fantasy worlds that transport people away from their realities for a period of time. Disney is ever cheerful while P.L. Travers seems to be eternally sad. It is the clash between these two elements that make Saving Mr. Banks an interesting movie, but also one that is hard to truly love. Those looking for a more upbeat movie will get glimpses of it in some of the goings on with Disney and the making of Mary Poppins. Those looking for a more contemplative and not so Hollywood happy movie will get that in the glimpses into P.L. Travers' past. The problem is that, just like P.L. Travers never really seemed to be able to make a choice between being stuck in her depressing past or moving on to her increasingly bright present, the movie can't really choose between being a depressing look at life or a feel good, typical Disney movie. In the end, it winds up somewhere in the middle with, if anything, a leaning towards the more depressing side of things.
Saving Mr. Banks is well made in terms of acting, music, and shot composition, but it lacks in the writing and editing department. The movie is longer than it should be because much of it is repetitive. The scenes of P.L. Travers' past get their point across long before they stop popping up. The scenes in the present with P.L. Travers being constantly angry and annoyed also get their point across long before they ever stop coming through. There is an interesting conflict going on here, but it is one that gets tiring to watch after awhile.
Overall, Saving Mr. Banks is a conflicting movie in itself. The movie successfully creates an awareness of the life of P.L. Travers and really stirs up interesting thoughts about her story. However, the story of P.L. Travers is more interesting to analyze and discuss than it is to sit through and watch in this movie. It is a successful enough movie to give it a passing rating, but not enough so to strongly recommend watching.